Student Well-Being

Teaching Social-Emotional Skills is Hard, Time-Consuming, and Necessary, Report Says

By Alyson Klein — November 12, 2021 3 min read
Image of a counselor working with a student.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Helping students grow their social and emotional skills has become a big part of school counselors’ jobs, particularly given the impact of the pandemic on student mental health and behavioral issues.

But it’s also time-consuming, difficult work, and counselors need more support and resources, according to a report released this week by ACT and the American School Counselors Association, based on a survey done last year of counselors and district officials.

Nearly everyone agrees that social-emotional learning is both an important priority for schools and a part of counselors’ purview. The vast majority of school counselors surveyed—85 percent—reported that they were “very interested” in incorporating SEL into their school counseling programs. Less than 3 percent said they were only “a little interested” or “not interested at all.” Meanwhile, the majority of district leaders—72.5 percent—put developing students’ social-emotional skills on par with building their academic knowledge.

“A common misperception is that school counselors provide really just a one-off counseling session,” said Jill Cook, ASCA’s executive director on a call with reporters. “While that may have been the case several decades ago, today school counselors develop and deliver comprehensive programs to address student needs, with the goal of ensuring success for all students. It is no longer the day of the guidance counselor who perhaps only worked with students who are applying to college or students who may be in disciplinary trouble.”

Teaching social-emotional skills can take up a huge chunk of a counselor’s day. A little more than a third of counselors surveyed last year by ACT and ASCA—39 percent—reported that teaching social and emotional learning skills consumes at least half of their time, with 12 percent saying that it takes up three-quarters or more. Roughly another quarter of counselors—27 percent—said they spend somewhere between 21 percent and 49 percent of their workday helping students develop social-emotional skills. Just 17 percent said it takes up 10 percent or less of their time.

What’s more, many of the most important components of social-emotional learning are also the toughest for students to master, survey respondents said. Counselors selected three skills—demonstrating effective coping skills when faced with a problem, exhibiting self-discipline and self-control, and applying self-motivation and self-direction to learning—as among both the top five most critical pieces of SEL and the five most difficult for kids to learn.

Despite the importance placed on SEL, many school counselors aren’t getting the resources they need to implement it as successfully as possible. Less than half of counselors—44 percent—said that their school district directors supported their work to develop students’ SEL skills. But most school district officials surveyed—88 percent—thought they advocated a “great deal” for resources to help school counselors teach SEL.

And while nearly all counselors—98 percent—say it’s either “very” or “moderately” important for parents/guardians to play a part in their child’s social and emotional development, more than three-quarters of counselors believe that it’s “very hard or moderately hard” to get them involved.

The vast majority of counselors—91 percent—also said they would benefit a “great deal” or at least “moderately” from additional professional development on SEL. But only a quarter reported getting a “great deal” of professional development, while 38 percent said they had gotten a moderate amount. More than a third said they had only gotten a little professional development on SEL or none at all.

To help, district leaders should make SEL a part of their comprehensive plans, use evidence to teach social-emotional skills, make sure school counselors have a leadership role on SEL at the school level, and use federal and state funding to support SEL development, the report recommends.

The most important of those recommendations, according to Janet Godwin, the CEO of ACT? Putting SEL into district plans. Godwin, who served on a local school board, said there’s a lot of clamoring for board members’ attention: transportation, academics, food, extracurriculars.

“If SEL is not intentionally, thoughtfully incorporated into comprehensive plans for the school alongside curriculum and academic achievement goals, it is not going to get done,” she said.

The survey, which was conducted in February through April of 2020, included 263 school counselors, 26 school counselor educators, 68 pre-service school counselors in training, and 41 district directors with authority over staffing and support of school counselors.

Events

English-Language Learners Webinar Helping English-Learners Through Improved Parent Outreach: Strategies That Work
Communicating with families is key to helping students thrive – and that’s become even more apparent during a pandemic that’s upended student well-being and forced constant logistical changes in schools. Educators should pay particular attention
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Addressing Unfinished Learning in Math: Providing Tutoring at Scale
Most states as well as the federal government have landed on tutoring as a key strategy to address unfinished learning from the pandemic. Take math, for example. Studies have found that students lost more ground
Content provided by Yup Math Tutoring
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Quiz How Much Do You Know About the Needs of the Whole Child?
Answer 7 questions to see how much you know about the needs of the whole child.
Student Well-Being Flu Vaccinations Among Children Are Down. That Could Spell Trouble for Schools
The convergence of flu and COVID-19 infections could exacerbate student absences and staff shortages.
2 min read
An employee with the Hidalgo County Health Department holds out a roll of flu vaccine stickers that are used to verify who has been temperature screened Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2020, at the COVID-19 vaccination clinic on the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show grounds in Mercedes, TX.
An employee with the Hidalgo County Health Department holds out a roll of flu vaccine stickers that are used to verify who has been temperature screened at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Mercedes, Texas
Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald/AP
Student Well-Being Opinion The Case for Virtual Social and Emotional Learning
Can student social and emotional well-being be supported online? Rick Hess speaks with the founder of EmpowerU, which seeks to do just that.
6 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Student Well-Being ‘Good Thing I Have Thick Skin’: School Nurses Describe the Pandemic’s Toll
During peak levels of transmission, contact tracing has involved hundreds of students and staff that nurses investigated on a daily basis.
Erin Bamer, The York Dispatch
4 min read
The front of the Bellefonte Area School District certified school nurses office on Aug. 15, 2016 in Centre County, Penn.
The front of the Bellefonte Area School District certified school nurses office on Aug. 15, 2016 in Centre County, Penn.
Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times via AP