Having shifted focus from basic science research to education, some of the nuances and shifts in the education landscape are often lost on me. Recently, however, the push toward social-emotional learning (SEL) smacked me in the face (seemingly literally).
During a fall teacher-parent-teacher conference (my son is in a dual classroom setting), my son’s homeroom teacher mentioned that the school’s guidance counselor was changing formally to the school’s SEL specialist and would be implementing some new curriculum after the new year. Having just been introduced to SEL and having done some reading on it, I was intrigued and started to ask probing questions (What would they be doing? How much time would be spent? Why the formal shift? What were the anticipated gains versus traditional guidance counseling?). It was pretty clear at that point that the teacher(s) didn’t have much information and only had a high-level view of SEL and the benefits to the student, classroom, and ultimately school.
After reflecting on this exchange, I pulled a piece from Education Week that came across my desk a few months ago (Social-Emotional Learning Has Long-Lasting Positive Effects on Students, Study Says) and now offer a summary (from a parent, scientist, and educator) on some of the author’s points after reviewing it again.
The opening line in the piece is powerful:
“Programs that help students recognize their emotions, solve problems, and form healthy relationships may continue to show positive benefits for months, or even years after they complete them…”
Sign me up! This feels like a place that I want to start investing (time, resources, and capital). When I ask my 2nd grader what he learned in school, I rarely get a straightforward answer (and I’m assuming I’m not alone in that camp of frustrated parents). Additionally, in an age where either ‘ask Alexa/Siri’ or ‘just Google it’ is commonplace when answering most any question requiring more than a one-word response, why would you not get behind programming that effectively teaches real-world skills that are transferable across all subjects/disciplines – versus pushing knowledge transfer that can be gained by a few keystrokes or voice prompts?
In the study reviewed in this particular piece, researchers sampled more than 80 schools and involved more than 90,000 students from kindergarten through 12th grade (across a variety of demographics). Results suggested that participants in social-emotional programs performed approximately 13 percentile points higher than their peers from control groups when performance on tests and grades were compared. Granted the piece does go on to highlight some challenges with this set of research and lays claim to ‘more’ research being suggested by those responsible (insert comment about preserving one’s job security) - students self-reported and, in some cases, did not complete each indicator; a broad definition of SEL was used and therefore researchers were unable to pinpoint exactly what contributed to the gains; and breakdowns across various demographics were not complete.
Regardless of the perceived shortcomings of this study, we need to take note of potential benefits of SEL programming and start collectively embracing the possibilities. We can start by simply developing a common understanding of the topic and, if we do choose to implement in our schools, ensure our educators are equipped to answer basic questions when asked on what students will actually be doing in these types of programs.
background-image: a building with the American flag in front of it
Jan Sikorsky, Ph.D., M.S.
Holding a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences and having served on the National Science Teachers Association Committee on College Science Teaching, Dr. Sikorsky is responsible for the science and skills development programs, where under his leadership, Envision’s product offerings have hosted more than 100,000 students.
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