In the field of education, it has traditionally been assumed that students should leave their feelings at the door if they are serious about learning and want to be successful. Academic and social emotional issues are considered separate, and anything that doesn’t directly relate to students’ academic performance must be dealt with outside the classroom. However, research—along with the personal experience of many students and teachers—has indicated that working through social/emotional issues productively within a specific curriculum has very positive outcomes for students. Schools have begun embracing social/emotional learning. Examples of well-rounded lessons, as well as testaments to their success can be found in educational curriculum throughout the U.S., in academic journals like the American Journal of Psychiatry, and even TED talks.
What is Social/Emotional Learning (SEL)?
SEL is a process wherein individuals learn to acquire the tools, knowledge, and skillsets so that they can:
- Understand and manage their emotions
- Set and achieve positive goals
- Feel and show empathy for others
- Establish and maintain positive relationships
- Make responsible decisions
Benefits of Social/Emotional Learning
An SEL approach helps students process and integrate their social and emotional skills in school. According to research, social/emotional learning offers the following benefits:
Developing stronger social/emotional skills improves the academic performance of students. In a 2014 meta-analysis, SEL was shown to raise students’ achievement scores by an average of 11 percentile points. The ‘soft skills’ that students develop through SEL are shown to improve their attitudes towards school and as a result, increase their performance in the classroom. When a student knows that his or her feelings will be heard and respected, it’ll be easier for that student to relax and focus at school.
Fewer behavioral problems.
Students engaged in SEL are less aggressive and disruptive in school. Studies have shown these benefits are long-term as SEL students still have 10% fewer psychological, behavioral, or substance abuse problems when they reach the age of 25. For example, if a student can learn to find his or her voice and express anger appropriately, it could prevent him or her from acting inappropriately and damaging relationships.
Less emotional distress.
SEL students also have fewer occurrences of depression, anxiety, stress and social withdraw as evidenced by measures like the Children’s Manifest Anxiety Scale. Research suggests that SEL programs actually affect central executive cognitive functions which improves students’ inhibitory control, planning, and ability to switch attention from one task to the other. Essentially, as students practice the new behaviors that they learn in SEL programs, they develop stronger self-regulation skills.
Positive social behavior.
Students get along better with others, as reported by fellow students, teachers, parents, and independent observers. Social interaction skills and self-knowledge— essential for students to develop and maintain positive, productive relationships with peers, parents and teachers— are hallmarks of SEL. Close student-teacher relationships definitely make students want to perform better in school and have positive long-reaching benefits when teachers inspire their students to embrace challenges beyond the classroom, such as applying to college or looking for a full-time job.
SEL outcomes may seem quite straightforward or even intuitive, however, they actually need to be learned—mostly through observation, experience, and direct guidance. Not everyone has the opportunity to learn such concepts at home, and for those that do, these cognitive and behavioral developments are not reinforced in most public learning settings. And, as “the push” for more standardized testing becomes the norm, healthy social and emotional development processes are squeezed out of classrooms and curriculum. SEL is a process, and therefore requires time, patience, and especially educators that are committed to providing a safe and caring learning environment.
Sources: http://www.casel.org/social-and-emotional-learning/ and Durlak, J., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions (PDF). Child Development, 82(1), 405-432.
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Pathways In Education is a national network of free public education programs that helps students earn their high school diploma and prepare for post-secondary success. Since 2007, Pathways has been a pioneer of ‘experiential learning’, an innovative approach to instruction that is proven to increase high school graduation rates. Experiential learning provides students with real-world experience through hands-on activities, promoting not only social emotional learning, but community involvement and environmentalism as well.