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    Here's Why Social-Emotional Learning Belongs in Our Schools

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    Here's Why Social-Emotional Learning Belongs in Our Schools

    Teachers may have a hard time helping children achieve academic success when young students do not know how to interact appropriately with others. Bullying, harassment, emotional outbursts, and fighting can make it hard for any child to focus on the academic skills taught in the classroom.

    Such issues can also take time away from the earnest educator and administration, forcing them to spend more time on disciplining students. It is in these instances where social-emotional learning can make a difference.

    Social-emotional learning can positively impact students, teachers, and school districts. Students learn the skills needed to self-regulate and constructively work toward solutions that benefit them in the classroom. However, the advantages of social-emotional learning do not stop there.

    Social-emotional learning often begins at a young age and is useful in creating a welcoming and safer environment for students. Beyond this, however, it can fundamentally transform the lives of young children and the classroom environment.

    What Is Social-Emotional Learning?

    The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines social-emotional learning as:

    “ ... the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

    With this in mind, schools look to educate a child holistically. The emotional health and development of a child becomes a priority as a multi-faceted approach integrates within the curriculum and culture of a school. This type of learning provides additional tools for both the success for students and school districts.

    Multiple benefits are often seen with SEL. Schools appreciate that it promotes a favorable school climate. Student outcomes reveal increased academic success. The positive impact continues long past childhood: social-emotional learning assists with problem-solving, communication and management of emotions, critical factors for employees in the workforce.

    As many schools contend with integrating students from different social-economic backgrounds and cultures, the ability for young children to manage emotions, be empathetic and understanding toward others, and show the ability to make well thought out decisions, can be achieved with SEL in the curriculum.

    The five core competencies of SEL are:

    • Self-awareness
    • Self-management
    • Responsible decision-making
    • Social awareness
    • Relationship skills

    Social-emotional learning often begins at a young age and is useful in creating a welcoming and safer environment for students.

    These competencies, found in the Framework for Systemic Social and Emotional Learning, impact not only the student and classroom environment but have a broader influence on schools, homes, and communities.

    SEL is a coordinating framework that affects staffing, strategic plans, curriculum choices, school policies and practices. It fosters a climate that is inviting, participatory and caring for learners. SEL is instrumental for teachers wanting to support the diverse needs of children and their development into well-rounded, civic-minded adults.

    With SEL, the teacher helps children develop the type of intelligence, social skills and practical goal-setting abilities that will serve them for their lifetime. Such skills are transferable and will take them from the schoolroom to the boardroom, allowing them to accommodate different perspectives and work toward better solutions for challenges encountered throughout their life.

    Why Social-Emotional Learning Belongs in the Classroom

    SEL has been found to result in numerous long-term benefits. Not only are behaviors and attitudes affected by the implementation of SEL, but positive results are seen in skills and academics.

    In a meta-analysis from CASEL, the University of British Columbia, Loyola University and the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2017, striking long-term benefits were seen in students who had SEL in their schools.

    82 research studies were analyzed and showed such students performed better in areas including:

    • Academics
    • Teamwork
    • Empathy
    • Positive social behaviors
    • Attitudes

    Exposed children experienced less emotional distress, had fewer conduct problems and lower levels of drug use. Other research into evidence-based SEL programs demonstrated a significant increase of 11 percentile-points when it came to academic achievement when compared to those who were not involved in such programs.

    Benefits of Social-Emotional Learning: Students and Schools

    When school budgets and resources are stretched thin to accommodate for the various social-economic needs of students and potential behavioral issues, SEL can reduce the long-term burden on school districts.

    This approach fosters emotional health in students despite diverse backgrounds while helping them perform better academically. SEL may be a useful tool for underperforming schools that are looking for better ways to address behavioral issues in students and create more cooperation amongst students and between students and staff.

    Social-emotional learning assists with problem-solving, communication and management of emotions, critical factors for employees in the workforce.

    Not only may fewer disciplinary issues occur with long-term implementation, but students may become more motivated in the classroom, helping them achieve necessary academic skills and knowledge.

    Educators, trainers, and curriculums interested in giving students the tools that can effectively increase economic mobility would do well to explore SEL. Bipartisan experts in a 2016 report noted that SEL competencies were essential for the success of students, not only in the classroom but over the long-term.

    The Impact on Student Lives and Communities

    SEL can instill crucial workplace skills in employees. Workplace skills that would be positively influenced by this type of learning include:

    • Emotion recognition
    • Emotion management
    • Impulse control
    • Empathy
    • Assertiveness
    • Communication
    • Problem Solving

    The ability to recognize emotions allows one to tailor messages to a mood of an audience. Strong emotions can be kept in check and not impact the ability to make important decisions at work. The ability to actively listen and engage with a wide variety of people makes for improved understanding and stronger relationships. These are only a few of the ways that SEL can have a significant impact on employees and employers.

    Communities can benefit from a decrease in issues with substance abuse, mental health disorders and criminal activity. Such areas have been shown to have statistical associations with SEL exposure in kindergarten. Higher levels of crime and a rise in residents with mental health and substance abuse problems can make it harder to create a safe community wherein small business may thrive.

    A national study in 2015 concluded that skills taught in a child’s early development would make it less likely that one would:

    • Require public housing
    • Be involved in criminal activity as children and teens
    • Receive public assistance
    • Be sent to a detention facility

    SEL cannot only make for a more cooperative and accepting classroom environment but provide essential soft skills and decision-making abilities to disadvantaged students that would allow them to become better employees, managers and business owners. The students of today can become pillars of their communities.

    Rather than fall through the cracks, children from any background and social-economic level can use the soft skills taught in SEL to lift themselves out of poverty or less than ideal situations, becoming an inspiration for others while contributing to the health of their community.

    Students require more than merely academic knowledge to thrive. They need transferable soft skills that will allow them to understand others and work collaboratively to achieve desired outcomes. Providing tools for developing children to manage their emotions and problem solve can allow them to better contribute to their schools, workplaces, and communities.

    SEL is an approach that presents a unique opportunity for educators, administrators, and school districts to make a positive impact on affected communities for years to come.

    Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

    Originally published Jan 14, 2019, updated Nov 3, 2021

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