Status Check: The Top Challenges to Social-Emotional Learning and How to Address Them

By Arianna Prothero — March 09, 2023 3 min read
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March 10 marks International SEL Day. If you haven’t heard of it, you can be forgiven because it’s only the fourth year for the annual event.

SEL Day 2023 finds social-emotional learning at a unique moment.

Interest in SEL is high as students struggle to adjust socially after the pandemic and as fast-changing technology continues to present new challenges to kids’ social-emotional development. At the same time, SEL is also facing high-profile resistance as it’s become a political football in the larger debates over what should be taught in schools.

Educators may find themselves stuck in the middle of that tug-of-war. They are trying to walk a public relations tightrope as scrutiny intensifies from some parents and politicians, who argue that social-emotional learning is teaching liberal values that don’t align with those of their families and communities. At the same time, educators are trying to shore up their students social-emotional skills.

Students sorely need those skills. Seventy percent of educators—teachers, principals and district leaders—surveyed by the EdWeek Research Center in January and February of this year, said that their students have been misbehaving more compared to the fall of 2019. Thirty-three percent said students were misbehaving “a lot more.”

Here’s a collection of articles and expert opinions on the challenges facing educators as they try to teach students’ social-emotional skills.

What Does SEL Mean Anyway? 7 Experts Break It Down

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SEL can be a nebulous concept, which opens the door to misunderstanding or misrepresenting the idea. So, Education Week reached out to researchers and practitioners in the field for their jargon-free definitions and examples of social-emotional learning.

How School Leaders Can Respond to Pushback Over Social-Emotional Learning

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SEL has faced some serious headwinds lately as it’s been conflated with critical race theory and gotten caught up in larger debates and legislative bans over teaching “divisive” topics about racism and sexuality. Most recently, Florida’s education commissioner released a memo to superintendents around the state calling for a review of a well-known curriculum provider’s SEL curriculum that state officials say has run afoul of the state’s new laws—mostly like the Stop W.O.K.E. Act which limits what schools can teach relating to racism. Here are 6 tips for educators on how to address the pushback and communicate more clearly with the community about SEL initiatives.

Families Are Students’ First SEL Teachers. Here’s How to Engage Them

Group of diverse people (aerial view) in a circle holding hands. Cooperation and teamwork. Community of friends, students, or volunteers committed to social issues for peace and the environment.

Nearly 9 in 10 parents said in a recent survey that they have the most influence on their children’s character development, but they acknowledged there is a role for teachers. Nearly 70 percent said they lean on their kids’ teachers to reinforce the values they’re teaching at home, according to a survey by polling firm Ipsos for the nonprofit In an opinion piece for Education Week, Alexandra Skoog-Hoffman, the director of research-practice partnerships at the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, or CASEL, lays out four steps for building stronger partnerships between families and schools.

5 Social-Emotional Skills Kids Need to Lead Healthy Digital Lives

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The time kids spent on devices and social media skyrocketed during the pandemic, and research shows screen time is not coming back down to pre-pandemic levels. Social media and technology can challenge kids’ social-emotional growth and mental health. But SEL programs aren’t always adapted to teach kids about how to apply the social-emotional skills they know to their online lives. Here are 5 tips on how to do that.

Can Bite-Sized Lessons Make Social-Emotional Learning Easier to Teach?

Silhouette of child and puzzle pieces

The number one barrier cited by educators to teaching social-emotional learning is not politics or resistant teachers, it’s time. Forty-six percent of educators told the EdWeek Research Center in an October poll that helping students catch up academically leaves limited bandwidth for SEL. That reality is why one Harvard professor has set out to develop and study an approach to SEL called kernels or practice.


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