Student Well-Being Data

Top 3 Barriers to Teaching Social-Emotional Learning. And One Big Takeaway

By Arianna Prothero — December 19, 2022 1 min read
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This was a conundrum even before the pandemic: Educators say they recognize the importance of developing students’ social and emotional skills, such as managing emotions and setting goals. But they feel that in order to teach academic subjects effectively, there is little time for social-emotional learning lessons.

And the pandemic has only made that problem worse.

A recent EdWeek Research Center survey polled teachers, principals, and district leaders nationally and found not only is this a major barrier, it is by far the most cited challenge to teaching social-emotional skills.

Forty-six percent of respondents said that helping students to catch up academically leaves limited bandwidth for SEL, while 37 percent listed insufficient professional development as a major challenge, and 34 percent cited students’ social-emotional needs being beyond the scope of their ability to handle.

Kendria Jones believes she has a lot to teach her students at Jack Robey Jr. High School in Pine Bluff, Ark., about persistence, resilience, and a willingness to seek help. But time is an enemy.

“We really don’t have a lot of time to do what I would love to do, take way more time than 15 minutes to home in on social-emotional learning,” she told Education Week in a special report about SEL.

See also

Third grade teacher, Stephanie Brugler, works with her class during an SEL lesson at the Jefferson PK-8 school in Warren, Ohio, on Nov. 1, 2022.
Third-grade teacher Stephanie Brugler works with her class during an SEL lesson in November at the Jefferson PK-8 school in Warren, Ohio.
Daniel Lozada for Education Week

Several of the other issues educators say get in the way of teaching SEL are variations on those same three themes of limited bandwidth, lack of investment, and challenges from students. Thirty percent said that an emphasis on standardized exams prep left little time for SEL. Twenty-seven percent cited insufficient curricular materials and instructional resources. And 18 percent said that students don’t want to learn social-emotional skills at school.

Meanwhile, issues that have been much more in the news lately (including in Education Week), such as pushback from parents and communities, are among the least cited challenges. Ten percent of educators said that pushback from parents is a major barrier to social-emotional learning in their school or district, and only 8 percent said the same of pushback from their community.

What is the key takeaway here? While political pushback against social-emotional learning has been grabbing headlines, the biggest barriers remain educators’ usual foes: time is too short, students’ needs are too big, and there are not enough resources.

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