The brain and social-emotional learning

Students using laptop in classroom

Human connection and emotions are at the core of our existence, a very function of our brain. There is a complete network of interconnected structures in the brain, the limbic system, which helps identify and regulate emotions.  Emotions are not just feelings, but also carry a physiological component.

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Social-emotional learning is a hot topic in schools today with teachers noting it as a high need among today’s students.  Time is one of the biggest obstacles to the implementation of SEL curriculum, yet research tells us it is vital to optimal brain function.

In a Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) article, all stakeholders in the education setting have seen a need for social-emotional learning for many years.   This article has many useful case studies that help us understand SEL and student needs more in depth.

In the article, the writer states:

“SEL leads to improved academic outcomes and behaviors. When students have supportive relationships and opportunties to develop and practice social, emotional, and cognitive skills across many different contexts, academic learning accelerates. Hundreds of studies offer consistent evidence that SEL bolsters academic performance.”


We all want our students to have the above-mentioned successes.  How can we help students gain benefits that are both lasting and extensive? 

According to CASEL, there are five core competencies to the SEL curriculum.

Focusing on self leads to an understanding of how and why we are feeling a certain way, allowing us to manage our emotions.  This goes a long way to creating a balance within the limbic system and makes a way for our brain to focus on the academic content presented.

Focusing on others allows us to consider different perspectives and ideas.  This teaches the relationship skills of communication, collaboration, social responsibility, and professionalism.  These skills are a critical part of contributing to any culture.

But what does SEL have to do with the brain? A better question is what does it not have to do with the brain? Social-emotional awareness allows for the learning of academics to be deep and lasting, increasing academic success (Durak et al 2011 and 2018).  By teaching the understanding and regulation of the complex limbic system, we can better focus on decision-making skills, critical and creative thinking, and problem-solving skills.  Yes, the brain and social-emotional learning are important allies.

Getting started

The Promethean ActivPanel opens a world of possibilities for student interaction with SEL material. The Promethean Whiteboard allows you to create and present lessons to engage students in discussions. It is easy to preload content to the whiteboard for classroom meetings or discussions.

If you need a quick chart or template to expand on your SEL lessons, check out the preloaded ones available in the Promethean Whiteboard. In addition, all of your cloud-based content (Google Drive or OneDrive) is available for use. The ActivPanel, when connected to the internet, allows you to view and interact with a plethora of video and print content. The power of the ActivPanel brings a high level of engagement, making your SEL lessons more robust.

Through the Screen Share App available on all web-enabled devices, students can quickly and seamlessly share their thoughts and ideas from their personal device to the ActivPanel for all in the classroom to easily view.

Note: Screen Share is available as a desktop app or a Chrome browser extension.

Extend your learning

  • Discover how to create activities using ActivInspire and the Promethean Whiteboard App in this course