Educating the Heart through Social Emotional Skills

This blog was originally published on April 26th, 2017. It has been updated with new information and links.

Aristotle once said, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” As with any great quote related to education, this creates some questions for me. And where there are questions, there should be answers, so let’s dig in!  

How do we educate the heart? 

Schools and educators must put an emphasis on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines social-emotional learning as, “… the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”    

Why would we teach social-emotional skills to educate the heart? 

Research shows there are many practical benefits to teaching social and emotional skills and focusing a part of a child’s education on SEL. A meta-analysis of 213 studies involving over 270,000 students shows those involved in social-emotional learning have 11% point gains in academic achievement when compared to students who are not involved. Ninety-three percent of teachers surveyed feel social-emotional learning is either very or fairly important. Employers and businesses also see the importance of SEL. There are statistically significant associations between social and emotional learning as a child and positive adult outcomes in the areas of education, employment, criminal activity, substance use, and mental health. The benefits of SEL go on and on. 

How can we increase our students’ social-emotional skills?   

First, we can teach! This should be done strategically and systemically. Your state may have SEL standards or your district might consider implementation without state standards. Creating or adapting curriculum for classroom use is an excellent start. CASEL offers a helpful Program Guide. Also, a simple Google search will turn up hundreds of social-emotional learning activities and lesson plans.  

We can also increase our own learning in SEL. I recently discovered a great book on this topic called Start With the Heart: Igniting Hope in Schools Through Social and Emotional Learning by Michelle Trujillo. Michelle has been working with Learners Edge to share her hopeful message around SEL with educators. Check out our collaborative webinar, or consider registering for our course, 5203: Social and Emotional Learning Starts with You. 

Finally, we can create safe, nurturing schools and classrooms for our learners. This can be done with a systemic approach like school-wide positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS) or outlining expectations with students in an individual classroom.  A warm, caring teacher does wonders for our students, too!  

As you reflect on educating the heart through social and emotional learning, remember that Aristotle also said, “Good habits formed at youth make all the difference.” By educating the heart through social and emotional learning, we create good habits in our children. These good habits will, in turn, make a difference!  

Looking for more resources to help teach social and emotional learning (SEL)? Explore our Social-Emotional Learning Course Category. 


  1. Durlak, Joseph A., Roger P. Weissberg, Allison B. Dymnicki, Rebecca D. Taylor, and Kriston B. Schellinger. “The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions.” Child Development 82.1 (2011): 405-32. Web. 02 Apr. 2017.

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