The Gift of Social Emotional Learning

There is a broad consensus among educators that the need to support our students’ social and emotional capacity has become even greater during this global pandemic, which has disproportionately impacted Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), and persons with disabilities.

There is also a concern about “learning loss” and the lack of academic progress and engagement that students have experienced due to distance learning, social isolation, technology barriers and the accumulated stress and trauma from the pandemic.

Educators are faced with the challenge to focus on supporting students’ social and emotional needs or accelerating their academic learning. Depending on the school or district where you teach, you may be told to emphasize one or the other.

But here’s the thing, choosing between academics and Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is a false dichotomy. Research on SEL has consistently shown that creating an SEL-rich community has significant behavior and academic outcomes for students. When we intentionally and systematically teach HEART skills, we are building students’ capacity to pay attention in class, work collaboratively with others and engage with academic instruction in more meaningful ways. In a study conducted by the OECD, skills such self-efficacy, sociability and self-esteem were shown to consistently affect outcomes like college completion, job attainment, health, and civic engagement.

Get and give a copy of Teaching with the HEART in Mind or the Spanish translation, Pedagogía con corazón, and plan to host a book study at your school in the New Year. Discussion guide available here.

At the same time, when teachers integrate SEL in their teaching practices, they are able to design academic lessons that reflect how the brain learns. We know from the latest research in neuroscience that emotions are an integral part of the brain’s processes. By incorporating SEL in their instruction, teachers can create safe, supportive and engaging environments were students can use all the tools they already have and accomplish their academic goals.

If we are focused on supporting students’ learning and growth, we need to consider students’ social and emotional needs, and the conditions that affect learning and the classroom and school climate. Otherwise, we will be ignoring the foundation that makes learning happen.

We have an opportunity to create communities where children and youth can thrive emotionally, socially and academically. You can get started by giving your students the most valuable present: the gift of Social Emotional Learning. 

If you are not sure where to start or need more practical ideas, get your copy of Teaching with the HEART in Mind or the Spanish translation, Pedagogía con corazón, and plan to host a book study at your school in the New Year. Discussion guide available here.

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