9 reasons your students need Social Emotional Learning (SEL) programs – now more than ever

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There’s a lot of buzz around social emotional learning programs, but are they worth the investment? A growing body of research shows measurable academic, behavioral, personal, and social benefits– even more critical when students are living in the time of coronavirus.  


1. Social emotional learning can help students cope with COVID-19-related change.

A virulent pandemic. Soaring unemployment. Racial unrest. Lockdowns. Social distancing. Masks. Uncertainty about school and life in general. 

These conditions have dramatically altered the landscape of social and emotional health. Whether your school is meeting in person, online, or in a hybrid environment this fall, nothing will be the same. 

To help students navigate this rapidly-changing terrain, you need to support their emotional well-being and satisfy their need for social connection. SEL curricula provide frameworks to meet students where they are and help them thrive.  Addressing a child’s feelings and emotions is needed now more than ever. 


2. Social emotional learning reduces behavioral problems.

Many schools have adopted SEL as a way to curb negative attitudes and disruptive behaviors. Does it work?

A six-year longitudinal study recently published in Child Development examined this very question. Covering 82 previous studies and nearly 100,000 students, this research uncovered significant reductions in incidences of clinical mental health issues, arrests, sexually-transmitted diseases, and teenage pregnancies among those with SEL training.


3. Social emotional learning promotes academic success.

Educators have long recognized the correlation between emotional well-being and academic performance. A growing body of scientific research supports this conviction, and demonstrates the substantial scholastic benefits of SEL. In 2011, a group of investigators associated with CASEL (Center for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) conducted a meta-analysis of nearly 213 school-based SEL programs responsible for educating over 270,000 K-12 students. Students enrolled in schools with SEL outperformed their peers in testing by 11 percentile points. They were also 6% more likely to graduate high school and 11% more likely to graduate college.


4. Social emotional learning helps students manage stress.

Let’s face it: growing up in our world can be stressful. This simple truth is reflected by rising incidences of depression, anxiety, and social withdrawal in American youth. And these issues were prevalent before the pandemic! Imagine the added stress of mental and physical health and wellness on children now during COVID-19.

SEL programs help students cope with their stress and regulate themselves. Gains in executive function, impulse control, planning, and focus associated with these curricula improve students’ ability to navigate these challenging times.


5. Social emotional learning develops positive habits for future success.

What are the most important skills employers look for when making a hire? Intelligence? Technical proficiency? Prior job experience?

Although these considerations ranked high, employers prized ability to work in a team, solve problems and make decisions, and communicate effectively more than any other skills, according to Forbes. Part of the reason they valued these attributes so highly was their scarcity: half of all employers complained they had trouble finding candidates with these traits. Because SEL programs cultivate self-awareness, responsible decision-making, and relational skills, they target precisely the “soft skills” that make job candidates employable.

6. Social emotional learning may contribute to a narrowing of achievement gaps.

Imagine there was a way to put students from disadvantaged backgrounds on an equal footing with their peers from more privileged environments. Suppose this method could help combat cycles of inter-generational poverty and increase social mobility. How valuable would this be?

The truth is, experts consider SEL just such a critical component to narrowing achievement gaps and helping students escape poverty. A study co-commissioned by the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute recommended scaling up evidence-based SEL programs to enable low-income students to enjoy success in education, employment, and family life.


7. Social emotional learning offers great return on investment (ROI).

A 2015 Columbia University study revealed an 11:1 return on investment on SEL curricula. Cost-benefit analysis represents only a single tool in schools’ decision-making, but these measurable benefits make SEL a smart choice. Even the most cash-strapped districts must take SEL seriously given this investment potential.


8. Social emotional learning needs to be structured to be effective.

The advantages of SEL are becoming increasingly evident to educators, administrators, and policymakers. “The evidence,” writes Stephanie Jones of Harvard University, “should move us beyond debate as to whether schools should address students’ social and emotional learning to how schools can effectively integrate social, emotional, and academic development into their daily work.”

How do schools do this? Research shows that a clear plan, a supportive administration, and training for those implementing SEL are pivotal to making this learning part of school culture. In other words, structured program with a coherent sequence delivered by trained educators can make the difference for an SEL program. It’s important to get this right from the beginning; schools that switch curricula too many times can incur “change fatigue” and reap a harvest of diminishing returns.


9. Social emotional learning curricula can be hard to develop “in house.”

When it comes to the value of SEL, educators agree nearly to a person: it’s essential. Fully 93% of surveyed teachers endorsed SEL as an important, practical tool for training students.

But with so many responsibilities already on their plates, few educators have the time and resources to develop their own curricula. They may lack training in the latest advances in the field in these matters. Adopting a well-planned, research-based SEL program that aligns with best practices and fits institutional needs is the best way to balance the need for SEL and limited faculty resources.  


Respectful Ways offers digital, trauma-informed, custom-tailored Social and Emotional Learning programs for elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. Take a look at our site and contact us for a free consultation.

Photos by Julia M Cameron from Pexels



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