Using Social-Emotional Learning Skills to Prepare Students for Jobs

Misty Hance
Misty Hance
Assistant School Principal; Ed.D. in School Leadership, Carson-Newman University, TN
Male teacher shaking hands with a female student in a classroom.

One of the goals of education is to develop strong, independent citizens who are ready for the workforce once they reach the appropriate age. This includes being able to work with others, take directives, and complete tasks efficiently. While this may be easy for some, others struggle with relationships and responsibilities. Whether it is the effect of drug exposure at infancy, a traumatic life event, or a genetic factor, some of our school-age children require social and emotional learning (SEL) to help them cope in real-world situations. Even those who are able to self-regulate can benefit from SEL as they become college or career ready.

What is Social-Emotional Learning?

Social and emotional learning is a process with which children learn to understand and manage their emotions, set positive goals, foster positive relationships, and more. In an effort to teach students skills to help them cope with daily stressors and struggles in learning, educators have begun to develop activities geared toward SEL. Lessons might include how to deal with disappointment, working with a partner or team, setting goals, and developing empathy for others. These lessons are meant to guide students through life skills they will need to develop relationships and manage their own emotions through a myriad of real-life events. When strategically executed, SEL can integrate students’ academic, social, and emotional engagement and prepare them for success in their chosen field.

Social-Emotional Skills Needed for Job Readiness

While every job requires a unique and specialized skill set, there are some skills that are universal to all trades. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, there are five characteristics that impact employees which schools can help shape and strengthen.

  • Self-Awareness – Teaching students to know who they are, what they value, and what career goals they may have is just the beginning of developing self-awareness. It is also involves helping students to determine their strengths and weaknesses and how to grow successfully. Employees need self-awareness to work confidently in their occupation.
  • Self-Management – Once students become aware of their own emotions, they will need to learn to regulate them in a productive manner. In order to be beneficial in the workforce, students must realize they must control their impulses and become aware of their own communication skills. This includes verbal and body language.
  • Social Awareness – Schools can also prepare students to develop their social awareness skills such as listening, being attentive in conversations, and reading non-verbal cues. Students will need to develop social awareness in order to respond appropriately to others and meet the needs of those within their workplace.
  • Relationship Skills – Cooperative learning is one way that teachers can begin to teach students how to work with others in an effort to build their relationship skills. Allowing opportunities for students to give and take helps them learn to cooperate in the workplace. Developing empathy, trust, and respect for others are additional skills needed in order for students to build rapport with coworkers, employers, and customers.
  • Responsible Decision-Making – One of the hardest lessons for some students to learn is that their actions have consequences and they are responsible for their decisions. In addition, students can be taught to analyze problems and find the most efficient means of solving problems in order to enhance their critical thinking skills in a way that is beneficial to their employer.

Ways to Teach Social-Emotional Skills

Social-emotional skills are developed and supported in students as young as preschool. Teachers of early grades are finding value in incorporating movement and brain breaks within their daily routines to help students develop self-management skills. Others use simple check-in techniques to assist students in monitoring their feelings and expressing their needs. Social stories can be used to teach students how to respond to certain situations and to cultivate important characteristics such as kindness, respect, and trustworthiness. Students can even utilize writing to develop their social-emotional learning.

For older students, many school districts are implementing Career and Technical Educational Courses (CTE) to help students develop the soft skills necessary for employment. Others use specially trained behavioral therapists with individuals that need extra support in SEL. Schools that cannot afford a specialized professional may incorporate social and emotional curriculum through their guidance departments. No matter the means, it is important that schools find a way of teaching students to self-regulate and tolerate others.

How to Start Implementing SEL

When a school determines that SEL would be beneficial, students can participate in surveys to help determine their level of social-emotional awareness. One such survey can be found on the CASEL website. Schools can then use these surveys to develop the necessary approach.

Because student well-being affects the entire community, the next step is involving the school’s stakeholders. Educating parents, involving local businesses, and asking for support in the SEL initiative are important steps in building relationships to promote social and emotional growth. Partnerships with local factories and businesses can provide students with an opportunity to practice their soft skills in real-world experiences. It also creates the opportunity to develop mentors who can share their personal stories and maybe even how they have overcome adversity to develop a successful career. This helps students relate and understand they are not the only one facing such adversity.

When the entire school and community commits to promoting SEL, the culture of the school can be transformed into a caring and respectful place where academic and social growth is nurtured, and students are ready for real world experiences.

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