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Social-emotional learning: A critical link to the classroom

Friday, March 2, 2018

Keynote speaker Nicholas Yoder is a senior technical assistance consultant with the Midwest Comprehensive Center at the American Institutes for Research. Yoder works with states and districts on the integration of social and emotional learning (SEL) and school climate with other educational reform initiatives, including college- and career-readiness and teacher effectiveness efforts. Below represents an interview that we had with Yoder about SEL and its importance.

What is social and learning?
Social and emotional learning has multiple definitions, but a definition that is commonly used comes from CASEL, which stands for Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning: SEL is the process for building, developing and using skills, attitudes, behavior and knowledge that help youth and adults identify and regulate emotions, develop positive relationships and make responsible decisions.

Why is social and emotional learning important?
Social and emotional learning is important for a variety of different reasons. One particularly important reason is that it helps develop a student’s capacity to engage in learning. There are multiple social and emotional competencies that can bolster a student’s educational experience, developing such skills as self-management, perspective-taking, collaboration, and communication.

When there is a strategic focus on SEL, students win because they learn the skill sets they need for school and personal relationships. Social and emotional skills truly set the students up for life broadly, making school more relevant to students.

Focusing on SEL is not only important for students, it is also important for teachers. With teachers, their social and emotional competencies enhance the relationships they have with their students, which in turn creates a healthier atmosphere from which to learn.

What empirical evidence supports the effectiveness of social-emotional learning?
There has been extensive research on student social and emotional development, particularly over the last 15 to 20 years. For example, two meta-analysis or studies of studies that have synthesized the research on SEL programs. In 2011, researchers reviewed 213 researcher studies with over 270,000 students that compared students who participated in SEL programs to those who did not. They found that students who engaged in SEL programs (compared to those who did not) had positive attitudes and behaviors, increased social and emotional skills, and increased academic achievement by 11 percentile points (from approximately 34 of the studies). In a follow-up study in 2017, they reviewed over 80 studies with over 80,000 students found similar results.

Nick Yoder
Nick Yoder leads a session during the Learning Supports Conference sponsored by the Iowa Department of Education.

As you work with other states, what are some common themes or trends you are seeing in regard to the increased focus on social and emotional learning?
There are multiple frameworks and competencies and terms that represent social and emotional development. States are first trying to help educators define what they mean by social and emotional learning so that there is a common language among stakeholders. In addition, states are trying to figure how to embed it throughout the system, instead of putting this out there as a separate initiative.

What do you think has brought social and emotional learning to the forefront of concern/understanding for schools?
Folks are beginning to see the importance of SEL because there is a huge pendulum swing in realizing it’s not enough to focus just on academics. Schools are trying to determine what the competencies and skills students need to be successful in a school context and when they enter college and the workforce. There has also been a lot of research conducted within the past 10 years that has signified the importance of SEL in the learning process. There are underlying skills and competencies that enable students to engage in more rigorous study.

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Printed from the Iowa Department of Education website on March 21, 2018 at 5:21pm.