How social workers benefit from SEL at university

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In general, Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) theory refers to a process in which students are taught to use specific skills relating to these traits. These skills encompass behaviors, values and attitudes which reflect positive emotional and social interactions. Moreover, in social work, learning how to use these actions, thoughts and feelings can help practitioners enjoy a more successful career. It can lead to them finding effective ways of dealing with a range of emotions and working with both clients and colleagues respectfully.

This article explores SEL and social work in more detail.

Why become a social worker?

In modern universities, social work students come from a range of backgrounds with different cultural heritages and beliefs. This diversity gives them distinct perspectives and capabilities, and SEL encourages students to appreciate this uniqueness. It teaches students to relate well to each other, helps them to develop heightened self-awareness, and nurtures cultural competency. That is why academic institutions such as Florida State University promote social and emotional learning in their social work programs.

If you’re attracted to a career in this fulfilling profession, you can earn your Advanced Standing MSW Degree online in Georgia at FSU in their College of Social Work and gain a deeper level of empathy for people in the community. This remote course is delivered through a local fieldwork placement, as well as online coursework, and it can be completed in two years for those with a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW).

After graduating with a good grounding in social and emotional learning, it will be easier for new social workers to understand their thoughts and, ultimately, to become more socially aware. The idea is not to ignore emotions but to feel and comprehend them fully and then make more reasonable, positive decisions in a workplace setting.

What are the core competencies provided by social-emotional learning?

The five competencies associated with SEL can be of use to students professionally, as well as at home and in a learning environment. The idea is to bring these together in an effective way so students develop a stronger, more confident sense of self.


Students are taught to understand and recognize their thoughts and feelings. In doing so, they will learn to identify where their strengths and weaknesses lie. This can be useful in gaining a better knowledge of who they are as people and building confidence in their skills. Furthermore, by understanding more about themselves, students can start to consider what they will become.


A key aspect of self-awareness, self-management is about controlling the various thoughts, feelings and emotions that can arise in different situations. This skill can make it easier for people to establish a goal or a series of goals and work towards them with clarity.

Social awareness

Empathy is about a person putting themselves in the same position as someone else. When this is someone from a different culture or background, some students find empathy a challenge. It is also about acting ethically and understanding the various perspectives of others. This nurtures a healthier culture of social awareness in the social work profession, both in the office and in the field.

Relationship skills

Establishing relationships and building trust is a part of what social workers do every day with people from a range of backgrounds. Maintaining these bonds and nurturing them requires good relationship skills. This competency involves listening to others, being able to resolve areas of conflict, and knowing when to help. Essentially, it is about being an excellent communicator and connecting with others.

Decision-making skills

People can often react differently, even in identical situations, and sometimes, this can lead to conflict or misunderstandings. When they can stand back and consider the best responses or actions, social workers can encourage a better outcome. This ability is based on ethics and considering the consequences of their actions. It also relates to personal safety and that of others. In general, these are all learned behaviors that can be refined and practiced.

How do university tutors deliver SEL?

Although SEL is not a traditional subject, it can be incorporated into programs in the usual ways. Educators will provide lessons that explain how students can relate better to one another, suggest additional reading and set assignments based on aspects of SEL theory. Primarily, there will be a segment of each session or educational material that formally deals with SEL. Over time, these sessions will touch upon reoccurring themes and ideas that work to reinforce the core competencies of SEL.

Encouraging students to explore their feelings

Tutors may task their class with creating a journal to explore their feelings more fully, especially as they relate to areas of SEL. This reflective activity helps students to identify what they enjoyed during the day and what was a struggle. It’s a good starting point for learning the principles of SEL that relate to comprehending and thinking about feelings. An alternative is creative writing, which some tutors will suggest as a tool instead of a journal. By building a fictional world filled with characters, students can explore a huge range of emotions, as well as consider how different types of people react when presented with similar challenges.

Setting up discussions on diversity

Empathizing with the feelings of others is a key part of SEL, and students are encouraged to connect, regardless of their socio-economic or cultural background. By setting up a discussion about the background of each person in the room, tutors allow students to celebrate differences and communicate with a diverse range of people. This approach can begin in a learning environment but be continued less formally, on message boards or in the student’s personal chats.

Making SEL part of the learning experience

Teaching may also include weaving SEL into other subjects, such as using evidence-based procedures and how policy can deliver social justice for the disadvantaged. Educators will also work with their students to set up goals for SEL in areas that they feel need extra work. Tutors will check back in regularly to ensure the student’s success is charted and they feel a sense of achievement for their efforts. This offers students the chance to share what they have learned and how they feel. The ability to discuss emotions can assist greatly with understanding them and acting on them. Furthermore, it encourages mindfulness – being in the moment and reserving judgment.

Key features of teaching SEL

It may be different from many of the standard curriculum subjects, but SEL is an important part of learning for social work professionals, and that is why it is so often taught. Here is a look at how that is done and what the classroom environment will usually be like, either online or in a physical university class.

The atmosphere is safe

Part of SEL instruction involves students taking a deep dive into their feelings and emotions. Therefore, to offer a degree of protection, teachers will design and nurture an environment that feels safe for all, regardless of their gender, sexuality, social, or cultural background. Teachers can do this by admitting when they are unsure of a topic themselves and carrying out further research or asking the class for options. This shows humanity and is a powerful example of SEL in action. Educators will also model kindness by being patient with students who have concerns and making themselves available to the class outside of the teaching environment.

