Understanding the social emotional learning journeys of our students: part 1 of 2

“Hum ek doosre ke emotions samjhe toh, hum ek doosre ko better samajh sakte hain.” 
[“If we understand each other’s emotions, we can understand each other better.”]

As facilitators of Apni Shala’s School Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Programme 1a, we (Ajmer and Niranjan) started our journey as authors of this blog with a question: what do our students’ journeys with Social Emotional Learning (SEL) look like? Rooted in Narrative Ideas 2, one of Apni Shala’s guiding philosophies, which believes that all people, including the very young, are experts of their life, we decided to explore this question with the help of the voices of students in grades 8, 9, 10 from two long-time partner public schools: Tilak Nagar MPS and Ganesh Baug English MPS. This exploration helped us understand our young people’s experiences and expertise related to SEL, as evidenced by the simple yet powerful reflection in the title of this blog that was shared by a grade 10 student. 

In brief conversations (both 1-to-1 and small-group) with 25 of our students, we asked two questions: 

a) what is the importance of social emotional learning (SEL) in your life? and, 

b) can you share a few learnings related to SEL, or what SEL has made possible for you? 

Fig 1: Reflecting and journaling during an SEL session

Their responses and reflections, which pointed to the diversity of their life experiences, have contributed to our understanding of the different ways in which social emotional development plays out. Through this blog, we’re sharing how students are: 

a) appreciating the significance of emotions in their life experiences;

b) learning from both unique and shared experiences in relationships;

c) learning self regulation through relationships; and

d) navigating life with their contextualised wisdom

In this two-part blog, part one includes a discussion on themes a & b listed above. This comprises multiple anecdotes shared by our students which are accompanied by short paragraphs that draw connections between our students’ experiences and the five SEL competencies of self awareness, self management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making. Each of these five competencies are referenced with the help of the respective sub-competencies  (in italicised font) that are emerging in the anecdotes, for e.g., taking another’s perspective without any judgement or reaction as a part of social awareness or recognising emotions as a part of self awareness. These sub-competencies have been developed by Apni Shala based on our work with public schools, NGOs and communities in the urban Indian context. Part two of this blog, to be published next, will explore themes c & d listed above. 

Appreciating the significance of emotions in their life experiences: 

Fig 2: Students sharing the emotions, bodily sensations, and thoughts that visited them during an SEL session

The students shared that recognising emotions is a part of knowing oneself and is as important as knowing about the events and happenings in the environment. Umar below refers to need for the SEL competency of self awareness:

“Hum log bahar ke baare me jaan paate hain- duniya me kya ho raha hai, dost kya kar rahe hain- lekin hum log khud ke baare me jaan nahi paate the. Andar aur bahar, dono ke baare me jaan na zaroori hai. Khush hai, udaas hai. Udaas hai toh kyun udaas hain aur usko kaise sahi kar sakte hain?”
“We get to know about the outside– what is happening in the world, what our friends are doing– but we don’t get to know about our own selves. Inside and outside, it is important to know about both. Am I happy? Am I sad? If I’m sad, why am I sad and what can I do about it?”

It also emerged that students are recognising the impact of their emotions on their actions and behaviours, evidenced by Zannat’s application of self awareness

“Main apni feelings ko samajh paati hoon, share kar paati hoon … [main jaanti hoon ki] jab mai sad ya gussa rehti hu toh dusro pe apna gussa nikalti hoon aur jab happy rehti hoon toh sabse ache se baat karti hoon aur sharing karti hoon.”
“I’m able to understand my feelings, able to share them … [I know that]  when I’m sad or angry, I tend to take it out on others and when I’m happy, I speak nicely to everyone, I share things with them.”

In a natural progression, the reflections about emotions moved from self to relationships. Geeta below shares that improved understanding in a relationship comes from both people understanding the emotions of the other. When this happens, it makes it possible for her to operate from trust in the relationship, thus helping us draw a connection between emotions and the SEL competencies of social awareness and relationship skills respectively: 

“Hum ek doosre ke emotions samjhe, toh hum ek doosre ko better samajh sakte hain. Agar woh humare emotions samjhe, toh hum log humare emotions share kar sakte hain, aur hume vishwas aayega ki woh hume samajh sakte hain.”
“If we understand each other’s emotions, we can understand each other better. If they understand our emotions, we can share our emotions, and we can trust that they can understand us.”

Interestingly, Geeta also identified how SEL competencies feed into each other, i.e., how identifying the impact of one’s behaviour on others and taking another’s perspective without any judgement or reaction (both, social awareness) can help one work with compassion in their relationship (relationship skills).

“Hum log kabhi saamne wale ko kuch bhi bol dete hain aur saamnewale bhi hume bina soche kuch bol dete hain. Lekin phir hume lagta hai ki chod yaar, saamne wala hum se younger hai aur hum unse elder hain.” 
“Sometimes we say something to the other person and the other person also doesn’t think much and says something back. But then, we feel it is OK to let go, since the other person is younger than us and we’re older than them.”

