SEL with Adults is Hard, so Teach it Early

By Meaghan Ruddy, The Wright Center

Supporting SEL in adult learners is very challenging due to the power of social and emotional habits as they form over time. Teaching SEL at younger ages will likely result in more helpful habits as those students age.

As we develop we are strengthening all sorts of habits all the time whether we know it or not. This is because the brain seeks to automate as much as possible as quickly as possible. The brain has two main systems: the executive and the automatic, or default. The executive is resource heavy in terms of the energy it needs to keep running, so it creates habits that become default ways of being. While the executive engages in something like intentional learning or paying attention, the default acts without our full and considered direction. An example of this is getting easily irritated when something is trying to take our attention away from a task.

This is why it is so important to teach SEL young. The longer we go without intentional practice in these areas, the harder it is to change it later-on and the more potentially troubling the consequences. I work in medical education, a world of adult learners who need to keep learning while working in teams in high stress environments. There is a lot of reactivity and resulting burnout leading to high-profile challenges such as substance abuse and suicides rates, industry and educational system failures that might be mitigated with intentional use of social and emotional learning.

Working to bring SEL to the world of medical education often feels like being a voice in the wilderness. For the last few decades the contents of medical school and residency program curricula have grown without being weeded. This is also true for on-the-job training in a variety of industries with no time or patience for what are dismissed as soft skills. Adults are now thrust into teams with no teamworking skills or capacity to learn them. Little do the decision-makers realize the time and resources wasted on poor emotional and social management.

But there is hope. There is a future full of adults who will have had SEL as part of their education, for whom it was built into their daily structure and valued alongside reading and math. It is for this reason that what you all do to teach and better understand the power of SEL is more than important for today. It is the change we want, that we need, to fulfill the promise of tomorrow.



Disclaimer: The Assessment Work Group is committed to enabling a rich dialogue on key issues in the field and seeking out diverse perspectives. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Assessment Work Group, CASEL or any of the organizations involved with the work group.

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