Key takeaways

  • Implementing a consistent Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) program across schools can lead to increased academic achievement, improved behavior, and a positive return on investment, benefiting both educators and students.
  • SEL encompasses vital skills beyond academic content, essential for fostering a conducive learning environment and addressing disruptive behaviors effectively.
  • By focusing on SEL competencies such as self-awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making, schools can equip students with lifelong skills crucial for their academic success and future roles in society.

So the new superintendent is instigating a brand new program to support social and emotional learning in all the schools across the district, but why? There is a wealth of research that shows schools and school districts that have implemented school-wide/district-wide consistent approaches to teaching students social and emotional competencies, the school/district achieving increased academic achievement, and improved behavior, and leads to a return on the investment is extremely positive. As an educator, who wouldn't want that in their classroom?  

happy students group  study in classroom

What is Social and Emotional Learning?

It’s all the things that we do in classrooms that are not directly curriculum content related, and there is a lot of it.  It’s the aspects of a classroom learning environment that do not get assessed in the state tests (yet), but without it, your classroom does not run smoothly and learning can be highly disrupted. 

In a classroom, where the students have poor social and emotional skills, the job of an educator is so much harder.  These students may not be even able to enter the room without having a loud disagreement about something and starting the lesson off with a conflict with you, as know that the best for all is an orderly, calm learning environment.   We all know that ‘class’ and have to prepare ourselves for that ‘lesson’ as it can be a battle that feels like you are never going to win whatever you try and do. 

The social and emotional learning could be seen in the student that is too anxious to get things wrong and will not try as they do not want to look foolish in front of their peers, how do you help them develop their resilience to give something a go, make a mistake and feel OK about it.  Some of these things are just inherent in our classrooms with the attitudes and expectations we have of all our students and some students just get it, but some students do not and they need help to ‘get it.  By having a consistent SEL program that is delivered to all, there is no inherent knowledge needed by anyone, expectations of students and their social-emotional skills will be similar but will also give a clear pathway for all students to follow when something crops up.        

Within the CASEL* framework,  social and emotional learning is broken down into five competencies, these being self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.  A lot of states’ learning standards use these as a basis for what they expect of their students and to offer educators a pathway to support addressing these in their classrooms.  These competencies are far-reaching and if well planned for from Kindergarten through to twelfth grade can support students’ learning of appropriate social and emotional skills for life, not just school.     

Social Emotional Learning in Schools

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Why is Social Emotional Learning important?

Within school, I am currently working with a young student who is a quite academically capable young lady, due to many other factors and circumstances is not able to let adults know what she wants, feels, or needs at all. She can have lengthy conversations about her drawings, unicorns, math work, fairies, books, and anything sparkly but is not able to voice her simple wants, needs, or feelings at all. At the point of difficulty or things that are not going to her plan, everything just stops (the sobbing generally starts) and there are few ways to break into that, to try and help her for the next hour or so. Yes, she is only six at the minute and we have lots of time to support her in moving beyond this behavior (probably with a lot of specialist help) not just for her learning/education but for her quality of life and her time in the world of work.

Having been in the position of hiring staff into an education team, what I look for in my new employees is the ability to communicate well with others, effective team member skills, the ability to get along with other people, and ability to be empathic and supportive of others, not on their grade point average. This is echoed by recruitment consultants and large corporations. They can teach the employee the day-to-day work quickly, but teaching them the social awareness of being in a team and making it work is the skill they want their new employee to have when they walk through the door on the first day.

So our long-term aim for social and emotional learning is to a productive citizens of the future. The more immediate aim of a social and emotional learning program would be to give the students the skills so that they can support their mental health and well-being needs as the longer these go unaddressed the greater chance of potential life-limiting behaviors grows. We are in a fortunate position that we can have an immediate impact on this in our classroom, today. It’s also the idea of getting the right social and emotional tools in the hands of the students who need them as soon as we can and developing their skills to keep these tools relevant and useful.

Using a social and emotional learning program in your classroom has the potential to build fully-rounded workers, but there are also some huge benefits for you in class now. By putting a program in place that is consistent across the school it means that there are fewer opportunities for students to try and bypass the system, to get away with things, or use the phrase ‘that’s not fair this doesn’t happen in Mr. So and So’s classroom.’ It helps the students to feel heard and valued in what they are doing so are more likely to take learning risks that will move their progress further. It helps that students who used to come into your classroom in a loud argument with a fellow student be more respectful and think about others when they enter your room as they have some awareness of others’ learning and the impact of their actions on others, too.

For my student, having a program of social and emotional learning, normalizes the skills, normalizes that everyone does it, shows that it is as important as the math work (or the sparkly things), gives a voice to the absent feelings, wants, and needs and it is the pathway to being able to productive member of society in a couple of decades.

10 Benefits of social emotional learning for students

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In conclusion, the decision to implement a comprehensive social and emotional learning          (SEL) program across school districts is grounded in substantial research indicating its positive impact on academic achievement, behavior, and overall school culture. By addressing the vital aspects of classroom dynamics beyond academic content, educators can create an environment conducive to learning and personal growth. The CASEL framework provides a structured approach to nurturing essential competencies from self-awareness to responsible decision-making, offering students lifelong skills essential for success. Beyond academic benefits, SEL programs are crucial for supporting students' mental health and well-being, ensuring they develop into productive members of society. By prioritizing SEL, schools not only lay the foundation for future success but also cultivate a supportive and inclusive learning environment where every student's voice is valued and heard.

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*(Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning)    

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Author: Nicola Jones-Ford

Posted: 02 Nov 2020

Estimated time to read: 9 mins

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