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Why Is Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Essential for Student Success?

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The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines SEL this way: “Social and emotional learning is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

According to CASEL, the basics of SEL include five core competencies that should be prioritized:

  1. Self Awareness: Being mindful of their strengths and weaknesses helps students feel confident and optimistic about learning and growing.
  2. Self-Management: Students who learn skills to manage stress and control impulses are better able to be motivated and achieve goals.
  3. Social Awareness: Once a student recognizes that others come from diverse cultures and backgrounds, and can respect and empathize with that, they learn tolerance and develop social skills.
  4. Relationship Skills: Communicating effectively, being a good listener, cooperating and working together, resisting negative social pressures, and handling conflict in a constructive manner are lifelong relationship skills.
  5. Responsible Decision-Making: In school and out, students are faced with decisions about their personal behavior and how they interact with others. Students need to learn to make decisions based on ethical standards, safety, and socially acceptable norms.

Why Teach SEL in Schools?

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction says, “If schools exist to prepare students for their future by developing the skills necessary to be successful adults, then helping students develop social and emotional competence is an essential part of that preparation.” Families help children develop SEL skills, but social and emotional learning occurs all the time, intentionally or not. SEL instruction strives to be intentional in helping students learn and apply these skills, which will help set them up for academic success.

How Is SEL Taught?

Modeling and coaching are effective ways to teach young children to recognize how they feel or how others may be feeling. One way to accomplish this is by having students work as a group to create classroom rules. Participation in team sports and games helps teach cooperation and teamwork. Introducing SEL into all settings where students spend their time makes it more likely that the goals of SEL will be achieved.

Principals, Teachers, Parents and Support Professionals All Have a Role

School leadership can help promote effective schoolwide SEL by providing ongoing professional development opportunities for teachers and by supporting SEL programming. Taking an active role in promoting SEL programming helps ensure buy-in and a shared vision.

Teachers can help take SEL beyond the classroom by participating in the implementation and evaluation of SEL activities, and by communicating with students’ families to encourage reinforcement of SEL lessons at home.

When parents learn more about their school’s SEL initiative, it helps them adopt practices at home that reinforce what their child is learning in school. Family informational meetings are necessary.

Student support services professionals can help promote and reinforce classroom instruction in SEL skills by doing the following:

  • Participating in program planning and evaluation
  • Working with students in small groups
  • Consulting with teachers on classroom management issues
  • Developing and assessing student progress
  • Linking community-based services that may help students

Is SEL Effective?

The evidence supporting the effectiveness of SEL programming includes hundreds of studies on children of diverse backgrounds from preschool through high school in urban, suburban and rural settings. It’s clear from the research that SEL programming has a significant impact on children’s performance on standardized tests. In addition, children who have participated in SEL programs have significantly better school attendance records, demonstrate less disruptive classroom behavior, like school more, and perform better in school. Research shows that students with SEL training also have fewer disciplinary issues.

Social and Emotional Learning Competencies

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction published a guide in May of 2018 as a resource for schools and families to support comprehensive social and emotional learning opportunities. The SEL competencies they created build on the already existing Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards and had broad stakeholder input. The resulting guide includes SEL competencies for Pre-K through adult and are designed for educators and out-of-school-time youth service professionals.

The guide cites supportive data when pointing out the importance of SEL. Consider, for example, that children who received comprehensive SEL increased their academic test scores by 11 percent. Teachers overwhelmingly believe in the importance of SEL. The guide notes, “93 percent of PK through 12th grade teachers, surveyed nationally, believe SEL is very or fairly important for the in-school student experience.”

The Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards address SEL in three domains: understanding and managing one’s emotions, developing positive self-identity (recognizing self as a lifelong learner), and establishing and maintaining positive relationships. These three domains form the framework for competencies that are established for each age level from Pre-K through adulthood.

Emotional Development Competencies

The guide identifies grade-level appropriate competencies relating to self-awareness, self-management, the ability to focus and social awareness. For example, learners will be able to recognize and label a variety of their own basic emotions and begin to understand and predict how others are feeling.

Self-concept Competencies

Developing a positive self-identity includes grade-level appropriate competencies relating to self-awareness, social awareness and self-management. For example, learners will be able to identify and explore their own beliefs and learn to persist toward reaching a goal despite setbacks.

Social Competencies

The social competencies which will help establish and maintain positive relationships include social awareness, relationship skills and decision-making. For example, learners will be able to recognize and respect that individual differences are important to self and others, and demonstrate listening skills and taking turns in conversations.

The SEL Action Plan

The Wisconsin DPI asserts that the implementation of SEL is best determined at the district level. They outline nine actions necessary to fully support and integrate SEL.

  1. Make SEL a priority.
  2. Integrate SEL into academic instruction.
  3. Create an environment that supports SEL.
  4. Provide training and supports for SEL programs and practices.
  5. Coordinate efforts to support all systems.
  6. Use data to assess progress.
  7. Focus on equity.
  8. Incorporate student voice.
  9. Involve families and communities.

Learn more about the University of Wisconsin-Superior online Master of Science in Education – Educational Administration program.



Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction: Social and Emotional Learning

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction: Social and Emotional Learning Competencies

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