Social-Emotional Learning and the Arts: Part 1: Theatre
By Drew Keat
Returning to in-person learning has been a significant transition for all members of the Jeffco Community. We are facing a variety of new challenges that require careful consideration and strategic intervention. In light of some of these challenges, the benefits of intentional focus on Social Emotional Learning have drawn our attention. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) provides a foundation for safe and positive learning, and enhances students' abilities to succeed in school, careers, and life. In addition, school-wide benefits of SEL include improved attitudes and behaviors throughout the school. The Jeffco Importance of SEL webpage outlines further benefits. However, these benefits are not simply elicited from isolated SEL instruction. To maximize the intended benefits, these lessons and skills need to be revisited and reinforced throughout a student’s day.
This is where the arts provide synergistic support for enhancing SEL. Arts education lends natural answers to the question “How do we reinforce the explicit instruction of SEL skills with authentic experiences and practice?” In January of 2020, the Journal of the National Association of State Boards of Education published a theory of action recognizing the implicit social-emotional learning involved in the daily experiences of arts education. While SEL competencies are not necessarily the primary instructional focus for arts courses, most arts educators do spend additional time and energy focusing on social-emotional development because these skills naturally supplement the outcome of their own content standards.
For instance, in Theatre, the recurrent experiences of auditioning for a production, rehearsing for performances, building ensemble, and engaging in the rigorous analyses necessary for creative self-expression provide fertile ground for the developmental experiences that are essential for high-quality SEL outcomes. Alternatively, by overtly building self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making, theatre students are able to give stronger performances, participate more effectively in ensembles, and execute more meaningful artistic analyses. Arts teachers tend to recognize that the development of SEL skills provide the answers for students when they ask “Why are we learning this?” This inherent relationship between SEL and Arts education indicates that some of our most valuable resources for SEL integration are arts teachers and their programs.
This synergy between content and SEL does not need to be confined to arts classrooms. Natural connections and interdependencies between SEL competencies can and should be made within all contents. With this in mind, we should remember that opportunities to draw on the experience and best practices of arts educators can be leveraged to enhance SEL instruction throughout our educational communities. As we approach the goals of SEL integration, one place to start could be the use of pedagogical strategies that are essential for Arts education.
This is the first of a three part series focusing on the relationship between SEL and the Arts. Be sure to check out our upcoming installments!
Theatre Activities for Reinforcing SEL
Curriculum & Instruction