Inside: Learn what social emotional skills are and how to teach social emotional learning in art education.
Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which students learn and use knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop a healthy identity, manage their emotions, and achieve goals. It’s also a part of how they empathize with others, create and nurture healthy relationships, and make thoughtful decisions.
When school districts make social emotional skills a cornerstone of their curriculum, students are more likely to attend school, receive better grades, and are less likely to have behavioral problems—resulting in healthier students, more caring communities, more academic success, and positive behavior.
Defining Social Emotional Skills
What are the social emotional skills? Social Emotional Learning or SEL is an umbrella term which covers several core skills that are often known by other names:
- Soft Skills (which can make them sound weak or less important)
- 21st Century Skills (which implies that these are new but they’re as old as humanity itself)
- College and Career Readiness (while vital for academic and employment success, SEL skills go beyond work and school)
- and many others
There are 5 main components of Social Emotional Learning in the classroom:
- Social Awareness
- Responsible Decision Making
- Relationship Skills
In this post, we’ll be looking at each social emotional skill individually, as well as how to support social emotional learning in art education. You can also learn more about Social Emotional Learning from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning.
Self-Awareness in SEL
Self-awareness encompasses the ability to understand your own emotions, thoughts, and values, as well as how those things influence you and your behavior. Healthy self-awareness enables you to recognize your own strengths and limitations, leading to confidence, purpose, and a growth mindset.
Connecting with artworks is a powerful way for students to explore their personal and social identities, integrating individual and cultural aspects of their personality. Artworks often explore themes of identity, prejudices and biases, social and cultural values, as well as meaning and purpose.
Many students are hindered by a lack of confidence, which can be exacerbated by poor grades or conduct problems. Art education offers unique opportunities for students to explore intelligences that aren’t always obvious in the traditional classroom.
Watch this video from PBS for more information on Self-Awareness as a part of Social Emotional Learning.
Self-Awareness Skills in Art Education
Activities where students identify emotions present in artworks helps them practice recognizing emotions in the expressions of others and in their own bodies.
SEL Art Activities for Identifying Emotions
Ask students to pose like figures in an artwork to experience the emotions the characters feel using artworks like the Nkisi N’Kondi Power Figures or Separation by Edvard Munch.
Help students develop emotional literacy with this free feelings wheel. Use this download with a work of art to help students develop the vocabulary to match emotions with what they see and feel.
The “I Feel” Word Wheel is a great tool to naturally expand students’ emotional vocabulary and understanding.
Learn more on the Art Class Curator Podcast…
When students are exposed to diverse artworks that reflect both themselves and others, they discover more about who they are and their place in the world.
SEL Art Activities for Self-Perception
Things Said About Us explores the effects of bullying and can be a powerful connection for helping students explore self-confidence and recognize the impact of contemporary culture on their self-perception.
Rosa Rolanda’s Self-Portrait includes many symbols that represent different facets of her life and personality, offering a perfect opportunity for students to explore the various parts of their life through art.
Self-Confidence and Recognizing Strengths
A vital social emotional skill is a student’s ability to recognize their strengths. Seeing their strengths helps boost confidence and can become a roadmap to help students know what they want to learn and explore.
SEL Art Activities for Self-Confidence and Recognizing Strengths
The act of making art can increase confidence as students learn new skills and create artworks they are proud of. Classroom art discussions are powerful because they give students a chance to use their voice, discover a point of view, and learn how to explain their thought process.
These 5 Artworks to Promote Introspection will get your students thinking about what they’re good at and what they want to accomplish, especially Picasso’s Girl Before a Mirror and Candy Chang’s Before I Die.
An essential part of any art project assignment is the reflection students complete after they create their artwork. They take time to focus on what went well, what they would change, and what they could do better with the knowledge they gained through the experience. This opportunity to reflect encourages a growth mindset by showing students their deepening and expanding strengths.