Communication is encouraged

For social and emotional learning to be distributed effectively, students need to feel confident in exchanging their ideas and feelings with one another. Most online universities will have forums and other types of virtual meeting spaces where this is encouraged. Students can start new friendships, freely discuss their thoughts, and ask questions without any fear of being judged. This paves the way for better dialogue between students and fosters a learning environment in which students are more likely to participate and engage with their SEL.

Supporting the empowerment of students

Fundamentally, SEL empowers students by improving their skills and confidence. In the classroom, tutors can do this by encouraging the group to take control of their learning. This works to motivate students as they develop a can-do attitude and soon see their own potential. Sometimes, trainee social workers may take part in student-led learning that is organized through social channels. This allows social workers and students to provide mutual support while encouraging all involved to think for themselves. As SEL is a highly personal learning experience, independent thought is crucial.

Why is SEL important for social workers?

Social-emotional skills are beneficial in almost every specialism, but it’s easy to see how controlling feelings and demonstrating excellent communication assist social workers. As students, being on a course with an SEL focus can provide various life skills and prepare practitioners for the future.

Active listening

SEL group work and collaborations are all geared towards active listening, which is an important skill for social workers. Active listening helps a social worker to notice and comprehend the needs of a client, regardless of their background or emotional state. Moreover, this process ensures a client feels heard and respected. Practitioners who draw on SEL will concentrate on what their client is expressing, reinforce the client’s feelings with questions, and then repeat key phrases. They may also use techniques like paraphrasing to build trust between them and their client, which is useful when they are working toward solutions.


Over the course of their career, social workers must learn and refine a range of verbal and non-verbal communication skills. This allows them to listen to their clients, engage with their needs, and work collaboratively. They need to identify when a good time to speak is and when it is more important to listen. This could include using open body language, nodding in response to the client’s opinions, and other non-verbal actions that encourage a client to open up.

Every day, social workers will interact with people from across the social spectrum. Therefore, practitioners need to adapt their speaking style to individual clients based on their age, educational ability, gender, or culture. Excellent communication is also part of advocacy work. From policymakers to nonprofits and community leaders, social workers speak with a range of stakeholders daily. As part of their advocacy, they must communicate the needs of community groups and individuals clearly to ensure the best outcomes.

Decision making

SEL encourages social workers to use their emotional insight when solving problems. Along with critical thinking, this skill is crucial for practitioners who regularly collect, collate and analyze information from many different sources to draw a conclusion. By taking a rational approach to managing problems, a professional can better consider the resources they have on hand and how these could fit the needs of their client.


Social workers meet vulnerable people who have found themselves in difficult situations. Their job is to listen with compassion. This allows a professional to see past the person as a client to understand the problems they face and the uniqueness of their situation. They use empathy to build trust and fortify the bonds with each client, which establishes a more effective working relationship.

Cultivating a positive workplace culture

SEL delivers a range of benefits for the organizations and systems that employ social workers. In this profession, people do not carry out their jobs in a bubble. Over a day, social workers interact with clients, managers, other caseworkers, and community leaders. With better emotional and social training, they understand more about interacting with different personality types and getting the most out of these relationships.

Less conflict in the office

From bad relations with colleagues to a difficult manager or a lack of understanding, there are many reasons why conflict can become an issue. Frequently, this can lead to a high turnover of staff, which is of key concern as there is already a lack of social workers in some parts of the US. Points of conflict will always arise, and some employees will simply not get on. SEL can be useful to get better outcomes from these issues. It teaches new social workers to navigate through these difficult and tense situations in practical, effective ways.

Less stress on the job

Stress can lead to burnout, which can cause some employees to be less motivated and unable to meet their full potential at work. SEL negates this by giving social workers the tools and aptitudes they need to identify and deal with on-the-job stress. This creates a happier working environment and can lead to employees being more productive.

Social workers are more successful at what they do

Once they graduate, practitioners have all the technical skills they need to assist clients, contact third parties, and collaborate with colleagues, but they also need emotional intelligence. Soft skills are less linked to completing tasks and are more about people learning who they are and the purpose behind what they do. Ultimately, this greatly contributes to their career goals and success.

SEL encourages continued professional development

Boosting SEL helps to support social workers and encourages them to recognize their strengths. They also become more aware of the environment around them and how they fit into the overall picture. Moreover, they see how their skills work to benefit the organization. Social workers who understand what value they can potentially add are ready to establish goals for their personal and professional growth. Eventually, these could benefit not only their career but also the performance they put in at their current position.

University studies are vital for development

SEL has a range of benefits for both students of social work and practitioners; it develops self-awareness, enhances academic success, and nurtures the development of positive behavior. Moreover, the competencies that make up an SEL program can help learners cope with stress more positively, solve problems independently, and help others do the same. With these aptitudes, students are better equipped to deal with the challenges of a social work role and can navigate the various pressures of the job more effectively.

The aims of SEL often extend beyond learning the essential competencies and can impact many other areas of a student’s life. Personality traits like positivity, empathy, and self-control mean a person has highly developed soft skills. These are required to work as part of a team, understand others, and communicate feelings clearly. Moreover, they are more able to resolve conflicts effectively and, thanks to their cultural competency, have stronger connections to the communities they serve. By helping individuals pursue the goals of social work, SEL has enormous benefits for the profession as a whole and supports the success of initiatives across the US.

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