Brianne Gidcumb | October 2017

Making Connections: SEL Competencies and the Arts

Social & emotional learning is comprised of five core competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. As an artist, I truly believe that the arts have had a tremendous impact on my own social and emotional growth and wellness, and with that in mind, arts education and integration seem as good as place as any to promote those competencies! Let’s take a look at those five core competencies and how they are characterized, and some arts processes and characteristics that can be used as a jumping off point to integrate SEL and the arts.

Self-Awareness is described as “the ability to accurately recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values, and how they influence behavior; the ability to accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations, with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a ‘growth mindset.’”

We want our students to be able to identify emotions, recognize their strengths and areas for growth, and develop a sense of self-confidence. Several standards for the arts to exhibit self-awareness in their artistic thinking processes as well as in evaluation of the artistic performance/presentation. Students are asked to develop (Anchor Standard 2) and refine (Anchor Standard 3) their artistic work, taking into consideration self-assessment, as well as peer and teacher feedback, all of which contribute to developing growth mindset, allow students to celebrate their successes, and identify areas for growth.

Self-Management is described as “the ability to successfully regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different situations; effectively managing stress, controlling impulses, and motivating oneself. The ability to set and work toward personal and academic goals.”

In terms of working towards personal and academic goals, the arts provide an engaging, relevant ways for students to relate to goal-setting through arts-based performance and presentation. The entire idea of putting together a musical, theatrical, or dance performance or an artistic presentation is a goal-based process. Students must work, individually or collaboratively, towards that performance/presentation goal. Throughout the creation/rehearsal process, there is a great deal of regulation of time, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors to ensure that the end result is one that reflects the student’s work, efforts, and strengths.

Social Awareness is described as “the ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures; the ability to understand social and ethical norms for behavior and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.”

This idea of perspective-taking, of appreciating diversity, of respecting others is highlighted in Anchor Standard 10, “Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural, and historical context to deepen understanding.” We ask students to put themselves in the places of other people in other times and cultures to develop a greater understanding of the intent of a work of art. This ability to take the perspective of another person develops social awareness, increases empathy, and allows students to identify more openly with those of diverse backgrounds and cultures.

Relationship Skills are described as “the ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups; the ability to communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate with others, resist inappropriate social pressure, negotiate conflict constructively, and seek and offer help when needed.”

The arts are collaborative in nature. Various types of different art-forms are ensemble-based: performing in a band or a choir, being part of a dance ensemble, putting on a play, developing a collaborative work of art. These endeavors all require a healthy ability to work with others, to communicate, to engage, and to work as a team. Additionally, we examine in many works of art, particularly in theatrical works, relationships skills on display within a work, and we can examine and take the perspective of those characters, which in turn, hopefully develops our own emotional intelligence and ability to relate to others.

Responsible Decision-Making is described as “the ability to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms; the realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and a consideration of the well-being of oneself and others.”

Because the arts are so based in process, in collaboration, in critical thinking, and because the arts require us to self-regulate, to take on the perspectives of others, the arts also promote responsible decision-making. Being part of something bigger than yourself and having a vested interest in the creative intent of a work of art will, hopefully, guide the student’s responsibility to himself/herself, to the ensemble, or to the creator or a work of art. Students should treat a work of art with respect, honoring the relationships they have with peers who are part of the process, and consider the implications of their work and how it is perceived by others. There is power in art, and students should be taught to take the responsibility seriously.

Please tune in over the next couple of months as we dive a little deeper into the connections between social-emotional learning and the arts!In the meantime, if you’re looking for lots of great resources and ideas for SEL and arts integration, check out The Inspired Classroom.

About the Author

Brianne is a former music educator from Chicago and current graduate class instructor with EdCloset’s Learning Studios. She earned her Masters degree in Music Education from VanderCook College of Music and has over a decade of experience in the elementary general music classroom. With her experience in the performing arts, Brianne is dedicated to building connections between the arts and Common Core Standards, 21st century learning skills, inquiry and project-based learning. In addition to her work with EducationCloset, Brianne is a yoga instructor in the Chicagoland area. You can also find Brianne here: