Social and emotional learning (SEL) enhances students’ ability to succeed in school, career, and life. SEL has been shown to increase academic achievement scores by 11 points, and emotional intelligence (including empathy and self-awareness) is cited as one of the fastest growing job skills among hiring professionals.
How can schools foster a culture of learning that includes social-emotional skills in the classroom? Here are some tips on how schools, families, and communities can come together to support SEL, from Edutopia:
Building SEL Skills in the Classroom
Promoting social and emotional development for all students in classrooms involves teaching and modeling social and emotional skills, providing opportunities for students to practice and hone those skills, and giving students an opportunity to apply these skills in various situations.
One of the most prevalent SEL approaches involves training teachers to deliver explicit lessons that teach social and emotional skills, then finding opportunities for students to reinforce their use throughout the day. Another curricular approach embeds SEL instruction into content areas such as English language arts, social studies, or math (Jones & Bouffard, 2012; Merrell & Gueldner, 2010; Yoder, 2013; Zins et al., 2004). There are a number of research-based SEL programs that enhance students’ competence and behavior in developmentally appropriate ways from preschool through high school (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, 2013, 2015).
Teachers can also naturally foster skills in students through their interpersonal and student-centered instructional interactions throughout the school day. Adult-student interactions support SEL when they result in positive student-teacher relationships, enable teachers to model social-emotional competencies for students, and promote student engagement (Williford & Sanger Wolcott, 2015). Teacher practices that provide students with emotional support and create opportunities for students’ voice, autonomy, and mastery experiences promote student engagement in the educational process.
How Schools Can Support SEL
At the school level, SEL strategies typically come in the form of policies, practices, or structures related to climate and student support services (Meyers et al., in press). Safe and positive school climates and cultures positively affect academic, behavioral, and mental health outcomes for students (Thapa, Cohen, Guffey, & Higgins-D’Alessandro, 2013). School leaders play a critical role in fostering schoolwide activities and policies that promote positive school environments, such as establishing a team to address the building climate; adult modeling of social and emotional competence; and developing clear norms, values, and expectations for students and staff members.
Fair and equitable discipline policies and bullying prevention practices are more effective than purely behavioral methods that rely on reward or punishment (Bear et al., 2015). School leaders can organize activities that build positive relationships and a sense of community among students through structures such as regularly scheduled morning meetings or advisories that provide students with opportunities to connect with each other.
An important component of schoolwide SEL involves integration into multi-tiered systems of support. The services provided to students by professionals such as counselors, social workers, and psychologists should align with universal efforts in the classroom and building. Often through small-group work, student support professionals reinforce and supplement classroom-based instruction for students who need early intervention or more intensive treatment.
Building Family and Community Partnerships
Family and community partnerships can strengthen the impact of school approaches to extending learning into the home and neighborhood. Community members and organizations can support classroom and school efforts, especially by providing students with additional opportunities to refine and apply various SEL skills (Catalano et al., 2004).
After-school activities also provide opportunities for students to connect with supportive adults and peers (Gullotta, 2015). They are a great venue to help youth develop and apply new skills and personal talents. Research has shown that after-school programs focused on social and emotional development can significantly enhance student self-perceptions, school connectedness, positive social behaviors, school grades, and achievement test scores, while reducing problem behaviors (Durlak et al., 2010).
SEL can also be fostered in many settings other than school. SEL begins in early childhood, so family and early childcare settings are important (Bierman & Motamedi, 2015). Higher education settings also have the potential to promote SEL (Conley, 2015).
Learn more about social-emotional learning and its importance in the classroom:
- 5 tips for integrating social-emotional learning practices in your classroom
- Why social and emotional intelligence matters in school, from TEDxYouth
- Emotional intelligence among top job skills as classrooms hone in on building skills
- More on social-emotional learning