The school, the classroom and the school itself are miniature societies in which children discover and learn about democratic institutions and develop social, civic and emotional skills needed to live together: cooperating, listening to each other, debating, resolving conflicts, and accepting differences and beliefs.
Since the early 2000s, the links between these social, civic and emotional skills and happiness or well-being at schools around the world have been the subject of numerous studies.
In this section, you find hands-on materials. These open educational resources (OER) are some suggestions of short rituals or activities that are easy to incorporate into daily classroom life to explicitly teach the socio-emotional competencies in daily school life. Each activity is linked to a theme whose links with happiness and well-being are scientifically validated, themes that allow us to evoke certain key values of a democratic society.
You will find several activities for different subjects linked to the development of socio-emotional skills:
Rather than focusing on deficiencies or weaknesses, the approach of developing socio-emotional skills for democracy focuses on the strengths and resources that enable students to cope with adversity and overcome obstacles. These character strengths are pervasive, positively valued individual differences that contribute to optimal development throughout life, at school and out of the school. They are all essential for becoming an active citizen of a democratic society.
Mindfulness activities at school aim to promote general well-being at school and to improve the cognitive and emotional skills of students. These activities help students to face difficulties and challenges at school, at home and in their social relationships. This is essential for developing governance, one of the four dimensions of democracy mentioned above.
The experience of gratitude has been widely studied in different areas. More than just an emotion, gratitude represents a general state of mind towards life. This is why we’ve chosen this socio-emotional skill when talking about developing democratic skills, as it will help to create an environment where everyone feels recognised and feels therefore willing to interact in a positive way and build with others. It helps develop otherness.
Altruism is a motivational state with the goal of increasing the well-being of someone else (Batson & Shaw, 1991). To engage in altruistic behavior, the individual must engage in a dynamic that doesn’t take into account its own self-interest, objectives or pleasure. This attitude is essential in a democratic society, as it enables the individual to see further than his/her own interest and think of the common good. This helps in collective decision making and discussions.
The development and growth of students is the very heart and purpose of education. The mission of a school is to develop the skills that improve lives and enable us to contribute more to society, to become active citizens of a democratic society. When facing a challenge, they are more likely to stay engaged by trying new strategies and mobilising all the available (Dweck, 2010). This applies to collective challenges as well.
Batson, C. D., & Shaw, L. L. (1991). Evidence for Altruism : Toward a Pluralism of Prosocial Motives. Psychological Inquiry, 2(2), 107‑122. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327965pli0202_1
Dweck, C. S. (2010). Even geniuses work hard. Educational leadership, 68(1), 16-20.