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The Arts as a Vehicle for Social-Emotional Learning Through SEAL

Date: 25 May 2023

The arts can have a powerful impact on students’ social and emotional well-being. What’s more is that educators can help students develop these skills right inside their classrooms no matter what subject they teach. In today’s world, many students are facing anxieties, depression, feelings of isolation and overall big emotions which can affect many aspects of their personal and school lives. Many have a hard time focusing on their work and being able to fully engage in classroom activities.

What if we could use the unique powers the arts have to help these students? Teachers would be better equipped to support their students’ overall well-being and help them become more engaged and well-rounded individuals!

What is SEAL: Social-Emotional Artistic Learning?

SEAL is a proven method of integrating the arts with social-emotional learning. It stands for Social-Emotional Artistic Learning and is a proactive approach to teaching and developing social and emotional skills through creative and artistic experiences in the classroom. Through the 3 Waves of SEAL, teachers learn exactly how they can bring these creative experiences into their classroom.

SEAL Framework graphic. Strengthen your mindset, energize your methods, activate your integrations.

Energize Your Methods

Teachers are often asked to implement an SEL program that scripts lessons on how to help students develop their social and emotional skills. The problem is that many SEL programs provide isolated lessons that teachers need to find the time to teach.

Instead, our students need energized and integrated strategies that are embedded into the routines of a classroom, regardless of what grade or content you teach. And that’s something the arts can do!

For example, one embedded SEAL strategy teachers love is to use music to calm and focus the class. When done well, this quickly becomes a teacher favorite as the music chosen for a specific purpose can assist students as they are working. When the carefully chosen music plays, it helps students calm down and focus on their work.

Teaching students self-management strategies like this empowers them to thrive in the classroom. With each new SEAL strategy used in the classroom, students are more ready to transition into learning and engage in their work.

Activate Your Integrations

Once you have some creative routines set in place, it’s time to really cater SEAL to your class. In this Second Wave of SEAL, educators can activate their integrations as they couple an art form with a developing social-emotional skill such as empathy or resilience.

Instead of having students watch a video or answer questions about empathy, the arts give students creative experiences that will help them practice empathy as they work with others in the classroom. That’s like the difference between showing a 6-year-old a video about riding a bike and actually giving them a bike so that they can learn how to ride!

These unique SEAL lessons can also help promote empathy and build relationships inside of a classroom. Allowing students to have artistic experiences together has universally and historically been an amazing way to build community. Creating, listening to music, dancing, moving and performing together are all ways to connect with and learn about others.

In addition, these types of SEAL experiences naturally help students develop resilience as they go through the creative process. As students design, revise, share and reflect, they go through ups and downs, successes and challenges, conflicts and resolutions. When you activate students’ learning through the creative process, students practice what it means to be resilient and flexible.

Strengthen Your Mindset

It is vital for us as teachers to understand how important our own mindset is. This encompasses how teachers view their ever-evolving role in education both inside and outside their classrooms. Teachers deserve their own strategies on how to conduct their classroom to support students while dealing with stressful situations. That’s why the teacher is at the center of SEAL.

Self-care is a crucial part of this work and the arts should be a big part of that as well! Creative teachers need creative outlets, whether that involves painting in their own home studio, cooking an amazing meal for their family, joining a drama club or even going out dancing with friends. When teachers are attending to their own needs, their students feel more comfortable using the arts to care for themselves as well. This is a key component for empowered SEAL teachers.

SEAL is an effective method of integrating the arts into social-emotional learning. When teachers implement SEAL through these 3 Waves, they enhance students’ self-awareness, empathy for others and sense of community. Moreover, this approach can lead to more confidence, improved academic performance and lifelong learning skills for students.

If you want to learn more about SEAL: Social-Emotional Artistic Learning, go to to find resources and trainings that will help to facilitate your students’ holistic development.

Title: 2280 Pasos Bajo un Cielo Nublado | Artist: Hernán Jourdan | Medium: Film

When I was asked to create a work of art exploring literacy, I wanted to create a dance but I had no dancers or a studio, so I chose to use my own body in the space I had, my yard. Fluent Nature is video of micro-choreography that explores what cannot be expressed with words, how nature has its own language, and how placing the human body in nature changes the story.

Title: What Is Me and What Is Not Me | Artist: Alex Chadwell | Medium: Music

My thinking on arts and literacy centers around the concept of literacies and artmaking as both sense-making and meaning-making processes that organically and inevitably overlap, intersect, and reciprocate. Compositionally, What is me and what is not me is a sound collage of sorts (there is no notation for the piece, and I'd be hard pressed to recreate it accurately) that abstractly and aurally represents the relationships between literacies and artmaking.

Title: A Curious Honeybee | Artist: Gideon Young | Medium: Film

Offering welcome through traditional and digital elements of literacy, A Curious Honeybee provides an experiential learning environment by activating visual, musical, natural, and emotional literacies.

Title: Tercera Llamada | Artist: Karilú Forshee | Medium: Audio

La Carpa Theatre is a project that I am currently directing in the Detroit Latinx community. The project aims to strengthen and uplift youth voices through devised theatre, in the style of the Mexican Carpas. This audio was created in the theatrical environment envisioned for our project. The ways in which literacies are re-defined are at the heart of La Carpa Theatre's mission.

Title: Literaseas | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite and ink on paper with digital edits

Title: A Riddle | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite on paper with digital edits

Title: False Binaries | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite on paper with digital edits