SEL and the Arts: Social Awareness

Brianne Gidcumb  •  Social Emotional Learning

Social emotional learning “enhances students’ capacity to integrate skills, attitudes, and behaviors to deal effectively and ethically with daily tasks and challenges” ( It is comprised of five core competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. Each month, we look at how we might address each of these competencies in and through the arts. This month: social awareness.

Casel describes Social Awareness 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.”

As we highlighted in relation to self-management last month, there are a two ways we can look at promoting social awareness in and through the arts. First of all, we can look at how social awareness can be an integral part of a collaborative artistic effort. Secondly, we can look at how can we use arts activities to promote social awareness skills.

Social Emotional Learning through the Arts Resource

Social Awareness in the Arts

First, social awareness in the arts. Take Anchor Standard 10 of the National Core Arts Standards: “Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural, and historical context to deepen understanding.” We can easily, as educators of the arts, use this standard to leverage the idea of social awareness. Through this standard, we ask students to put themselves in the places of other people, in other times or cultures… All to develop a greater understanding of the intent of a work of art. This promotes the ability to take the perspective of another person, to appreciate diversity, and to increase empathy. 

Let’s go beyond Anchor Standard 10. The simple act of interpreting an artist’s intent behind a piece of work can be a natural means of allowing students to put themselves in the shoes of another artist. To take perspective. To find commonalities and appreciate differences.

Speaking from my own experience, participation in the arts also allows artists to connect with people of diverse backgrounds. Whether it be the goal of a performance, or whether it be simply a shared passion, the arts unite.  They create a heightened sense of community amongst people of diverse backgrounds.

Social Awareness through the Arts

Second, social awareness through the arts. We look at how we can use artistic activities as a means to promote social awareness.

Theatre is certainly a natural avenue to allow students to explore the boundaries of social awareness. It allows them to discuss social and ethical norms. Even more, it allows them to use those experiences to increase awareness of their own behaviors. You might also use drama exercises in body language or vocal inflection to help students identify behavioral and social norms. Give students a phrase to read aloud, embodying certain characteristics relating to body language or vocal inflection. Then have them discuss how they may interpret that phrase. Indeed, this opens up a conversation about how body and voice can impact how others perceive words and deeds. You might also use role-playing in social stories to open up discussions about social awareness. As a result, this allows students to take on the perspective of others and to empathize with characters in these social stories.

One of my favorite music strategies is guided active listening. In this activity shared by IAS writer, Deirdre Moore, guided active listening can be a means to use music to think creatively about perspective-taking. Listen to a piece of music, and instruct students to write a monologue about what the instruments might be saying. This truly is a great way to think about perspective! Think about the social norms that might exist between these very abstract characters. Allow students to relate their own social norms to the listening experience imagine new norms.

So take a moment and think about how you might promote SEL and social awareness in and through the arts.

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:

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