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Teachers Say Social-Emotional Learning Is Important, But They Can't Do It Alone

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A focus on students' social, emotional, and academic development improves classroom learning, a panel of educators say in a new report, but teachers need support, guidance, and resources to bring that mindset into their work.

"To fully integrate social and emotional dimensions of learning with academic instruction, teachers and other adults need support," the report says. "Colleges seldom incorporate this integrated method of teaching into programs for prospective teachers or into advanced degree programs. However, high-quality professional development can provide practicing teachers with the knowledge, skills, and strategies to integrate social, emotional, and academic learning."

The report summarizes the findings about social-emotional learning and student engagement from a 34-member Council of Distinguished Educators assembled by the Aspen Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development.

It follows a report by a similar panel of researchers in education, psychology, and child development. The Aspen commission will conclude a multi-year effort this fall with a "report to the nation" that outlines how researchers, philanthropists, and educators "can fully integrate social, emotional, and academic development to support the whole student." The group has visited districts, sought input from students, and explored approaches to social-emotional learning, through which schools seek to intentionally nurture students' development in areas like self control and relationship skills.

Social-emotional learning strategies create supportive school environments where students feel safer making mistakes, a crucial part of the learning process, the report says. 

Teachers need more than curriculum to teach social-emotional skills, the educators concluded, they also need time to collaborate with each other and support for their own social and emotional growth.

"Just as students need to reflect on their evolving social and emotional skills in order to improve them, teachers need the opportunity to not only learn how to teach these skills, but to understand how they can advance their own social and emotional development," the report says. "Through guided practice, teachers can learn to recognize the messages they are sending and to model positive social and emotional approaches."

Among the report's other conclusions:

  • Social-emotional learning is more than a targeted intervention for students with behavioral needs or a history of trauma; it helps all students.
  • Effective social-emotional learning practices promote equity in schools.
  • Teachers need ongoing professional development and "rich conversations with peers" to better focus on students' social and emotional development in the classroom.
  • Teachers need supportive environments that are sensitive to their own emotions and relationships so that they can model good behavior for their students.
  • Social-emotional learning strategies need to incorporate school climate, family engagement, and community partnerships.
  • A focus on social, emotional, and academic development should be adopted at the district level, should influence policies and practices, and should be led by designated staff.

Related reading on social-emotional learning and teachers:

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