Social-Emotional Learning Impact

Why has Social-Emotional Learning become the rage in the world of education across the country? Can’t we just get back to the basics that worked so well for so many decades, like Math and English, with a bit of Science and History to add some spice?

The problem is that we have entered into a brave new world where it’s getting harder and harder to ignore the facts!

The multi-faceted benefits of social and emotional learning (SEL) are well-researched, with evidence demonstrating that an education promoting SEL yields positive results for everyone — students, adults, and school communities.

And this is not the conclusion of a study here and a study there. These findings are the consensus that has been drawn from multiple fields and sources, the product of analysis of hundreds of studies which demonstrate that SEL leads to beneficial outcomes related to social and emotional skills; attitudes about self, school, and social topics; social behaviors; conduct problems; emotional distress; and academic performance.

A recent study by CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) found that students increase as many as 13 percentile points academically, on average, approximately 3.5 years after being exposed to an SEL academic program!

The 5 Aspects of Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

To better appreciate why social and emotional learning has had such a vital impact, it is important to have a fuller grasp as to what it is really all about. Simply put, SEL is the process of developing and using skills to identify and regulate emotions, develop positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

CASEL divides social and emotional learning into 5 core competencies:

  • Self-Awareness: Becoming self-aware by identifying how one’s feelings, goals, strengths, and limitations influence behavior

  • Self-Management and Emotional Regulation: Learning to regulate daily stressors and manage emotions related to motivation and controlling impulses

  • Social Awareness: Improving awareness of others and sensitivities such as empathy; and developing the ability to appreciate cultural and social differences

  • Relationship and Social Skills: Developing the requisite social skills to cultivate lasting and meaningful relationships with both individuals and groups

  • Responsible Decision Making: Learning how to make everyday decisions while considering ethics, safety concerns, and social norms

Teacher-Therapist Collaboration

Because teachers spend the lion’s share of the school day with their students, understandably they will have the most profound impact on the students and SEL development in the classroom. However, this doesn’t mean it’s optimal not to receive any assistance.

Utilizing a more collaborative approach that includes administrators and school counselors working together with classroom teachers can ease the buy-in into new SEL programs from everyone involved.

While there are several ways for school counselors to play a role, because the five competencies are part of the counselor’s expertise, helping teachers retrofit them into the curriculum is probably the most useful and effective.

But there are other ways as well:

1. Playing Detective Together

Often to provide more accurate assessments as to what children need requires that both teachers and therapists collaborate on how to determine a child’s inner landscape. This necessitates careful implementation and documentation of IEP goals in conjunction with an emphasis on self-regulation in those moments when the child is “losing it.”

This two-dimensional approach is the best way to assure that the child will receive exactly what she needs.

2. Restorative Practices Instead of Punitive Actions

Instead of as a matter of reflex resorting to punitive actions, why not opt for a change? Try restorative practices to teach alternative behaviors. Those school systems that have traditionally relied only on detentions and suspensions for consequences to errant behavior, should consider natural consequences designed by the school counselor.

It’s more than likely that natural consequences will be more effective and actually teach positive behaviors — a nice deviation from the status quo.

Counselors can serve as a vital addition to classroom restorative practices. Aside from their expertise, they typically have more time than a teacher does to engage students in the focused and deep level of interaction that is necessary for overall impact on the student.

3. Spending Time in the Classroom

Assigning a therapist to rotate between classrooms for one period a day, with the exclusive purpose of monitoring various executive function skill development of particular students, could prove invaluable from a diagnostic standpoint.

What’s more, it is quite possible that, while the counselor is in the classroom during the lesson, a student will have a meltdown or other behavior issue that can be immediately addressed by the counselor on hand. Aside from the direct benefit to the student who experienced the meltdown, other students will benefit, as the disruption will be quickly neutralized.

4. Therapist as Educator

It could be that a committee has been formed to consider bringing a social-emotional learning program into the school. A school psychologist or counselor is the perfect advocate to articulate the wide-ranging benefits to various constituencies and the particular benefits awaiting each entity.

5. Direct Teacher Assistance

Although teachers may be very enthusiastic about the SEL curriculum, this doesn’t mean they completely understand it nor know the nuances of implementing such a curriculum. This is where the wisdom and experience of a school counselor grounded in SEL can make a critical difference. Insights and building teachers’ confidence can be game-changers.

Getting on the Same Page

Collaboration between teachers and therapists on SEL is more than fulfilling the time-honored maxim of “two heads are better than one.” Because their training and roles are different, the whole will be much greater than the sum of the parts.

Fundamental to the success of this crucial alliance is the respect and deference they have for each other, recognizing that their complementary roles, when integrated properly, will afford students an unparalleled SEL experience. Based upon the aforementioned studies, perhaps there is no more essential gift they can offer.