An Emotional Sandwich: understanding the difference between SEL and Emotional IQ


pbjLast week I had the opportunity to join my fellow Pollination Project grantees to talk about the importance of social change and making a difference. There were a flurry of buzz words floating through the air during our conference. Our batteries were recharged, our passions reignited, which is especially helpful given our current events lately. In talking with other grantees, it dawned on me that social emotional learning and emotional intelligence are thrown around quite casually both in and outside schools lately, but too often we, both as parents and educators, make the assumption that people can distinguish between the two.

Simply put, social and emotional learning refers to the skill set of developing the fundamental skills to manage emotions and apply those emotions in the areas of empathy, setting positive goals, and behavior management. In contrast, emotional intelligence is identifying, labeling, and applying your emotions.Since I teach a class of first grade fidgets, I like to think of these two buzz words like a sandwich, because everyone starts of with bread.


Now no one’s two pieces of bread will be the same, but the sandwich has to start somewhere, right? Once you have the bread, you have to first recognize your emotions. Am I feeling sad, angry, elated, depressed, happy or excited? That is emotional learning, or the peanut butter of your sandwich. It can be as simple as you want ( one emotion, like sadness) or clumpy (two emotions, being filled with angst and frustration). Next, we add the jelly, or social emotional learning, which is the process of applying these emotions to the areas of understanding others or empathy. I am feeling anxious in class because I realize my friend did better on her test because she studied harder than I am. Without the two ingredients, you would just have bread, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich has to have both ingredients, right?

The tendency in today’s society is to intertwine the two, mixing social emotional learning and emotional intelligence. And although you can’t have one without the other, alone they make pretty odd sandwiches. Both need each other to have a successful learning environment, both emotionally and academically to create a community where students feel self-love, a stronger sense of purpose and compassion for others.

If this is done correctly, by using each ingredient of the sandwich together instead of just with the bread alone, it will make one fantastic sandwich, that teachers and students alike will reap the benefits of for quite sometime, at school, at home, and for years to come.