Another major and recurrent theme in the task force discussions centered on the need to address the “whole learner.” Specifically, participants emphasized their concerns about how the COVID-19 crisis has affected the psychological, social and emotional well-being of both students and staff. They also expressed deep concern about a range of issues related to these areas, including:
AASA is currently involved in an extensive range of collaborative partnerships with significant national organizations considered leaders in the field of social and emotional learning. Its SEL partner organizations include the Chan Zuckerberg Institute (CZI); the Wallace Foundation; the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL); and the Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, & Academic Development. This next section of the task force report provides an overview of social-emotional learning for use by superintendents and other educational leaders working to introduce and sustain SEL implementation in their learning organizations within the context of school reopening and transformation.
Although the term “social and emotional learning” covers a range of focus areas and concepts, all national leadership organizations associated with SEL emphasize that it is an educational philosophy emphasizing the powerful relationship between students’ cognitive/academic achievement and their development of social skills, emotional self-regulation competencies, and the capacity to interact effectively in team settings.
In addition to student achievement, a focus on social and emotional learning in schools and districts offers a powerful catalyst for enhancing professional learning and organizational productivity. AASA, CZI, CASEL, and the Aspen Institute all agree that social and emotional learning involves schools and districts addressing the following action steps:
Research supported by RAND, CASEL, and the Aspen Institute confirms that students’ social and emotional well-being and development are essential for their academic achievement. According to the National Commission on Social, Emotional, & Academic Development, “The evidence base demonstrates that there are a variety of skills, attitudes, and character traits that are embedded in and support learning. These generally fall into three broad categories: (1) SEL-related cognitive skills and competencies; (2) social and interpersonal skills and competencies; and (3) emotional skills and competencies.”
SEL-Related Cognitive Skills and Competencies: Social and emotional learning experts agree that educators can support student achievement and academic growth by direct modeling and teaching of specific SEL-related behaviors, including supporting students’ ability to focus, pay attention, and stay engaged in on-task behavior; set goals, plan, and organize; and demonstrate perseverance, problem solving, and decision making skills and processes. A key point is that frequently, these skills mistakenly are assumed to develop naturally or automatically in students; consequently, they usually are not taught explicitly in the classroom through modeling, shaping and internalizing strategies.
Social and Interpersonal Skills and Competencies: Similarly, educators frequently assume that students will develop interpersonal skills as a natural part of their growth and maturation. However, the research on SEL and its impact on learning emphasizes that children and youth need coaching, support and ongoing feedback to acquire and integrate the ability to read social cues, navigate social situations (both within and outside the classroom), negotiate and resolve conflicts with others, and cooperate and work effectively in teams. The SEL-sensitive classroom, therefore, should be highly interactive, focused on student discourse, and grounded in various cooperative learning structures and processes.
Emotional Skills and Competencies: Research on SEL also confirm the value of helping children and youth recognize and manage their emotions, including their internal reactions to self and conscious awareness of how their actions are affecting others around them. SEL researchers strongly advocate the integration of learning activities into subject matter curriculum. For example, teachers can include activities to help students recognize how emotions and emotional interactions affect literary characters, understand how individual and group emotional reactions affect historical events and groups, analyze how emotional trends and patterns affect economic issues, and similar investigations in other academic areas. Students benefit greatly from ongoing support and coaching to help them understand the perspectives and experiences of others and demonstrate empathy both within and beyond the classroom.
According to A Practice Agenda in Support of How Learning Happens, a major research report published by the Aspen Institute/National Commission on Social, Emotional, & Academic Development, effective districts and schools emphasize the following action steps:
Many AASA partners and collaborators, including the RAND Corporation, The Wallace Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and CASEL, reinforce the power and impact of integrating social and emotional learning into students’ daily classroom academic experiences. In effective classrooms, educators should be able to observe:
AASA’s Social and Emotional Learning Cohort as well as research studies sponsored by the RAND Corporation, CASEL, and the Aspen Institute provide numerous examples of districts and schools whose educational leaders have reinforced the following key systemic elements:
1. Reinforce SEL as an Articulated Systemic Priority: Effective leaders are relentless in ensuring that district and school visions, missions and guiding principles reinforce SEL and its value in promoting high levels of achievement for all learners.
2. Ensure a Sustained Commitment to Promoting Safe and Supportive Learning Environments in Both School and Community Settings: In addition to reinforcing clear and sustainable norms and practices for safety, effective leaders are committed to making educational settings inviting and engaging for every learner.
3. Promote Accountability for Ensuring That Educators Teach Students Social, Emotional and Cognitive Skills Explicitly and Embed Them in All Academic Learning: School and district leaders must ensure that their K-12 curriculum integrates SEL standards, teachers integrate SEL into their daily classroom practice, and assessments include processes to monitor students’ growth in relationship to key SEL performance standards.
4. Demonstrate a Deep and Sustained Commitment to Ensuring Adult Learners’ SEL Competencies: Professional learning is essential for helping educators move along a learning continuum related to SEL, including knowing its value, applying key SEL strategies and processes, and modeling SEL behaviors in educational settings.
5. Ensure Continuing Engagement of Parent, Community and Stakeholder Groups in Supporting SEL Implementation: Effective leaders ensure that these groups are actively involved in learning about SEL, understand its value for student growth and development, and reinforce SEL strategies to promote the learning process.
6. Engage in Strategic Planning and Continuous Improvement Processes to Implement, Scale Up, and Sustain SEL Implementation: In successful SEL districts and schools, SEL is a clear and sustained priority in systemic strategic planning and school improvement plans, including a commitment to continuing funding for professional learning.
The RAND Corporation’s recent brief “How the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Can Support Social and Emotional Learning” confirms that ESSA offers extensive opportunities to support school-based SEL interventions and programs. The report also cautions that educational leaders must be “sure that the SEL interventions they are interested in implementing are both evidence-based and can be supported by funding available through ESSA.” The RAND brief identifies three funding streams that can support SEL implementation:
Title I: Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged: Title I supports SEL-related services such as school-wide assistance programs, targeted assistance programs, and school support and improvement activities—all of which require sensitivity to the social-emotional development of learners.
Title II: Preparing, Training, and Recruiting High-Quality Teachers, Principals, and Other School Leaders: Title II can be used to build teachers’ SEL capacity via professional development opportunities such as Supporting Effective Educator Development and School Leader Recruitment and Support grants.
Title IV: 21st Century Schools: Title IV authorizes funding to support a variety of programs aimed at improving the educational opportunities of students, such as Student Support and Enrichment Grants, 21st Century Learning Centers (Part B), and National Activities (Part F), including integration of SEL into academic and non-academic support programs offered outside the regular school day.