SEL to Me

How Classroom Struggles Led to an Ongoing Journey Of Heart and Mind

March 4, 2024
Sarah Khan
How Classroom Struggles Led to an Ongoing Journey Of Heart and Mind

To celebrate SEL Week, we invited you—students, parents, teachers, counselors, school and district administrators, and community leaders—to share your SEL story. Of the many excellent entries we received, Sarah, an educator and psychologist in Karachi, Pakistan, is one of our 10 finalists. You can view all 10 finalists here.

If I could go back in time, I would catch my breath and let my students know that I am struggling to meet their needs at the moment. That I understand each one of them has a thing they need me to attend to, or a completed task they want to showcase to the whole class. 

But I cannot meet their expectations. And that is okay.

I would let my students know how frustrated I feel at my incapacity and how disappointment is washing all over me and making me feel small. The declaration may be met with their stony silence or nervous chatter or a shower of love. But, no matter the reaction, my students will at least see me for who I am.  

A human being. 

Social and emotional learning (SEL) let me embrace authenticity. It let me see myself as a human, and I don’t think I can ever go back to my old ways again. 

My Introduction to SEL

My journey into SEL started when I worked part-time as an elementary school teacher while enrolled in the M.Phil. program in psychology at the Department of Psychology, University of Karachi, Pakistan. Every day at the school was becoming an insurmountable challenge. 

In one particular class, my presence each day was more like me offering myself up to be chewed up and spat out. And the students did so unabashedly day after day. It seemed they enjoyed making a newbie teacher sweat and squirm. 

I spent my days battling the urge to let those in charge get an earful. My nights, on the other hand, led by the spirit of reason and compassion, were occupied with a thorough examination of philosophies that could help me navigate my path as an educator. It was then I was first introduced to the term social and emotional learning, and I never looked back. 

CASEL spearheaded my study into the world of SEL. Its website hosted everything I needed to know to lay the foundation and pioneer SEL within my school. 

Putting SEL Into Practice

With limited experience and support, I set out to implement SEL for two grades only. The result was clear: SEL works. 

Students reported a positive change in their attitude, thoughts, and behavior as a result of their participation in SEL. They reported feeling happier and more in control of their impulses than they ever had been, resulting in more fulfilling relationships with peers and siblings. 

I was in possession of data that validated the impact of the SEL program I developed. It elated the scientist in me. I reported my findings through my dissertation and moved on. 

Integrating Heart and Mind

My first experience implementing SEL was positive, but it raised a lot of questions. I had seen a tremendous impact on my students. How could I sustain and build on these results?

For my doctorate, I am now studying emerging theories and strategies to gain successful, lasting effects of direct and focused SEL instruction. The key is to have a consistent and systematic approach to implementation that targets students, teachers, school leaders, and the community at large. It seems like an endless sea of opportunities is at my disposal to leverage SEL as a tool for the promotion of mental well-being, equity, and excellence among learners and educators. 

I, a dreamer with the skeptical mind of a researcher, am in that sea rowing the solitary boat. At the end of the day, I hope a balance is struck. SEL has given me that hope because in its essence lies the celebration of the seamless integration of heart and mind. Supplementing what we have known to be true in our hearts with solid evidence is what makes SEL stand out as a methodology and process. 

We owe our children a compassionate global community where well-being is a priority, not a commodity. SEL may just be the way to achieve that. As an educator, psychologist, and researcher, I wholeheartedly believe in the power of well-planned, systematically executed, schoolwide SEL.

The views in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of CASEL.

Sarah Khan is a doctoral student specializing in transformative social and emotional learning (tSEL) from the Department of Psychology at the University of Karachi. She is passionate about equipping youth with the skills to thrive. Witnessing the impact of SEL firsthand, she has dedicated herself to developing and implementing effective programs. Her research expertise, coupled with her experience in SEL curriculum development and assessment, has yielded impressive results, demonstrably improving student outcomes by 38.5% within a single month.

SEL to Me

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