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Social Emotional Wellness and Emotional Granularity: Managing Emotions in Hard Times and All of the Time

By Cultures Of Dignity | September 4, 2022

Social Emotional Wellness And Emotional Granularity Webinar

Part 1: What is Social Emotional Learning (SEL)?

The Collaborative for Academics, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) considers social and emotional learning (SEL) an integral part of education and human development. SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions, achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships,
and make responsible and caring decisions.

CASEL works to make SEL programs more tangible and helps with evidence-based approaches to integrate SEL into schools.

At Cultures of Dignity we use our core competencies to define SEL.

Dignity is the understanding that every person has inherent, inalienable worth. Treating interactions between every person as worthwhile and meaningful defines the rest of the SEL process.

Navigating Social Dynamics is the ability to recognize and work within the web of relationships present in a community. In a school setting, this can include teacher-student dynamics, grade differences, classmates, and specific friend groups or cliques. SEL helps people establish their own identity and role within the larger structure of their community without being intimidated or rejected.

Emotional Awareness is the ability to identify and understand emotions within ourselves and within others that we interact with. At a basic level, SEL allows you to gain the emotional awareness needed to identify and name your own emotions, and as we grow, allows us to be able to anticipate how others might feel in certain situations or after certain interactions.

Self-Regulation is the ability to manage feelings and behaviors in order to feel better about ourselves and others. Examples include the ability to calm down while feeling angry or excited, or being able to cope and not shut down in the face of sadness or fear.

Reasonable Expectations. Expectations can be a great way to set goals that may not be easy to attain. At the same time, setting unattainable expectations may lead to stress and anxiety, and worsen mental health. Understanding how to set boundaries through reasonable expectations can help you stay on track with goals, while also avoiding disappointment and a lower self-worth.

This Dignity Model of SEL is a framework for teaching young people how to think about their feelings, social interactions, and their community. SEL is a skill developed over time, not a set of rules or facts that can be memorized for a test, and teachers that incorporate SEL into their classrooms allow their students to grow into healthier and more self-aware people.

Participant Question: What are good strategies to get middle school students to understand their purpose in the learning environment?

There are many times when we want students to just be students. And of course, academics is why they are in school. However, they also may want to tell their best friend about the new toy they got last night, or how annoying their parents are. Whatever it is, there are times when sitting down and learning to spell or read and write in those early years, or learning about geography in seventh grade just aren’t the top priorities, and this is very developmentally appropriate.

There is a spectrum of attitudes that we refer to as Objects, Recipients, and Resources. This spectrum can give guidance on how to help young people fill different roles at different points in the school day which in turn helps them recognize when it is time to be a student. An example of when a young person is an object is a fire drill. When a fire drill is happening we need the students to get in line and follow instructions so that everyone is safe in case of a real fire. An example of young people as recipients is in the classroom. Teachers are providing most of the information and students are receiving it. The last part of the spectrum is resources, and you can think about that in times like advisory, life skills class, or just downtime with students where they come into your room to say hello. This is when they get to be the experts of their own lives. They can provide us with information about what they need, what is going on in their world, and we listen and don’t make assumptions.

Providing an opportunity for young people to be all three increases the chances that they will understand their purpose in the learning environment. When they have the opportunity to be considered a resource at different points of the day it builds rapport and trust in the classroom which in turn makes it easier for them to be recipients when needed, and objects when necessary.

Part 2: Identifying Emotions

Emotional Granularity is the ability to have a wide range of precise, specific words to describe how you are feeling. Getting clear about our emotions empowers us to define our experiences. The more granular we can be describing our feelings, the more options we have to understand and communicate them. We are not always taught these things clearly when we are growing up. In fact, when we are younger any negative emotion we feel, we are encouraged to stop and move on, rather than identify and move through. Our vocabulary for our emotions can be very small. Stressed, anxious which may actually mean overwhelmed, frustrated, or even hurt. We don’t always think about what the feeling truly is; we reach for the first word we think of, or are most familiar with.

Emotional granularity helps when different emotions come up around similar situations. When we can be granular in the first situation it can help us identify what is different and help us navigate the second situation better. It can be important to know what the specific emotions were the first time. To help your classroom expand their emotional vocabulary and become more specific, you can find a feelings wheel online that you can display. This is a great resource, in particular with younger kids.

Part 3: Communicating Emotions

SEAL is an effective communication model that we use as a strategy to help us decide how, and when to talk to a person you are frustrated, sad, or angry with. The SEAL strategy isn’t going to tell you what to say, it is going to help you think through how to say it. You can use SEAL with anyone, for example, your friends, other students, people in your family, or teachers.

Stop: Breathe, listen, and think when, where, now, or later
Explain: What happened that you don’t like, and what do you need instead?
Affirm: Affirm and admit
Lock: Lock in the relationship, take a pause, or lock it out

These steps can be really hard to do at the moment. We tend to react, which is very natural in these moments. This process is about practice and not perfection. Any step you master or try is a success. Conflict and expressing emotions is hard for all of us. You can go through this process with young people, walk through it with them, and ask how they would do it, what are their words, and what feels comfortable to them?

You can talk about these steps with students and discuss which ones are easier or harder for them to do as everyone is different. Sometimes with older kids, it is easier to work backwards. What is the end result that is desired? Is it to repair the friendship or to move on from it? SEAL can be viewed as “cheesy” if you use the acronym, so you do not always need to use the name SEAL when introducing it. Sometimes you can simply say that you are going to discuss steps to take when handling conflict. Or if you do use it, ask them why they think it is silly or won’t work. Let them think about which parts they feel will actually work.

To learn more please see our SEAL Model for Emotions.

In this webinar we discussed social emotional learning, emotional granularity, and how to communicate emotions. We also went over some practical steps to expand your emotional granularity and steps to use when trying to communicate emotions. At Cultures of Dignity we work with schools to create strategic SEL implementation specific to your school and needs. For more information reach us at

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