Recently, Ohio adopted standardized social and emotional learning (SEL), which may seem merely insignificant but represents a small cog in a machine chugging towards a more responsive educational system. Ohio will be joining 13 other states that have articulated social and emotional learning competencies. According to Education Week’s article, “States are Stepping Up to Support Social and Emotional Learning.” While SEL continues to grow and permeate our education system, very few know what it entails and how beneficial it can be for students.
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines social-emotional learning as “the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” And while many teachers may teach these lessons in an ancillary fashion—think teachers teaching students to count to ten when they’re upset or asking them how they would feel if someone pulled their hair on the playground—the lessons are neither objective nor quantifiable. Standardizing these lessons grants teachers the opportunity to explicate the importance of identifying emotions and addressing them specifically. It would allow students to practice processing constructive behaviors. For some reason, however, the implementation of SEL seems to polarize local leaders.
The standardization of SEL in Ohio did not pass unanimously. Those in opposition believed that it was a family’s role to teach students these behavior traits and forcing teachers to do it proved that leaders did not believe in the tried and true families structures of their state. However, the problem stretches much further than Ohio’s localized emphasis on family. Pew Social Trends’ research article, “Raising Kids and Running a Household: How Working Parents Share the Load” found that 74% of children have two full-time working parents. 39% of mothers believe they don’t spend enough time with their children. And with the total national average of time parents spend with their children hanging around 1.52 hours a day, it’s not hard to see why. This issue is far more of a pandemic for students’ social skills than it is a reflection of Ohio’s values. Parents work long hours and may not have the time or energy to teach their children the moral, social, or emotional skills necessary to succeed, not only in school but in life. Standardizing emotional learning assists millions of children as the lessons needed for life can be taught in a mandatory school setting rather than by chance.
Parents and family life excluded, social-emotional learning also helps students excel on paper. CASEL participated in a meta-analysis called “The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta- Analysis of School Based Student Interactions,” in which they studied the performance of over 270,000 kindergarten through high school students. The study aimed to compare students who received social-emotional learning interventions with regular students. At the end of their research, they discovered that students who received SEL interventions saw an increase in academic performance by 11 percentile points. They also discovered that the students involved in the intervention “showed improved classroom behavior, an increased ability to manage stress and depression, and better attitudes about themselves, others, and school.” These improvements not only benefit the students but also the teachers, as well. If students are not focused on their stress, anger, or frustration, they are not acting out in class. Therefore, teachers spend more time in front of the board and less time disciplining unruly students. What’s more, the study found that students exposed to SEL had a greater commitment to learning and spent more time, on average, doing schoolwork. Once the barrier of emotional stress is moved students have the ability to unlock their full academic potential.
Other studies have found that the positive impacts transcend race, gender, and socio-economic status as well as positive correlations between these skills and GPA. Options for Youth suggests that students feel safe and heard when their teachers foster meaningful relationships with them. They make them feel heard and accountable for their actions leading to better long-term outcomes. SEL students are 10% less likely to have psychological, behavioral or substance abuse problems by the time they reach 25. These results are critical as these issues disproportionately affect low-income, minority students. In other words, the advantages of SEL see no end.
The evidence points to one ideal: social emotional learning can have a blanketed positive effect on students. Whether it is teaching them to reflect on emotions and behaviors or build relationships, this type of learning provides instrumental lessons that bleed understanding into every area of students’ lives. All it takes for improvement on the outside is looking inside.