Social Awareness in SEL
Social awareness has to do with a student’s ability to understand and empathize with others. This looks like listening to viewpoints and experiences of people from backgrounds, cultures, and contexts different than their own. A socially aware person feels compassion for others and seeks to understand the varying histories and social expectations they encounter.
Looking at and connecting with artworks from across time and cultures allows students to consider others’ perspectives, recognize the strengths of other societies, show empathy and compassion for the hardships of others, understand differing social expectations, root out injustices, and understand the power of social and organizational norms to change and shape behavior.
Watch this video from PBS for more information on Social Awareness as a part of Social Emotional Learning.
Social Awareness Skills in Art Education
Art gives students a powerful opportunity to gain perspective, especially in a classroom setting. Each student brings their own experiences, biases, and thoughts to their interpretation of an artwork. Doing this work with their classmates during a class discussion or group activity challenges their assumptions and expands their worldview.
SEL Art Activities for Gaining Perspective
Character Analysis: Twitter Perspectives is an art appreciation activity that invites students to compose tweets from the viewpoint of the characters in an artwork. Students love the opportunity to use internet vernacular, so deeper learning happens while they’re having fun.
Kollwitz & Cassatt: Two Views of Motherhood in Art is a compare and contrast art activity. Students explore two views of motherhood through the art of Käthe Kollwitz and Mary Cassatt. This activity gives them a new perspective on the caregivers in their life.
Looking at art from from different cultures and points in histories allows students to put themselves in the shoes of the artist and the people depicted in the artwork. The more they imagine themselves in different situations, the more their capacity for empathy grows.
Learn more about how looking at art develops empathy.
SEL Art Activities for Showing Empathy
The “I am” Character Poem is a fantastic prompt that invites students to imagine the inner lives of people in artworks. This poetry activity pairs exceptionally well with Dorothea Lange’s photographs, as seen in the Exploring Empathy Art Lesson.
Artwork of the Week Lesson: Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother
This is a complete lesson with discussion questions, talking points, activities, and project ideas for Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother.
I See, I Think, I Wonder…. These three prompts help students connect with artworks on a deeper level by asking them to go beyond their first impressions and truly consider what is in front of them.
Appreciating and Respecting Diversity
Art historians have traditionally focused on artworks made by white men. Teaching art with this limited focus robs students of the chance to learn about themselves and the experiences of others through art. Students of all genders, races, and backgrounds deserve to see art from artists they can relate to. Expanding art lessons beyond the traditional masterpieces opens students up to the greater possibilities of art and can greatly inspire their own works.
SEL Art Activities for Appreciating and Respecting Diversity
Famous and Should Be Famous Women Artists is a showcase of women artists, complete with art projects, book suggestions, and more.
Teaching the Past, Creating the Future is a collection of posts and resources with artworks by black artists, civil rights art, African art, art projects, book suggestions, and more. While this is a great resource for Black History Month, it is important to integrate diverse perspectives in the art curriculum throughout the year.
Responsible Decision Making in SEL
Responsible decision-making is the ability to make caring, constructive choices in a variety of social and personal situations. Students demonstrate responsible decision-making when they consider ethics and safety, and evaluate the pros and cons of their actions, including any long-term benefits or consequences for them, their community, and the world.
Art lessons that include social-emotional learning help students develop their curiosity and open-mindedness, enabling them to analyze information and identify both problems and solutions. The social emotional skills students learn in art class gives them experience using critical thinking skills and looking at things from different perspectives, which aids their decision making process.
Watch this video from PBS for more information on Responsible Decision Making as a part of Social Emotional Learning.
Responsible Decision Making Skills in Art Education
Analyzing, Evaluating, Reflecting
One way students develop effective problem-solving and critical thinking skills in art class is through looking at artworks. Interpreting art allows students to use their brains in complex ways. When looking at art, students evaluate, analyze, compare, criticize, and construct meaning from what they see.
This helps them outside of the classroom when they need to identify the benefits and consequences associated with the choices they face. This deep interpretation work paired with historical information and the viewpoints of their classmates also prepares them for evaluating the impact of their decisions across personal, ethical, civic, and safety considerations.
