Building Community: A Key Component of Social Emotional Learning

When Daniel Goleman first started to help bring the education system’s attention to the social and emotional needs of its students, the majority of his early focus was on emotional intelligence. In fact his first 3  books, as illustrated by their various titles (Emotional Intelligence, 1995, Relaxation and Mindfulnes: Demystifying Stress, 1996, and Working with Emotional Intelligence, 1998) really made emotional intelligence the primary focus of his work. This focus on emotional wellness or intelligence seemed to exist across all domains within the social emotional movement.  On the surface it appeared social intelligence played second fiddle to emotional intelligence.

From my perspective and in my experience as a school counsellor and a social emotional learning workshop facilitator who has worked across North America, I have noticed the continuation of this phenomenon of making emotional intelligence the primary area of attention within the world of social emotional learning.  There seems to be an increased demand for programming, curriculum, and support in the Social Emotional Learning domains related to emotional intelligence - self-awareness and self-management / self-regulation. The popularity of emotional intelligence programs, such as Zones of Regulation and Minds Up, only reinforces this focus on emotional intelligence and lesser so on  social intelligence. Even with the establishment of CASEL (the Collaborative for Social Emotional Learning), which in its title puts social learning first; in my experiences, the interventions and practices related to social emotional learning tends to continue to revolve around the individual and lesser so on the community building or social skills.

Yet, school, communities, teams, clubs, and often our places of work, in their nature are group based systems. At school for students to be successful they need to be able to manage themselves not only within their own emotional bubble but Circle of Courage Dr. Brokenlegalso within the complexities, nuances, and every changing dynamics of a the group. Dr. Brokenleg, a foundational figure in bridging the gap between aboriginal teachings and social emotional learning,  discusses the power of Belonging and Generosity  within one’s Circle of Courage. In his book, Reclaiming Youth at Risk; Return to Aboriginal Teachings, Dr. Borkenleg affirms the connections between belonging and generosity and positive personal growth and wellness. Essentially acknowledging the integral connections between social awareness and relationship skills emotional intelligence.

Our schools and organizations, from policing to drug addiction treatment, are becoming more aware of trauma and its impact on individuals and communities. There is a call to continue to develop our capacity to be trauma sensitive. Both Dr. Gabor Mate and Dr. Gordon Neufeld, along with many other wellness professionals, speak and have written extensively on attachment and its relationship to well-being and also as a tool itself to address trauma. Engaging in self-awareness and mindfulness based practices can be very useful and meaningful pieces of this puzzle in improving our wellness and addressing trauma. However, the solutions or interventions to becoming more trauma sensitive and to managing mental health and wellness, should also recognize the value and importance of belonging and attachment. Both of which require the connection beyond one’s self, to another person, family, group, community, and/or culture.

Often in the worlds of feelings and wellness we are hesitant to look to corporate models for guidance. However, it cannot be ignored that some for the world’s most successful companies recognize that when an employee feels a sense of belonging to the people with whom they work productivity goes up. Most Successful Companies in 2019 recognize the importance of team-building in establishing a healthy and productive work place environment. It is common with professional sports teams to take their players on retreats to begin a season to support the creation of a bond and a more intrenched sense of belonging within the team. It is not a stretch to suggest that these corporations and professional sports organizations recognize the power that a sense of belonging and attachment can bring their players' or employees' wellness, and in-turn, the team’s or organization’s success.

Implementing strategies to foster belonging should not just be for our children and youth. What about our own personal places of work, families, and communities? Are we in our communities, families, schools, places of work helping to support a culture of belonging and attachment amongst each other? Perhaps we need to begin on the top and work our way down to our kids? For as adults and mentors, how can we teach and support the establishment of a greater sense of belonging and attachment if we do not feel that sense of belonging or attachment ourselves?

Sometimes we get caught up in the what’s new, trendy, or current. Focusing on self-awareness, and self-regulation are all important constructs within the word of social emotional learning and should not be neglected. However, we need to ensure that we address these domains of social emotional learning without neglecting the other vital pillars - social awareness and relationships skills. Through the SEL constructs  of social awareness and relationships skills we can hopefully re-establish belonging and attachment, perhaps, thereby improving our own emotional well-being. We once again need to remind ourselves that, more than ever, we need to find ways to create community. Team-building should be a focus not just for our professional athletes but also for our kindergarten classrooms, our places of work, and our communities at large. 

It is intentional that Inquiry Adventures makes the group and the development of social-awareness and relationship skills the focus and common thread within all our Icebreaker type thumballworkshops and the products we promote. For example, any icebreaker type thumball has the potential to bring a group together through play. Gordon Neufeld, who I referenced earlier, recently wrote a blog supporting the intrinsic value of PLAY as a primary basis for developing belonging and attachment. Inquiry Adventures purposefully choses to uses group games, activities and PLAY as the means to promote social- awareness and relationship skills along with self-awareness, self-management, and responsible decision making in all our professional development workshops. It is through positive and supportive groups -  families, classrooms, teams, communities, cultures - that we can support the development of stronger attachment and an increased sense of belonging. In turn belonging and attachment can become a foundation for an individual’s personal and mental wellness. Social Emotional Learning is an amazing title because in those three words – social, emotional, and learning - it provides the basis for our greatest starting  point in prioritizing the needs of all peoples. Working together we can create a world of Play, of belonging, and strong attachment.


Sheldon Franken

 Please checkout’s  products for a list of meaningful and practical tools to help support and engage group of all kinds to come together through Play. Whether it’s a  card game  or a  thumball  or our resources book of group games, we are confident we will have something to meet you social awareness and relationship skills social emotional learning needs.

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