Nurturing happiness: Is your school high in SEQ?


Happiness is a state of mind, an emotion that plays a very significant role in leading a successful, stress free and peaceful life. It is an underrated emotion because we look at it at a very superficial level. We as educators can add our experiences and create a “Happiness Model” for schools to practice. Till then Social Emotional Learning is definitely a promising approach that is able to reduce risky behaviours, increase desirable behaviours, bring emotional stability and thus result in promoting positive development.

Scoring high marks, getting a promotion, buying a new car gives us happiness but how long does it stay? Are we looking at “inner happiness”? Are we training our coming generations on how to deal with emotions? Subject-based learning prepares them for careers and jobs may be. However, the essential components of managing emotions are somehow missing in the school curriculum.

What is SEQ?

Chetna Sabharwal
Chetna Sabharwal

SEQ refers to the Social Emotional Quotient (Social Emotional Intelligence) and according to CASEL, social-emotional learning is a process through which “children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

SEQ in schools

The concept of social and emotional learning, hence, becomes significant in education and schools. Research also tells us that SEL (Social Emotional Learning) promotes young people’s academic success, engagement, good behaviour, cooperation with others, problem-solving abilities, health and wellbeing, while also preventing a variety of problems such as anxiety, truancy, alcohol and drug use, bullying, self-harm and violence etc. These concerns and issues are universal and challenge the school system at every juncture. The intensity and frequency may vary but it needs to be addressed with a different approach.

Positive discipline

The concept of positive discipline integrated with social emotional learning in a gradual manner works well in school. The concept of positive discipline, a recent idea, challenges the traditional approach and is based on the theories of Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs who believed that human behaviour is motivated by the core need to feel a sense of belongingness and significance. Positive discipline also offers parents, teachers and caregivers the opportunity to learn through an experiential approach about the child’s world so as to understand thoughts, feelings and decisions children make, in a holistic way. It stresses the need for kindness and firmness at the same time. Furthermore, in this approach, mistakes are viewed as opportunities for learning and that we learn best in the context of a caring relationship where effort is made to connect before correction.

Competencies of SEL

To elaborate more on how training on Social emotional learning leads to positive discipline and empowerment of children, let’s look a little deeper into the various competencies of SEL:

  • Self-Awareness: It means accurately assessing one’s feeling, interests, values and strengths, maintaining a well-grounded sense of self-confidence. For instance, giving opportunities to express their emotions, feelings and thoughts with right words at kindergarten stage will help them in communicating better. In this process, the students understand their own feelings and are able to assess their strengths and weaknesses too. Being self-aware then leads to simple acts like identifying what one needs to do to complete a task or recognizing errors in classwork/homework and making changes. Being aware of other’s feeling leads to mindfulness which facilitates the process of positive development in all aspects.
  • Self-Management: It means regulating one’s emotions to handle stress, control impulses and persevere in overcoming obstacles, setting and monitoring progress toward personal and academic goals, expressing emotions appropriately. Most often, we as parents and educators label “anger” as a negative emotion whereas it is just another emotion that needs to be expressed equally as happiness. The only training needed here is management of this emotion called “anger.” I can illustrate many such “misconceptions” that hinder the process of being self-aware right from childhood and hence manifest into undesirable habits when they become adults. Self-monitoring or management can best be learnt during the class activities by self- reflection. Allowing the students to make mistakes and learn in a positive environment steers the growth towards achieving their best. And the best here is limited to their own version rather than comparing with their peers.
  • Social awareness: With the diversity of students any school caters to, it’s important to initiate a dialogue about their social awareness at early stages. Taking the perspective of and empathizing with others, recognizing and appreciating individual and group similarities and differences, recognizing and using family, school and community are few components of it. Integrating lessons and activities that are more discussion based like debates, role play, group discussions, team analysis et al help in identifying the gaps that exists in child’s thinking as they do carry the cultural learning from families and communities they belong to. The idea of social awareness is to train them on competencies that will make them better citizens.
  • Relationship management: Establishing and maintaining healthy and rewarding cooperative relationships, resisting inappropriate social pressure; preventing, managing and resolving interpersonal conflict, seeking help when needed are essential part of this competency. Most of the times, schools ignore the issues of peer relation that leads to bullying, isolation and other discipline issues. No subject per se talks about the basic thread of social existence, i.e., relationship as an individual with self, others, community, society and world at large. Schools traditionally follow a punitive approach to behavior management that focuses on the individual. Suspensions and expulsions are the two most common approaches that are followed worldwide. Have we ever thought of restorative practices where the students are given a chance to explain their concerns and the underlying contexts which could be family neglect or conflict, sibling issues, rejection, bullying or abuse etc. In my opinion, the happiness of any individual lies in his/her relations with self and others and schools are the place where students spend almost 14 years of their growing life. Hence lessons on relationship management are a must have in the curriculum.
  • Responsible decision making: Making decisions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, appropriate social norms, respect for others and probable consequences of various actions; applying decision making skills to academic and social situations; contributing to the well-being of one’s school and community. This one is the most challenging trait that is rarely learnt during childhood or school years as most of the decisions in the student’s life especially related to academics, career and life are made by the parents. A child is never asked about his/her preferences or given an opportunity to take decisions; how can then we expect them to think about taking decisions in their offices or jobs suddenly? This muddle in the child’s mind leads to stress.

This cycle of SEL competencies is ever evolving and liberal in its approach as mapping of human emotions is still in progress. We as educators can add our experiences and create a “Happiness Model” for schools to practice. Till then SEL is a definitely a promising approach that is able to reduce risky behaviours, increase desirable behaviours, bring emotional stability and thus result in promoting positive development.

Chetna Sabharwal is an educational psychologist and is currently heading the counselling services in Ahlcon International School, Delhi. She has been conferred with various awards like Expert of the year by, Jeevan Kaushal Ratna Award for her excellence in counselling Services at National level and ‘Top 25 Mentors of India’ by Think CIQ. With her experience of 20 years, she contributes to social endeavors like career counselling, coping with math phobia, teacher training and positive parenting. Her overseas travel for educational assignments to countries like Canada, Singapore, Dubai and New Zealand has widened her horizon in global education.