In the past decade, a very exciting new approach has started to attract the attention of educators and parents in the US. An umbrella term to describe these approaches is “social and emotional learning” or SEL.
In fact, the US Federal Government and private foundations have funded several pilot grants all over the country.
SEL is seen as a relatively low-cost, secular, science-based approach that generates the following kinds of results across age, sex, income levels, and ethnic backgrounds in schools:
• Reduces stress, anxiety, negative behavior, and bullying.
• Increases calmness, relaxation, self-awareness, self-control, and empathy.
• Improves focus, attention and self-awareness which in turn enhances overall cognitive and academic performance, including improving working memory, thinking more innovatively, and reasoning, and problem solving skills.
• Work in teams, maintain healthy relationships, reduce risky behavior (such as alcohol and drug use), more responsible for their behaviors and actions and become more ethical.
• Improve overall social and emotional skills
There’s a broad consensus, based on the latest findings of neuroscience, that this skill set can be taught and learnt.
Based on my own exposure and experience as a trainer/coach, I shall talk about one approach currently being implemented in many school districts with technical assistance from the US-based group, CASEL.
What is SEL?
In the approach of CASEL, the concept of social and emotional intelligence for schoolchildren comprises knowledge, attitudes and skills in five areas:
• Self-awareness: Identify and recognize one’s emotions and strengths and weaknesses.
• Self-management: Set and act on positive goals, stress management, impulse control and self-discipline.
• Social awareness: Recognize other people’s emotions, demonstrate empathy, and appreciate strengths of others and their perspectives.
• Relationship management: Establish and maintain healthy relationships, care and concern for others, altruistic heart, cooperative and collaborative.
• Responsible decision-making: Able to evaluate and reflect, self-confident, recognize consequences of decisions, listen to other views, take responsibility for one’s actions.
Essentially, SEL prepares young people for success in adulthood.
Mindfulness as the foundation
The most important foundation is self-awareness, and to develop and strengthen it, a “mindfulness” practice is essential. Mindfulness here refers to becoming aware, in a non-judgmental way, of one’s body sensations, thoughts, and feelings/emotions. So, mindfulness really has to do with understanding the nature of our states of mind/heart so as to cultivate wholesome states of mind/heart and behavior (such as empathy, loving kindness, resilience, courage, and compassion).
I believe that in Nepal, a mindfulness-based SEL program is the best approach for our schools. In fact, a growing body of scientific evidence is indicating the enormous value of mindfulness.
In the West, mindfulness is becoming quite trendy, as it gathers more evidence from neuroscience and psychology. The term mindfulness has gained wider acceptance in the health/medical field and is rapidly entering the field of education and the wider society.
One of the pioneers in popularizing this concept to the medical field is psychologist Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn. He studied and practiced mindfulness in the East, primarily in Thailand and Burma. In the late 70s in the US, he successfully introduced it at Massachusetts General Hospital in the US as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Today, MBSR and its protocol in the health field are widely accepted.
In more recent years, mindfulness is gaining acceptance in schools and even corporations. The meaning of mindfulness has centered on the original meaning introduced by Kabat-Zinn. In his definition, mindfulness was primarily about being aware in a non-judgmental way of one’s body sensations, thoughts and feelings; to be present in the NOW.
However, just in the past two years, Kabat-Zinn himself has acknowledged that the original meaning of mindfulness is broader and deeper. In in 2011, he said mindfulness also includes ‘awareness of one’s conduct and quality of one’s relationship, inwardly and outwardly, in terms of their potential to harm’ and as such ‘are intrinsic elements of mindfulness. Mindfulness in everyday life is the ultimate challenge and practice.’ (Journal of Contemporary Buddhism, 2002).
In essence, mindfulness refers to becoming aware of in a non-judgmental way of one’s body sensations, thoughts, and feelings/emotions as well as taming/transforming negative emotions and strengthening the positive ones. So, mindfulness really has to do with understanding the nature of our states of mind/heart, transform our negative patterns and cultivate wholesome states of mind/heart and behavior.
The practices to develop mindfulness are being taught in very secular and “scientific” ways so as to avoid the misperception of it being an Eastern religious practice. Mindfulness and its practices are directly linked with social and emotional intelligence, which applies to all human beings.
Implications for Nepal
A simple step in Nepal is for private schools to train their teachers in SEL right here in Nepal. There are readily available curricula that can be easily adapted to Nepali schools. I’m more hopeful that private colleges will more quickly adopt an SEL type of program or some other soft skills program to “train” their students with this skill set. The students need it and employees are demanding it.
The writer is the founder of Karuna Management and has over two decades of experience as an international consultant and trainer in management and organizational effectiveness. His current focus is on bringing a set of soft skills, including emotional intelligence and mindfulness to Nepali college students and youth.
PLEASE DESIST FROM ATTACKING THE WRITER PERSONALLY AND BE RESPECTFUL TO OTHER READERS. Please give your full name while posting your comments. This is not to stifle the free flow of comments but your full name will enable us to print the comments in our newspaper.