This CPD Week explores the benefits that encouraging whole-school engagement in Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) can bring for professional development

When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.
Dale Carnegie

Every so often there’s an initiative in education that really seems relevant to the vast majority of the profession. At the moment, that initiative has to be SEAL: the Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning. This isn’t new in any way; teachers have always been aware of the role that emotions play in the classroom. But having a reason to focus on this dimension of teaching in an overt way is undoubtedly positive.

No matter what theme, issue or initiative you are working towards through professional and personal development, there are certain characteristics of effective professional development that apply to just about every school, college and development need. These are no less important when considering CPD for the social and emotional aspects of learning and in fact, just reminding yourself of these characteristics is always useful in your leadership role.

Great professional development tends to happen when staff:

  • collaborate – if there is an opportunity for them to show a mutual vulnerability, where the boundary between ‘teacher’ and ‘learner’ is blurred so that all involved recognise themselves as learners, even better
  • experience new ideas rather than simply hear about them
  • thrive in an environment where experimentation is encouraged and where fear of failure simply doesn’t exist
  • can rely on the support and encouragement of colleagues
  • work in an environment which has firmly embedded the ‘CPD mindset’; in other words, the commitment and passion to see every situation as holding potential for professional learning.

When it comes to professional development for SEAL, it helps to keep in mind exactly what your school’s goal is. What are you heading for and why are you heading there? When you have explored these ideas, take a moment to consider your colleagues’ experience of school life. Does the general ethos in your school support the social and emotional aspects of life for the adults who work there? It is well known that we can support the emotional well-being of our pupils only to the extent that we can support it in ourselves. Does your school acknowledge that basic premise?

There has to be active engagement in SEAL throughout your school community, from top to bottom, side to side! If that’s not the case, pupils will easily spot the difference between what is said and what actually happens. For this reason, any training and development for SEAL in your school will necessarily take the personal development of staff into consideration. To follow on from this, consider asking staff to map this personal development over time so that they can see their progression and identify change that has helped them, personally, to support SEAL in their work in the classroom. This is an incredibly effective tool for peer learning among colleagues who share their skills and expertise.

One of the most positive and uplifting features of CPD for social and emotional aspects is that it can happen so easily through day to day interactions, which happen in your school as a matter of course. Yes, there may be certain members of staff who need a little extra guidance, but if you seek to maximise the resources and tools that can place SEAL as a top priority (perhaps think about setting up a SEAL professional learning team in your school to support this goal) then you will help to facilitate a quiet revolution in teaching – about and through the emotions.

Find out more…
teachingexpertise has a wide range of resources concerned with SEAL
• If you want to find out more about some of the very latest thinking on emotions and the impact they have on our lives, then Antonio Damasio’s book, The Feeling of What Happens is a great place to start (Vintage, ISBN 0099288761)

This e-bulletin issue was first published in November 2008

About the author: Elizabeth Holmes qualified as a teacher at the Institute of Education, London and is the author of several books specialising in the areas of professional development and teacher well-being.