The Importance of Social Emotional Learning

How a Social Curriculum Leads to Student Success

Though another school year seems to have only just recently gotten underway, you’re probably already being inundated with directives to prep for, or teach to, your state’s standardized tests. Right?

We all know that the “3 R’s” are vitally important skills, but there’s a risk involved in focusing ONLY on academic standards. We’re risking our students missing out on equally important lessons that can help develop strong emotional skills, character traits, and values.

I’m talking about a social learning curriculum, or social emotional learning (SEL). It’s “the future of education”! Why? Because learning these critical skills during a child’s development directly affects their success and happiness as an adult.

And isn’t that what it’s all about? We should be teaching students not just to be good at school, but also good at life.

The High Stakes & High Stress of Standards

Standardized tests are high stakes and high stress for everyone involved.

Administrators feel pressured to get a gold star from the state so they can show they are a “good school.”

Teachers are backed into a corner of teaching to the test—and neglecting SEL—to ensure students perform up to the level required by the powers that be. (And in some cases, their own pay and/or tenure could be on the line!)

Students often experience stress and pressure from testing that negatively impacts their physical and emotional well-being

It’s an ever-present frustration for educators. We KNOW there is so much more to educating a child than simply focusing on academic subjects. And yet, at every turn, it seems our hands are tied.

Large portions of our day are spent teaching left brain capabilities—computation, language acquisition and communication, linear thinking, facts, logic, sequencing, memorizing, etc.

Creativity, innovation, autonomy, and SEL are barely allowed to take up space in our classrooms. Because, after all, state tests don’t measure how creative little Johnny is!

And to some extent, I understand.

I’m absolutely a proponent of incorporating standard-based grading into the classroom practice. I believe it’s vital to define the skills and knowledge students should have at each grade level. Standards provide guidance to teachers, helping them to build lesson plans around a set of core concepts—and to track progress accurately, effectively, and fairly. 

The problem is that our current system places an OUTSIZED value on these skills—and seemingly these skills alone—leaving out the social curriculum which is equally, if not more, important.

The Crucial Importance of Social Curriculum

A report by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) found that there is significant data to support the importance of a social curriculum in schools. They cite statistics that show students who received SEL instruction performed, on average, 11 percentile points higher than students who did not.

And a social curriculum provides benefits to individuals long after they’ve left the classroom. A study from The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that certain social and emotional skills are strong indicators of success. And they further determined that a lack of SEL regularly correlated with increased chances of unemployment, divorce, poor health, criminal behavior, and imprisonment.

That’s pretty compelling evidence that learning how to interact and empathize with others is at least as important as learning to read and write!

Educating the Whole Child

Perhaps the most important lessons we teach our students aren’t the ones found within the confines of a textbook.

We should teach our students self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth.

We should teach them compassion and connection.

We should teach them social awareness and emotional intelligence.

We should teach them to understand their emotions and to communicate them effectively.

These are the keys to success and how we educate the whole child. Because they’re helping to build the grit, perseverance, and drive necessary to succeed in life. (This is why I think a Growth Mindset curriculum is soooo important, too!)

Teachers need to have that same grit and perseverance. We need to do the scary thing and say that a social curriculum is just as important as academic standards. We need to push our administrators to recognize SEL as a viable and necessary investment in our students. 

And we need to remember that we are all—students and teachers—more than the test!

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