SEL Art Activities for Analyzing, Evaluating, Reflecting
SPARK is our 5 step art criticism framework that creates inspired art connections and conversations by focusing on personal connection. The five steps are: See, Perceive, Ask + Answer, Reflect, and Know.
Choosing the right artworks is critical for bringing powerful social emotional learning into the art classroom. The secret to choosing an artwork is simple, just follow the 4 Cs. What are they? Read Choosing an Artwork for Art Lessons to find out.
Students today are more aware of the world around them than any prior generation. They have knowledge at their fingertips and access to voices from around the world. But knowing about the world and knowing your own impact are not the same thing.
Art class is one place where students can slow down and consider different perspectives in a creative, thoughtful way. Choosing artworks that reflect our students’ experiences and open them up to paths they’ve never walked is key to helping them recognize their ethical responsibility.
SEL Art Activities for Ethical Responsibility
Yinka Shonibare’s The Swing (after Fragonard) is an excellent artwork for discussing how our global, interconnected world affects culture and identity.
The story of Judith and Holofernes has been memorialized in paint by many artists over time. Given the gender issues inherent in the story, it’s a great opportunity to compare and contrast different depictions and give students insight into their own biases.
Self-Management in SEL
Self-management is how well a student manages their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different situations, as well as how they set and achieve goals. Healthy self-management looks like the ability to delay gratification, manage stress, feel motivation, as well as meet personal and community goals.
There are many opportunities to set and accomplish goals in the art classroom. From improving individual skills to completing group projects, students regularly work on self-management. Making and looking at art can be a vital part of any stress management strategy. The unique culture of art classes lends itself to students learning and developing creative planning and organizational skills.
Watch this video from PBS for more information on Self-Management as a part of Social Emotional Learning.
Self-Management Skills in Art Education
One of the best ways we can practice self-management in the classroom is to show our students what it looks like. Modeling behavior and keeping a growth mindset is a powerful way to help your students learn positive social emotional skills. Making sure your classroom culture and rules reflects SEL is important too.
SEL Art Teacher Resources for Self-Management
Teacher burnout comes for us all, but knowing this one simple thing can change everything. Read The 1 Thing You Need to Avoid Teacher Burnout to learn how to leave burnout behind and start thriving.
Learn how to avoid classroom management problems by creating a culture of trust and respect with your students.
Relationship Skills in SEL
Relationship skills include the abilities to build and maintain healthy, supportive relationships. A big part of relationship skills is navigating the dynamics of various relationships in diverse settings. Healthy relationship skills are seen when students can clearly communicate, actively listen, cooperate during collaborations, and negotiate conflicts.
Art educators can help students develop relationship skills through positive interactions, effective communication, classroom discussions, giving opportunities for problem-solving and teamwork, and teaching lessons that include important social issues.
Watch this video from PBS for more information on Relationship Skills as a part of Social Emotional Learning.
Relationship Skills in Art Education
Art is about relationships—the relationship the artist has with themselves and the world. When we look it art, we bring all of our experiences and relationships to our interpretation of the art. The relationship skill connections in art education are neverending.
SEL Art Activities for Relationship Skills
Collaborative art projects, especially those centered around community, give students a change to build rapport with their peers—navigating conflict, communicating with others, and engaging socially to meet a goal.
Edvard Munch’s The Scream is one of the most captivating and powerful artworks ever made, but it’s part of a larger series called the Frieze of Life that explores the human experience and captures foundational human emotions and relationships.
Social Emotional Skills in Art Education
Social emotional skills are built or broken in every area of a child’s life—in their community, with their family and friends, at school, and within the each class. We must consider every relationship to ensure healthy social-emotional learning—classroom culture, how we instruct, district practices and policies, how we partner with families, and how we interact with the community.
Let us know how you incorporate social emotional skills in your art classroom in the comments!
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