Student Well-Being

Educators Are Bullish on Social-Emotional Learning. Here’s Why

By Alyson Klein — November 14, 2022 1 min read
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Social-emotional learning has run into some political roadblocks recently, but teachers overwhelmingly say that it has a positive impact on students’ academic outcomes.

Eighty-three percent of 824 educators—including teachers, principals, and district leaders—surveyed by the EdWeek Research Center from Sept. 28 to Oct. 17 said they believe that SEL helps students master academic skills. Among that group, 51 percent said they found SEL “somewhat” helpful for academic learning, while 32 percent said it was “very” helpful. Just 3 percent said it had a negative influence on academic learning. Another 14 percent said its impact was neutral.

Social-emotional learning typically involves teaching non-academic skills, such as resilience, empathy, goal setting, responsible decisionmaking, and emotional management, to help students be successful in school, work, and life. In some communities, the concept has been linked to teaching about difficult topics such as race and gender, though some educators say those are separate from SEL.

The survey results suggest that most educators don’t buy the argument that SEL and academics are an either/or proposition.

Louise Williamson, a teacher at Hilltop High School in the Sweetwater Union High School district, near San Diego, sees social-emotional skills as important as other things that are key to students’ overall health.

“Sleeping eight hours every night takes away from my time, I could get more done if I didn’t have to sleep,” she said. “But guess what? I’m human and I have needs and I need to go to sleep. And it actually turns out I function better if I get my sleep. If you’re not getting your [emotional] needs attended to, everything will slow down.”

Despite that enthusiasm, weaving SEL into academic subjects can be challenging, educators say.

School districts who have worked deeply on SEL strategies say key elements include building skills with teachers and other adults in the district, seeking student input, and crafting programs that can survive turnover in district leadership.

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