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College & Workforce Readiness Opinion

Resources to Support Social-Emotional Learning

By Kate Walker — November 28, 2018 6 min read
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Editor’s Introduction: Kate Walker, a professor at University of Minnesota Extension, specialist in youth work practice, and the editor of the Journal for Youth Development, shares that cultural values have a strong relation to the development of social-emotional skills. Here are some resources focused on identity and culture to help youth develop these skills.

To be successful now and ready for college, careers, and civic responsibilities, today’s young people need to develop a range of skills intermittently referred to as social-emotional, global, 21st-century, or character skills. All young people, regardless of cultural background, need these skills to be aware of and manage emotions, navigate relationships, and thrive.

But personal identity and cultural values shape how each person defines success. Some cultures focus on the individual, others are more collective. Some people value direct forms of communication, yet others prefer indirect forms. Some cultures tend to restrain strong emotions, whereas others express emotions openly. Some members of a team may be more relationship-focused, while others are more task-focused.

To facilitate this kind of learning, adult staff need support to be aware of their own values and competencies and to have practical strategies to create conditions for all youths to practice these skills. Staff need to be aware of and counteract bias as well as burnout. They need to be versed in trauma-informed practices (which benefit all students) to understand, recognize, and respond to the behaviors and needs of their students. Related, staff need to understand how exclusionary discipline policies are often counterproductive.

Strategies and Resources to Support Students and Staff

Global competence is the capacity and disposition to understand and act on issues of global significance and is broken into four domains: investigate the world, recognize perspectives, communicate ideas, and take action. Knowledge and skills that young people need in the 21st century are outlined below, along with free resources to support each domain. These tools and activities attend to the critical role of personal and cultural identity, values, and perspectives.

1) Investigate the World. Globally competent youths are aware, curious, and interested in learning about the diverse world around them. To do this, they need to develop and practice skills like curiosity, cultural awareness, and mindfulness.


  • The University of Minnesota Extension‘s SEL Toolkit includes a Mapping Cultural Values activity for staff to identify their own personal cultural values and preferences that influence social and emotional learning (SEL).
  • Teaching Tolerance’s My Multicultural Self lesson plan helps students identify and reflect upon facets of their multicultural selves and understand the many reasons that miscommunication can occur.
  • The Character Lab’s Curiosity Playbook includes information and activities as well as links to recommended books and videos.
  • Transforming Education’s Mindfulness Toolkit includes information on what mindfulness is and why it matters, strategies, a video, and a facilitator guide.

2) Recognize Perspectives. Socially and emotionally equipped youths recognize that they have a particular perspective and that others may or may not share it. This requires self-awareness to assess one’s strengths and limitations, as well as social awareness to take the perspective of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures. This includes skills like perspective-taking, empathy, and gratitude.


  • Emotional Intelligence (or EQ) is defined as the ability to be aware of, understand, and manage one’s emotions. The University of Minnesota Extension’s SEL Toolkit includes a quick Emotional Intelligence Self-Assessment for staff to use for personal reflection.
  • Transforming Education’s Social Awareness Toolkit includes information, resources, and strategies to support the development of students’ social awareness.
  • The Character Lab’s Gratitude Playbook includes information about gratitude as well as three activities (Gratitude Letter, Gratitude Journal, and Three Good Things).
  • The Center for Global Education’s Cultural Mandalas lesson plan by Sandra Makielski helps students identify the eight attributes of culture and to create a mandala and an “I Am” poem.

3) Communicate Ideas. Twenty-first century youths need to effectively communicate, verbally and nonverbally, with diverse audiences. This includes being able to establish and maintain healthy relationships with diverse individuals and groups and being able to communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate with others, and negotiate conflict constructively.


  • In a team of people from different backgrounds and with different skills, conflict is to be expected. Preparing Youth to Thrive offers a host of SEL resources including an activity on How to Mediate Conflict.
  • The Center for Global Education’s The Many Ways the World Communicates lesson plan helps students gain an understanding of the nature of human communication and learn that verbal language is only one way people communicate.
  • Teaching Tolerance’s Understanding Disabilities lesson plan helps students increase knowledge about people with disabilities and explore ways to sensitively communicate with people with disabilities.
  • The University of Minnesota Extension’s SEL Toolkit includes a Power of Empathy activity (for students or staff) based on an animated short of Dr. Brené Brown’s talk exploring the differences between empathy and sympathy.

4) Take Action. Globally competent youths have the skills and knowledge to make a difference in the world. This requires responsible decisionmaking, problem-solving, and perseverance. This includes dealing effectively and ethically with daily tasks and challenges, with consideration for the well-being of oneself and others.


  • Teaching Tolerance’s Where We Stand lesson plan guides students to examine how they face everyday moral dilemmas and consider who and what influences their reactions when conflicts arise.
  • Character Lab’s Grit Playbook information on grit as well as activities (Goal Pyramid, My Values, Two Stories, and Expert Practice for Classrooms).
  • Transforming Educations’ Growth Mindset Toolkit is a self-contained professional-development session.There is also a version en Español and for parents.
  • The University of Minnesota Extension’s SEL Toolkit includes a Goal Sandwich activity to help youths identify a short-term goal and create concrete steps to complete it.

Across these domains and activities, identity and culture are central.The social and emotional skills that are most important for youths to develop will vary based on their own understanding of success. Understanding how one’s own cultural background, values, and identity shape one’s worldview will equip you to identify global competence goals that are appropriate for youths in your context.

As a first step toward examining your own values, competencies and practices, reflect on these questions:


  • Given your personal identity and cultural values, which SEL skills are most important to you?
  • How might your cultural values and preferences be similar or different from the youths you work with?
  • What can you do to be more culturally responsive as you support global competence among your students?

Follow Kate, the University of Minnesota Extension, Heather, and the Center for Global Education on Twitter.

Image created on Pablo.

The opinions expressed in Global Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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