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

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
Classroom Technology Webinar
Academic Integrity in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
As AI writing tools rapidly evolve, learn how to set standards and expectations for your students on their use.
Content provided by Turnitin
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Chronic Teacher Shortage: Where Do We Go From Here?  
Join Peter DeWitt, Michael Fullan, and guests for expert insights into finding solutions for the teacher shortage.
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
Reading & Literacy Webinar
The Science of Reading: Tools to Build Reading Proficiency
The Science of Reading has taken education by storm. Learn how Dr. Miranda Blount transformed literacy instruction in her state.
Content provided by hand2mind

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 What Is the 'Mentoring Gap,' and How Can Schools Help Close It?
Overall, more young people have access to mentors, but Gen Z has fallen a bit behind millennials.
3 min read
Female teacher and male student sitting together at a table with a laptop and tablet
iStock/Getty
Student Well-Being What the Research Says How a School District Used Music Teaching to Keep Students Connected
A wider variety of music programs may help students feel more connected to school, new research suggests.
3 min read
Dressed in her shoulder pads and jersey, 8th grader Julie Michael, 13, holds her flute before playing the national anthem with the marching band at Seven Springs Middle School in New Port Richey, Fla.
Trumpet player Blake Gifford, 12, at right, rehearses with the horn section in the band room on March 8, 2017, at Lakeside Middle School in Millville, N.J.
Ben Fogletto/The Press of Atlantic City via AP
Student Well-Being Opinion One Thing Teachers Can Do to Help Students Change Their Habits
Daniel Willingham explores what the research says it takes to make better choices.
Daniel Willingham
2 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Getty
Student Well-Being Using Therapy Dogs in Schools: 8 Do's and Don'ts
Read expert advice for bringing a therapy dog into your school, including concerns about breed, temperament, and training.
4 min read
A large gold dog rests lies on the ground and looks at a group of children who are sitting nearby as they listen to a story.
Therapy dog Kalani watches students during a story time at Morris Elementary School in Morris, Okla., on Jan. 17.
Michael Noble Jr. for Education Week