Sometimes, principals and teachers ask me what the differences are between key competencies and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL). It’s a great question, and here is my take: SEL and key competencies share many similarities in promoting holistic, or whole-learner, development. However, there are some differences in their focus and objectives.
SEL primarily focuses on developing students’ social and emotional skills, such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. It emphasises fostering a supportive and inclusive learning environment that allows students to understand and manage their emotions, build strong relationships, and develop strong learner-related behaviours. The ultimate goal of SEL is to enhance students’ wellbeing and enable them to succeed academically, socially, and emotionally.
Key competencies, as outlined by the Ministry of Education in New Zealand, are broader in scope and encompass a range of skills and abilities that students need to live, learn, work, and contribute as active members of their communities. These competencies include using language, symbols, and texts, as well as managing self, relating to others, and participating and contributing. When applied, key competencies extend beyond SEL by incorporating cognitive, linguistic, and practical skills that are important for success in various aspects of life.
In a nutshell, SEL focuses specifically on the social and emotional aspects of students’ development, while key competencies provide a more comprehensive framework that covers a broader range of skills and abilities required for students to thrive in different contexts. Both the SEL and key competencies approaches are valuable and complementary, and integrating SEL concepts into the teaching and learning of key competencies can enhance students’ overall development and wellbeing.
In response to those who question whether SEL should be incorporated into teaching and learning programmes in schools, I argue: If we look at just a few of the SEL areas that my research suggested were most impactful on academic performance (motivation to learn, academic self-concept, academic self-efficacy, and learner engagement), and we take the suggestion that these should not be actively embedded at school, then the question is where? Where would/should they be taught? While school is not the only place that these can – or likely should – be developed, we are doing our young people a major disservice if we are not incorporating them into teaching at school. We are, essentially, leaving it up to chance whether children are supported to develop SEL skills. Recent research of the OECD has firmly (and rightfully) positioned SEL as an essential component of education policy and classroom practice.
This snapshot was developed by Dr Heidi Leeson
You can find out more about the work that Heidi is doing to help schools to measure SEL and to develop approaches to support the development of SEL in their students at https://monocle.education/ or watch her webinar with The Education Hub.
By Dr Heidi Leeson