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  • Writer's pictureChloë Fraser

Teaching Humans: Social-Emotional Learning at META

Updated: Jul 13, 2021

At META Learning, we are firm believers in social-emotional learning (SEL), which “teaches the skills we all need to handle ourselves, our relationships, and our work, effectively and ethically.” In fact, SEL encompasses the knowledge and abilities we typically associate with maturity: from self-management and self-awareness to social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. And according to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), social-emotional learning is “an integral part of education and human development.”


These words ring true following a year of upheavals and emotional trauma of all kinds. In just a few weeks, learners were home-bound under new lockdown rules. Parents lost their jobs. Family and friends passed away.

In that context, what happens to school? If the Covid-19 pandemic’s taught us anything, it’s that we must meet our children’s emotional needs before we walk them through complex academic requirements. This is the thinking behind “Maslow before Bloom,” or prioritizing Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs over Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives.

With this year's pandemic, we suddenly witnessed examples of Maslow before Bloom all around the world — and not just in alternative schools. In Ontario, Canada, educators at École Gron Morgan asked students to "showcase how they're learning new skills to cope with the stresses brought on by the pandemic." The resulting virtual presentations featured everything from dance videos to math puzzles to radio shows. It created a space for learners to feel comfortable sharing their struggles and newfound emotional grit. One teacher said, "I actually turned my camera off when they were presenting because I was crying." From free lunches to heartfelt, emotional classroom discussions, it's clear that countless educators have put a new emphasis on student wellbeing before diving into higher-level thinking.


More than anything else, then, Maslow before Bloom is about putting social-emotional learning front and center so that we can set a solid foundation for higher academic learning. It’s about ensuring that your child’s needs as a social and emotional being are met before unleashing their potential as learners. Social-emotional learning also enables learners to stay resilient in the face of adversity, an incomparable asset in the 21st-century. In a VUCA world — one that is inherently volatile, uncertain, ever-changing, and ambiguous — social-emotional learning can effectively redefine their personal success.

Knowing this, we ensure META students engage in SEL every single day, including through project-based learning. Our learners get to apply their SEL skill set through reflecting with coaches, connecting with community stakeholders and mixed-age students, learning to lead and follow peers, and responding to wicked problems. We are intentional about our practices, and ensure social-emotional learning is found at META in at least four different ways: modeling, explicit instruction, day-to-day application, and PBL connections.

1) Positive Role Models

At META, we place special importance on our staff’s embodiment of school values and practices. We ensure there’s no disconnect between what we teach our students and what we do so that they can understand what social-emotional learning looks like in practice. Our teachers and coaches model all SEL traits and abilities, with an eye for perpetual improvement. We ensure your child has role models who can inspire him or her to thrive as a social-emotional learner.

2) Social-Emotional Learning Workshops

Through one-on-one advisory programs and small discussion groups, we make space for learners to touch upon all SEL vocabulary and themes. We give them the theoretical concepts, resources, and words they need to describe the skill set they’re grappling with and how they want to improve. By working to explicitly demystify social-emotional learning, we ensure our learners can then apply what they learn to various contexts in their day-to-day activities.

3) Reflection Spaces

We provide students at META with countless opportunities to bring up and discuss social-emotional learning topics as it relates to their lives. Our educators and coaches regularly open up conversations to matters of daily life, conflict, and personal growth. As a result, META learners not only apply the notions they’re learning but also periodically reflect and critically evaluate how they’re doing in terms of each SEL skill.

4) Interconnections with Project-Based Learning

At META, we’re well aware that authentic, real-life learning like the projects we’ve linked with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals couldn’t occur without SEL. In other words, personalized learning cannot be impactful if it’s not done by self-managed, self-aware, and socially aware individuals who can build relationships and make decisions that’ll transform their community. By fortifying our project-based learning with SEL, we ensure we teach META learners in a well-rounded, balanced way that encompasses both their academic and human selves.

Implicit and Explicit Teaching

SEL is implicitly and explicitly developed in the student body at META Learning. Whether it’s through one-on-one advisory sessions or impactful community projects, we provide learners with an understanding of SEL terminology — and how to apply it throughout their lives.


Ultimately, META Learning redefines excellence in the 21st-century because we teach children to become self-aware, to self-manage, to develop meaningful relationships, to make responsible decisions on behalf of themselves and others. In a VUCA world, this skill set and the resulting resilience children acquire from it are invaluable.

As the pandemic’s effects continue to alleviate, we can only hope to see both alternative and traditional schools preserve the central role SEL’s played during the past year.

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