Case for SEL

Case for Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

By Tara Flippo, Youth & Student Programs Director

The publication of our first book has opened up amazing new conversations with area schools on the topic of Social and Emotional Learning. In our efforts to bring SEL into the forefront of school climate conversations it seemed an apt time to share the case for SEL programming.

The Collaborative for Academic Social Emotional Learning (CASEL), founded in 1994, is center stage in its charge for inclusion of SEL in schools. CASEL (2015) describes SEL as

…the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. (CASEL website)

It is well known that pressures have increased on schools to develop 21st century skills in their student bodies without sacrificing time for high stakes exam preparation. However, the research shows that SELA students are more likely to attend school and build meaningful connections with peers and staff if engaged in their own learning.

When educators foster a caring school environment and teach core social skills, a virtuous cycle develops in which positive interactions beget more positive interactions. All of this creates a culture in which students and teachers respect one another and enjoy being together, further strengthening relationships and motivating both students and teachers to do their best. (Edutopia, 2015)

A 2011 meta-analysis covering over 200 programs and three decades of research provides a compelling case for CASEL’s efforts.

Researchers have found that SEL improves students’ attitudes towards themselves and others.  Students’ participation in classroom-based programs that focused on SEL saw drastic academic gains, with as much as an 11-percentile-point improvement on standardized test scores.

Studies have also shown that improvements in students’ SEL skills are also linked to greater self-confidence, mental health, communication skills, and relationships with peers and adults; as well as decreased participation in risky and antisocial behaviors such as drug use, alcohol consumption, and violent acts. (CASEL website)

In addition to stronger peer-to-peer and student-to-school staff relationships, Edutopia (2015) cites several studies showing significant growth of the individual student.

Self-regulation, the ability to control and manage thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, has been linked to academic achievement in numerous studies. Students who are more self-aware and confident about their learning capacities try harder and persist in the face of challenges. Students who set high academic goals, have self-discipline, motivate themselves, manage stress, and organize their approach to work learn more and get better grades. Finally, students who use problem-solving skills to overcome obstacles and make responsible decisions about studying and completing homework do better academically.

SELA, delivered through an experiential approach, only increases its potency. Experiential education has long been known to develop critical thinking, reflection, and lifelong learning skills.