Social and emotional learning (SEL) is a process of attaining the knowledge, attitudes, and skills we need as humans 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.’ Based on these five core competencies, or building blocks, SEL enhances young people’s capacities for effectively dealing with life – both the everyday and the challenges. This framework informs TWV curriculum choices, guides our practice in all our programs and shapes the way we form relationships with the young people, our partners and our community.
Self-awareness is the ability to recognize how emotions, thoughts and values influence behaviour, and accurately assess one’s own strengths. It provides a measure of internal understanding and confidence that is the foundation for how we interact with the rest of the world.
At TWV, we give kids the opportunity to practice self-awareness during our opening circles. Within the framework of a 1-10 rating system, each kid has the chance to check in by rating how he or she feels that particular day. On bike trips, we hold BOSS circles (Blow Off Some Steam) where the kids can discuss how they felt the lesson went, how they’re feeling in general and bring up things that bothered them. Fostering self-awareness in youth is an important first step in learning to manage their emotions effectively.
The ability to manage one’s own emotions and impulses and cope effectively with stressful situations is only part of self-management. While effectively dealing with challenges is an important part of emotional learning, the ability to strive towards success and growth marks the other side of self-management. This includes self-motivation, goal-setting and organizational skills.
TWV programs actively encourage young people to take initiative and creatively explore and test different solutions to problems. In our Beltline Bike Club, we gradually introduce more autonomy, with a 3 level system. In the first level, facilitators lead most of the activities. In the second level, the facilitators start to step back and let the group figure things out on their own. This allows different leaders in the group to emerge and take initiative to shape their own experience. In the third level, the facilitators allow the kids to develop their own curriculum, making choices about what happens in the program.
Using ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms and personal values as guides, responsible decision-making involves accurately identifying, analysing and solving problems, as well as evaluating and reflecting on the outcomes of our choices.
TWV encourages young people to develop a sense of responsibility – towards their own behaviour, their commitment to personal development and their involvement in their communities. On our bike trips, there is always a leadership group that works with an adult to help make some decisions, such as when breaks occur, the topics of opening/closing circles, camp set up and even navigation. In Bike Club, the young people have a chance to suggest games and the questions of the day, and in Beltline Bike Club, the youth take turns suggesting and fixing the snack.
The ability to develop healthy and mutually-beneficial relationships with a diverse set of people within a range of contexts is an important skill, for both young people and adults alike. This involves effective communication, including listening, cooperating, conflict resolution and resisting negative peer pressure.
TWV not only combines physical skills development with social learning elements in our curriculum, our programs are also made up of people from diverse generations, cultures and backgrounds. Therefore, the environment we create both facilitates and requires tolerance, appreciation and team work. By first acknowledging our own strengths and weaknesses, and accurately seeing those in others, we promote young people’s ability to comprehend that the effectiveness of a team relies on diversity, balance and cooperation. In Bike Club, the kids work in teams, which we change frequently to help them make different friends and discover different group dynamics. For bike trips, the young people also operate in groups. On our 2018 Calgary to Banff trip, the cooking group decided to hold a Chilli cookoff and all three groups competed against each other, helping the young people learn about friendly competition.
Understanding social norms and being able to appreciate the perspective of others is a critical component of social and emotional learning. This guides our behaviour in different situations and promotes respect and understanding even for those with whom we have very little in common.
Developing empathy in young people is a key goal for TWV programs. Empathy is important because it is the foundation of emotional intelligence, the link between self and others. In all our programs, we use different exercises to talk about identity, what makes you special and what makes other people special. We use these conversations in opening circle questions to help the young people think about what it would be like to travel in other people’s shoes.
Our programs aim not just to teach bike mechanics to young people. We use the bicycle as a tool, whether it’s through our bike clubs or our adventure trips, to facilitate more wholistic lessons in social and emotional learning that youth can apply in a wider range of situations and challenges. Fostering social and emotional learning is critical for success in both school and life.
CASEL. (2018). What is SEL? https://casel.org/what-is-sel/. Retrieved September 29, 2018.