SEAL can help young people develop values that will enable them to address challenges in life, says trainer, school improvement partner and former headteacher Jackie Beere

In his bestselling book, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, American educationalist John Paul Gatto describes the output of our Western education system as being students who ‘hate solitude, are cruel, materialistic, dependent, passive, violent timid in the face of the unexpected and addicted to distraction.’ He recommends ‘massive rethinking’ to create a healthier society.

So much research is demonstrating that our young people are caught like rabbits in a snare; sandwiched between the relentless educational standards agenda and the media frenzy to be rich, thin, famous and beautiful.

This is the situation that the social and emotional aspects of learning (SEAL) initiative has the potential to address, by creating a focus on reflection to help young people develop self-awareness and the capacity to manage themselves.

The glue in the curriculum
SEAL has an important role to play in supporting other recent developments around personalised learning and a more diverse curriculum, all of which depend for their success on students being able to take responsibility for their learning and think for themselves. The box below describes these links.

When implemented effectively, SEAL can foster in young people the motivation, self-discipline and self-awareness they need to become active learners. In doing so, it provides the glue to all the other initiatives. SEAL can also foster the sort of ethos that creates a value-driven organisation where self-respect and respect for each other facilitate the freedom to love learning.

All we read about the demands of modern society reinforces the message that those who cannot be flexible, adaptable and emotionally resilient will not survive in the knowledge-based economy.

Building intelligence
The American psychologist Carol Dweck argues in her book, Self-theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development (Essays in Social Psychology), that the most successful learners are those who don’t think they are especially intelligent. They are, rather, the ones who know that, if they work at it and challenge themselves with tasks they find uncomfortable at first, then they really can grow their brains.

In the classroom, teachers know that achievement is as much about hard work and self-management as it is about ability. This fits with the belief that:

  • intelligence is learnable
  • we can become more clever by working harder.

This necessitates a disposition that is willing to try hard, learn from mistakes and take responsibility for progress. Such a disposition, alongside excellent communication skills (charm and rapport!), can be nurtured in our schools through SEAL.

Such dispositions are mentioned in the Gilbert Review on teaching and learning in 2020 (see Raising Achievement Update 34) as the crucial qualities for learning in the 21st century:

  • ‘taking responsibility for, and being able to manage, one’s own learning and developing the habits of effective learning
  • knowing how to work independently, without close supervision
  • being confident and able to investigate problems and find solutions
  • being resilient in the face of difficulties
  • being creative, inventive, enterprising and entrepreneurial.

Developing ourselves

When we dedicate time to lessons in SEAL and underpin our curriculum with the SEAL values of respect, empathy, friendship and self-awareness, we develop, not just our students, but our staff and ourselves.