Well-Being, Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and the COVID-19 Pandemic: Snapshots from the 8th ARC Education Thoughtmeet

  • How can we measure the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health and well-being of students and educators?
  • What are the medium and long-term strategies that support the well-being of all student from diverse cultural backgrounds, as well as those vulnerable families?
  • What are the key factors- physical, social and/or emotional- that systems should focus on in our efforts to enhance staff and student well-being during and beyond this pandemic context?

These key question launched A Focus on Well-being and Social Emotional Learning (SEL), the Atlantic Rim Collaboratory’s January ThoughtMeet (TM). ARC Talks were provided by Ársæll Már Arnarsson (Professor at the University of Iceland School of Education), Marc Brackett  (Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence) and ARC co-founder and President Andy Hargreaves. This post highlights the key ideas and issues that were discussed by the ARC TM participants, representatives from the seven ARC member systems and its global partners. A detailed description from the January meeting can be found here; additional videos and other resources can be found here. This post was produced by Mariana Domínguez González, ARC Research Assistant and Trista Hollweck, ARC Project Director

The Icelandic Well-being Saga

The Icelandic Well-Being Saga

“Children are engaged in their well-being and they are expressing their feelings. It is our responsibility to make that acceptable and to show them the way forward.”

In his ARC talk, Ársæll Már Arnarsson shared how Iceland was able to increase student well-being through policy and practice. Keeping in mind the important link between research and policy development, the Icelandic government drew from local, national and international studies to make changes in their legislation focused on child and adolescent well-being. Iceland´s Act of the Integration of Services in the Interest of Children´s Prosperity was written in June 2021 and was implemented in January of 2022. The Act is a gradual, coordinated law focused on the education and well-being of children from an early age. It proposes that each child have a support plan developed by a caseworker in coordination with the child’s family, and that this plan be revisited frequently. 

Emotional Intelligence: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Achieve Well-being and Success (Especially During Uncertain Times)

A focus on Social Emotional Learning and Well-being

“[S]chools have too many rules, not enough feelings”

In his ARC talk, Marc Brackett began by asking ARC delegates about their own emotions and feelings. For Brackett, emotions are important to recognize and name because they have a direct impact on our attention, our memory and our learning; on our capacity to make decisions; on the quality of our relationships; on our physical and mental health; and on our performance and creativity. This ability to recognize and name emotions is part of emotional intelligence which he defines as a set of discrete yet interrelated skills that can be learned and developed regardless of age. He then introduced ARC delegates to RULER, a systemic approach to social emotional learning (SEL) that he uses with schools worldwide. RULER is an acronym for:

Recognizing emotions in self and others
Understanding causes and consequences of emotions
Labeling emotions accurately
Expressing emotions
Regulating emotions effectively

In describing RULER and its use, Brackett highlighted that it should be implemented first with teachers through professional learning processes before using it with students. Additionally, pedagogical practices and school-wide policies around RULER should always take into consideration the different existing levels of mindsets, skill-development, as well as the school and home emotional climates of students. 

Well-being in Schools. Three Forces That Will Uplift Your Students in a Volatile World

A focus on Social Emotional Learning and Well-being

“One way to get well is to engage with the world, and to care about it and to feel that you are an actor and not only someone who is resilient or responsive or trying to cope at the same time.”

In the final ARC talk of the event, Andy Hargreaves presented the key ideas from his new book with colleague Dennis Shirley. He began by describing how recent interest in well-being draws from both the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) and VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Chaos, Ambiguity). The first of which he argues has led to a sense of too much control, while the second creates a feeling of being out of control. For Hargreaves, SEL and well-being are not opposites or in competition. Rather, SEL is an important part of the holistic well-being concept. He posited that SEL helps educators and students cope with the educational challenges they experience, but collective effort must also be directed at changing the system to increase well-being. He challenged ARC delegates to pay attention, not only to the interactive, the emotional and the social dimensions of well-being, but also to consider the societal, the physical and the spiritual. An important question for delegates to ask when engaging in policy development on this topic is “What is the role of well-being in society?”

What’s next?

Like previous ARC TMs, this event stimulated thinking and provoked further questions for participants. A more detailed capture of the discussion can be found in the summary document. The summary also includes a number of questions to spark future discussions for policy development, implementation, and practice, such as:

  • How can the research on well-being and SEL be made more accessible to policymakers, leaders and educators?
  • What are political challenges to the design and implementation of well-being models in education?
  • How can we meaningfully and effectively integrate well-being and SEL into schools at all levels? 
  • What resources and professional development will support teachers in this work and how do we provide it?
  • How can we engage students in taking an active role in their education to improve well-being and prosperity?
  • How can we provide space, time and access for staff and student well-being and SEL?

Key References and Resources

Arnarsson, Kristofersson, G. K., & Bjarnason, T. (2018). Adolescent alcohol and cannabis use in Iceland 1995–2015. Drug and Alcohol Review37(S1), S49–S57. https://doi.org/10.1111/dar.12587

Brackett, M. A., Bailey, C. S. Hoffmann, J. D. & Simmons, D. N. (2019). RULER: A Theory-Driven, Systemic Approach to Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning. Educational Psychologist54(3), 144-161. https://doi.org/10.1080/00461520.2019.1614447

Hargreaves, A. & Shirley, D. (2021). Well-Being in Schools. Three Forces That Will Uplift Your Students in a Volatile World. ASCD.

European School Survey on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD)

Health and Behavior of School-Aged Children (HBSC)

Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence

About the Atlantic Rim Collaboratory

The Atlantic Rim Collaboratory (ARC) is an international policy learning network that was established in 2016 to advance educational change based on eight guiding principles: equity, excellence, inclusion, wellbeing, democracy, sustainability, human rights, and professionally run systems. Headquartered at the University of Ottawa (Ontario, Canada) since 2019, ARC brings together senior public officials (i.e ministers and deputy ministers of education), professional association leaders (i.e. unions and inspectorates) and other key stakeholders from its seven education member systems (Iceland, Ireland, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Scotland, Uruguay and Wales), global partners (International Confederation of Principals) and international experts and scholars to discuss, debate and exchange knowledge about educational policy issues and to formulate responses suited to their contexts. One of the founding ideas behind ARC is to tear down the walls between countries and regions, as well as between educational researchers and politicians, in order to pursue the most fundamental ideas of what it means to be educated in today’s world for the mutual benefit of all ARC-systems and future generations of students worldwide. Every year, ARC members meet at the annual Summit hosted by one of the member systems. However, since 2020, in addition to a virtual summit, ARC has also hosted bi-monthly virtual ARC ThoughtMeets (TMs) for its members. The TM outreach series was designed to stimulate and support a global educational movement for equitable, inclusive and sustainable educational solutions to COVID-19.

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