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Introducing Social-emotional Skills Development

A helpful introduction for anyone working with young people who wants to deepen their understanding of socio-emotional skills development in the context of face–to-face practice. ​

In this section, we focus on some of the key literature associated with SESD. Articles 1-3 have been selected to help articulate SESD at a conceptual level, whilst providing a series of justifications for its inclusion across formal/in-formal/non-formal education. Articles 4 and 5 begin to introduce the idea of the neuro-person and its significance for developing SESD in practice. ​

Theories and ideas

A series of articles and reflective activities designed to link practice with the theories and ideas which inform socio-emotional skills development.

A Framework of Outcomes for Young People 2.1

In this outcomes framework for informal and non-formal learning, McNeil and Stuart provide a clear rationale for linking socio-emotional skills and work with young people. Their message is clear, ‘growth in socio-emotional skills is the most important outcome of informal and non-formal youth provision.' As a starting point McNeil and Stuart focus on six socio-emotional skills domains derived specifically from young people and practitioners over a 20-year period.​

McNeil and Stuart (2022)

Reflection point: read through Section 2.1 and 2.2, do the six domains resonate with your practice? ​

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Understanding the facts, criticisms and trends of SEL

In this brief overview, Serani helpfully summarises social and emotional learning in the context of formal education, whilst noting arguments for and against its inclusion.

Serani (2022)

Reflection point: scroll down to the section ‘Criticism of SEL’. Do you agree that Social Emotional Learning (SEL) should form a part of formal education? For an alternate view, see Fundamentals of SEL, which advocates an integrated model which embodies classrooms, school, family and communities


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What are socio-emotional skills and why do they matter?

In this chapter, you are invited to think about the idea of socio-emotional skills, what they are, and why they are important. The arguments for a systematic and structured approach to SESD are compelling. Years of research from around the globe show clear links between SESD and positive outcomes for children and young people. You will also note a slight difference in the way OECD describe social and emotional skills compared with the College’s model, but that needn’t trouble you. In essence there are lots of ways to talk about SES, and that is okay.  ​

OECD (2021)

Reflection point: compare and contrast the SES listed on page 21 with the SES listed in the College’s outlook framework which starts on Page 7. Do you think they cover the same ground? Are there any gaps? Which model is a better fit for your work with young people? ​

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A Framework of Outcomes for Young People 2.1 (cont.)

In section 2.3, the context in which we think about SESD is broadened with an added focus on understanding the relationship between how we think and process information, and its effect on behaviour in the six domains.  This is explained in the way the brain stores information through schemas – a mental structure used to organise knowledge. Examples of schemas include: the way we think about particular people, how to behave in social situations (Social schemas, how we see ourselves (Self schemas), and how to behave at particular events (Event schemes). Assimilation refers to the process of taking new information and fitting it into an existing schema, and accommodation refers to using newly acquired information to revise and redevelop an existing schema.​

McNeil and Stuart (2022)

Reflection point:

‘Having a better understanding of the way our brains process provides a deeper frame of reference for thinking about SESD, and what we can do to help, particularly where young people have grown up in environments which are not supportive, constrained, non-responsive, which then reflect in their behaviour and the way they see the world.’

How might a better understanding of brain processes help your work with young people?​

For a deeper dive into the neuro person, and intentional/unintentional behaviour see Toleikyte (2020) in the next link. ​

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Neuro plasticity and Behaviour Change

For those interested in the way in which (young) people process emotions, as an integral part of SESD,  Toleikyte provides a useful starting point in her work on neuro plasticity and changing behaviour. As she explores the cognitive processes that affect the way we behave from a socio-emotional perspective, so it becomes clear that the ability to self-regulate is a complex and challenging process. ​

Difficulties in regulating behaviour and emotions in social situations will be evident to a range of practitioners working with young people, especially those who have missed out on opportunities to develop the socio-emotional skills required to navigate the world around us. The idea of the neuro person provides a helpful lens for thinking about the way in which young develop cognitively. Toleikyte is optimistic, in the brains ability to learn and change as can be seen in the strategies she provides; a positive reminder that relational pedagogies like youth work can provide the right conditions for SESD. ​

Toleikyte (2020)

Reflection point  - consider the following statements, how might they relate to the young people you are working with? ​

  • The teen brain has lots of plasticity, which means it can change, adapt, and respond to its environment. Challenging activities, exercise, and creative activities such as art can help the brain mature and learn.​

  • Negative experiences such as trauma, living in poverty can have an affect on brain development.​

  • Ongoing changes in the brain, along with physical, emotional, and social changes, can make teens vulnerable to mental health problems​

  • Change can take up to 3 months depending on the complexity of the change.​

  • Very difficult to change when we are feeling tired or under stress.​

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Further reading

A selection of articles, books and websites offering additional resources designed to deepen your appreciation of socio-emotional skills development.

Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL)

Providing an important resource for researchers and practitioners looking to develop and apply the principles of Social Emotional Learning through collaborative approaches.

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Socio-emotional Learning. An Evidence Review and Synthesis of Key Issues

A comprehensive overview of Social and Emotional Learning methodology, impact and purpose.

Gedikoglu, M. (2021)

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Social Emotional Learning A Critical Appraisal

A balanced examination of the critical issues pervading Social and Emotional Learning.

Humphrey, N (2013)

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Developing Social and Emotional Skills; Education Policy and Practice in the UK Home Nations

A comprehensive summary of the policy landscape around Education and Social Emotional Skills Development.

Nesta (2020).

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Partnerships in Education and Resilience (PEAR)

Whilst SESD is not stated explicitly, this carefully balanced and straight forward PEAR model of Active Engagement, Assertiveness, Belonging, and Reflection resonates with much of the socio-emotional literature; useful for those looking to dip their toe in an ever-increasing body of research. ​



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Socio-Emotional Skills, Quality, and Equity: The Multilevel Person-in-Context ~neuroperson (MPCn) Framework

A theoretical discussion on the relationship between mental behaviour and socio-emotional skills.

Peck, S and Smith, C (2021)

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Social-Emotional Learning and the Brain: Strategies to Help Your Student’s Thrive

A thorough explanation of social-emotional learning and its effect on brain development.

Sprenger, M (2021)

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Nurturing the social and emotional wellbeing of children and young people during crises

An important discussion on the value of building social and emotional skills to enable behaviour to address the impact of living during a time of crises.

UNESCO (2020)

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