In his 2011 book, "Start with Why", Simon Sinek offers powerful advice for leaders: start any endeavor with “why.” Why are we trying something new? Why do we need to make changes? Why should we leave our comfort zone?

As an educational leader investing in teaching social emotional skills, you know your “why.” Perhaps you want to offer better support for staff and students while building a proactive system to improve students' life skills. Maybe you want to increase equity by starting crucial conversations. Whatever your reason, you must have a “why” that is pushing you to find a solution.

Regardless of which tool you use, the best first step for leaders is to build community commitment to systemic social emotional learning by sharing your why. As Sinek so aptly observes, “people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.”

Inspire Action

To be successful, life skills-forward systems and practices must be nurtured across an organization. Without the backing of teachers, students, parents, and the community, skills programs are likely to fail. Take the time to inspire all stakeholders in the community prior to program roll-out by sharing your reasons for investing money, time, and staff bandwidth in social emotional skills learning.

As you tell the story of how the organization can be transformed by smart skills practices, keep your audience in mind. Here are some of the key benefits of teaching social emotional skills, as well as the groups of educational stakeholders most likely to be inspired to shift their practices to achieve these outcomes.

The Compelling Whys for School Boards

When school systems focus on teaching life skills, there are many positive outcomes that would speak to the board and community. These outcomes include:

  • Strong ROI: Studies show that evidenced-based social emotional learning programs return $11 for every $1 spent.
  • Future community investment: There is a statistically significant correlation between social and emotional skills in children as young as kindergarten and a decreased likelihood of needing public assistance or being incarcerated.
  • Safer schools: Life skills programs decrease conduct problems, which leads to a calmer, safer, and more productive learning environment.
  • Decreased teacher burnout and attrition: Teachers who have developed social and emotional competencies are more likely to stay in the classroom and be more resistant to burnout. For more information about the research behind this statement, read this EdSurge article on SEL and teachers.

The Compelling Whys for Teachers

In 2013, CASEL's national teacher survey revealed that 87% of teachers believe social emotional learning can help students prepare for life after high school, and 80% see it as a solution to school climate problems. Teachers are already invested in improving life skills outcomes because improved pro-social behaviors lead to improved conduct, lower absenteeism, and a stronger sense of community.

Unfortunately, teachers already feel overwhelmed by the demands on their time. The role of leadership is to find ways to infuse social emotional skills programs into school culture while minimizing the lift for teachers. Some districts and schools have supported teachers by dedicating PLC time to working on skills assessments, sharing no-prep lessons, and providing a scope and sequence for homeroom time.

Are your teachers wary of change and cynical about the potential benefits of social emotional skills learning? Here are some compelling reasons that will resonate with teachers.

  • A 2008 AFT survey revealed that 17% of teachers lose four or more hours per week due to disruptive students, and 19% reported having lost two to three hours of instruction per week. Those percentages climb in urban districts.
  • Between 1968-2008, discipline was routinely identified by teachers as the most important problem they face. In 2015, student discipline issues were cited as a top reason for teachers leaving the classroom.
  • In 2021, teachers reported depression at a 2.5x higher rate than the general population.
  • Studies have shown that students who participate in social and emotional learning programs show more positive social behaviors and greater academic success. Life skills programs are also identified as protective factors against misconduct, emotional distress, and drug abuse.

The role of leadership is to find ways to infuse social emotional skills programs into school culture while minimizing the lift for teachers.

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The Compelling Whys for Parents

Communicating with parents about the benefits of social emotional skills programs is like preaching to the choir. Most parents are keenly aware of the disconnect between what students are taking away from school and the needs of employers and post-secondary education. Here are some facts that will drive this point home.

  • A 2018 report shows that 83% of high school students from SEL-forward schools identified their schools as having done a “great” or “pretty good” job preparing them for success after high school. Only 13% of high school students from schools with no social emotional skills programs rated their schools similarly.
  •  A 2015 Forbes magazine report showed that the top five skills employers are looking for are all skills developed in social emotional skills programs.
  • Social emotional skills programs encourage students to reflect on the perspectives of others, practice self-restraint and develop integrity. All these skills are beneficial in school and at home.

Communication is the Key

Regardless of how you share the message about the benefits of social and emotional learning, the key to building a successful social emotional skills program is making sure all stakeholders support the process. As leaders, it is our responsibility to communicate the benefits of social emotional skills programs in order to generate agency in teachers, parents, students, and the community.



Adams, S. (2015). The 10 skills employers most want in 2015 graduates. Forbes. Retrieved October 19, 2021. Read it here.
Brackett, Marc. (2020). Teachers Are Anxious and Overwhelmed. They Need SEL Now More than Ever. EdSurge News. Read it here.
CASEL. The Missing Piece. Read it here.
 Gulbrandson, K. (2019). Trends in social-emotional learning research: What are the outcomes? Committee for Children Blog. Read it here.
Sieberer-Nagler, K. (n.d.). Effective classroom-management & positive teaching - ed. ERIC. Read it here.

Author: Faith Smith

Posted: 09 Jan 2023

Estimated time to read: 6 mins

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