Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is a well-known, and often studied, theory within the educational field. Government agencies mandate it. Administrators, teachers, and staff train on it. And educational research is conducted on it every year.
So much focus has been placed on SEL over the last few decades, that all 50 states have now mandated SEL in their early childhood development programs. 27 states have SEL competencies required for all grades K-12. Each state has a unique plan in place regarding how SEL is taught to students within their particular state.
Michigan, for example, has chosen to focus on all five of the SEL competencies in grades K-12. The five competencies are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. In addition, they have identified seventeen indicators that help educators recognize when these competencies have been mastered by their students.
A few of these indicators include things like demonstrating a sense of personal responsibility, demonstrating honesty and integrity, reading social cues and responding constructively, developing and maintaining positive relationships, and using personal, ethical, safety, and cultural factors in making decisions.
Florida has chosen to include Social and Emotional Learning as one of their eight domains from birth to Kindergarten. Their SEL domain specifically focuses on things like expressing, identifying, and responding to a range of emotions, demonstrating appropriate emotional responses between behavior and facial expressions, demonstrating the ability to self-regulate, developing positive relationships with adults and peers, and developing a sense of self-awareness and independence.
SEL implementation across states is anything but uniform. The data proves that it does work. SEL programs have been found to:
- Increase both social and emotional skills among students
- Encourage positive attitudes about oneself and those around you
- Promote pro-social behaviors
- Improve academic success, mental health, and helpfulness in the classroom
- Help students better manage stress and depression
Even more impressive, research shows that SEL programs:
- Correlate to better well-being up to eighteen years after intervention
- Are effective for students from all demographic and geographic backgrounds
Fundamentally, by mastering social and emotional learning, students are positively influenced long into the future. This is key because it’s not a temporary fix to make students behave better in class. It sets them up for a happier and more successful life.
While studies tend to focus on SEL implementation within the public school system, many private and charter schools also incorporate SEL practices into their curricula. Social and emotional learning easily lends itself to religious values, even though it’s entirely secular in nature.
Alternate philosophies of education, often the focus of charter school environments, work well within the SEL framework too. For example, both Montessori and Reggio Emilia are child-centered educational philosophies that focus on caring for the whole child, including their social and emotional needs.
With the success of SEL, the public educational system needs to be overhauled to include the various learning experiences and skills that sets students up for success. Standardized testing, memorizing information and focusing more on a specific set of information is not what develops successful, empathetic and community-focused young adults.