Learning from both unique and shared experiences in relationships:

Fig 3: Students doing a community building activity  that honours everyone’s views

A common thread running through all the conversations with our students was that they experience diverse and significant moments and emotions in their relationships. And that, experiences in relationships, especially with people who were very close to the students, made it possible to both receive and offer SEL-informed knowledge, skills and attitude.

Research on both child development and SEL recognises that caregivers play an important role in the social emotional development of their child 1b, 1c. In the anecdote below, Zara’s mother understood her daughter’s actions without judgement or reaction and worked through a tricky situation that involved her daughter breaking  a school rule, with compassion

“Maine school bunk kiya tha toh teacher ne parents ko inform kiya. Mummy ne pehle pooch taach kiya ki exactly kya hua aur phir mere saath baat kiya. Unhone kaha ki “main bhi teri dost hoon, tu mujhse baat kar sakti hai”.  Mother se friend ka rishta bana sakti hoon, yeh maine seekha.”
“I had bunked school and the teacher informed my parents. My mother first inquired to find out exactly what happened and then spoke with me. She said that “I’m also your friend, you can speak to me.” I learnt that I can build a friend-like relationship with my mother.” 

Thus Zara’s mother’s relationship skills paved the way for Zara’s own social emotional learning around parent-child relationships. 

In another anecdote where family members played an important role, Sandhya shared how the abrupt ending of a romantic relationship was difficult for her and that it was her sister who provided the necessary emotional support (relationship skills) during this period. 

“Mera male friend se jhagda ho gaya tha. Main kuch dinon tak wait kiya, observe kiya … lekin phir us time pe meri sister ne hi mujhe support kiya. Maine yeh samjha ki life me family members hi kaam aate hain.”
“I had a fight with my male-friend. I waited for a few days, observed … but then my sister supported me during that time. I understood that in life, only our family members help us.”  

While Sandhya’s learning from her experience was to value family support when there were difficulties in peer relationships, Mayuri below shares how peer support helped fill an emptiness she felt in her relationship with family.  

“Kabhi lagta hai ki akeli hu mai and ghar wale bolte hai ki, “padhai me bhi achi nahi hai, kaam sahi se nahi karti hai” … Toh ek friend chahiye tha ki koi meri baat sune and yeh session ki wajah se merko ek achi dost mili hai jisse mai apni saari baatein share karti hu, aur woh mujhe hamesha motivate karte hai ki: “tu achi hai, tu smart hai” … “tumhare me koi na koi khoobi hogi woh ghar walo ko samajh me nahi aayi” … dosto se share karne ke baad rahat milti hai.”
“Sometimes I feel that I’m alone and my family says that I’m not good at studies, I don’t do any work properly … So I needed a friend who would listen to what I wanted to say and through this session, I found a good friend with whom I share everything, and she always motivates me: “you are good, you are smart” … “you definitely have your unique strengths that your family could not understand” … I experience relief after sharing with friends.” 

In this anecdote, Mayuri was aware of her past experiences with her family, and she also understood her hopes from a peer relationship (both, self awareness), and hence sought support for herself through the same (self management). In this peer relationship, Mayuri’s friend (a classmate) understood Mayuri’s emotions, thoughts and experiences and recognised Mayuri’s skills and strengths (both, social awareness). This is how the SEL competency of social awareness made it possible for Mayuri’s classmate to provide support to Mayuri during her time of need (relationship skills). 

These anecdotes help make visible how an individual’s social emotional development is a process that involves acquiring and applying knowledge, skills and attitudes in the context of both unique (personal) and shared (relational) experiences. 

Thus, the process of understanding the social emotional learning journeys of our students led us to learn that our students recognise and appreciate the significance of emotions in their life experiences. Further, we learnt that diverse and significant experiences in interpersonal relationships are contributing to their social emotional development. 

This was part one of a two-part blog that attempts to understand the social emotional learning journeys of students from two Mumbai-based public schools who’ve been a part of Apni Shala’s SEL Programme. Students. Please click here for part two.

Author Bios:

Ajmeruddin Shaikh (Ajmer) is a fellow at Apni Shala and joined in June 2022. He is facilitating SEL sessions in 3 schools with around 350 students weekly once in one school. He is very active & dedicated to his work in SEL. He completed his Bachelor of Commerce from Rizvi College and is pursuing a Masters of Commerce from Mumbai University. In his free time, he loves to play cricket and workout at the gym.

Niranjanraj Ramasundaram (Niranjan) works at Apni Shala as an SEL Facilitator in six partner schools/NGOs and as a member of the SEL Curriculum team. He has an MA in Development Studies specialising in power, participation and social change, and has a combined work experience of 7+ years in the start-up and social sectors. Niranjan is fond of music, spending time with friends, and playing with his cats. 

Disclaimer: The names of all the student respondents in this blog are pseudonyms. 
Gratitude: We would like to express our gratitude to all our student respondents for sharing their stories and wisdom with us, and to Abhijeet Dhurve and Mayuri Golambde for helping guide this process of gathering student voices on their journey with SEL.


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