Op-Ed: The value of social and emotional learning
Published 11:52 am EST, Tuesday, January 15, 2019
National polling shows that nine out of 10 teachers believe that social and emotional learning is key to student success in school and life. It’s a concept that we’ve seen educators statewide embrace through their educational approach, and that we’ve seen proven true by student outcomes in our own classrooms as well as others across Connecticut. Now a new report shows that the evidence base confirms what teachers know and understand so well from their front-line experience.
Released by the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development, or SEAD Commission, the report, “From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope,” synthesizes a growing body of evidence supporting the essentiality of social and emotional learning. Decades of research in psychology, education and brain science are compiled with findings from two years of conversations conducted across the country with students, parents, educators, community leaders and other experts. The strong consensus both in the research and on the ground is that a whole-child approach to learning, one that encompasses its social, emotional and cognitive dimensions, is fundamental to student success in the classroom and beyond.
To be meaningful and impactful, education cannot merely be the process of equipping students with reading, math and other academic skills, though surely that is a component. As one teacher explained in a conversation with SEAD Commission members, “I don’t teach math; I teach kids math.” In addition to developing cognitive skills — in fact, to enable the development of cognitive skills — students must learn a whole suite of social and emotional skills. They must learn how to persevere through frustrations and challenges, how to cooperate and work effectively with peers, and how to believe in themselves as learners and individuals.
We are proud of the Connecticut Teacher of the Year Council’s efforts to promote the integration of Social and Emotional Learning into school cultures. The council’s annual Empowered to Lead Symposium, featuring a partnership with Dr. Marc Brackett of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, offers a venue for Connecticut’s teachers, school and district administrators, and state-level policymakers to collaborate, share and replicate best practices around a whole-child approach to teaching and learning.
On DonorsChoose.org, a platform for crowdfunding teachers’ requests for classroom materials and student experiences, Connecticut teachers are creating projects that foster motivation, create safe and relationship-based learning environments, and encourage civic engagement. For example, one teacher in New Haven recently launched a project using the nearby West River as an outside classroom. Students work in teams to collect and analyze water samples, exploring how to improve the water quality of the ecosystem, for the benefit of the community. This year, one of us (Sheena) will use DonorsChoose.org funding credits awarded by the Dalio Foundation to develop a new course called V.O.I.C.E. Change, which will support students in using an artistic medium of their choice to engage in and encourage civic change.
Through Fund for Teachers, Connecticut teachers are creating self-designed professional development experiences, learning more about how to develop students’ empathy, cultural awareness and sense of agency. One FFT fellow, for example, used her fellowship to participate in the International Conference on Self-Determination Theory to learn strategies for igniting intrinsic motivation. Another used her fellowship to participate in a program at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, N.M., learning how to use art to foster independent thinking, creativity and problem solving.
Social and emotional learning is as essential as cognitive development for success in school and life. The report’s findings confirm what so many teachers across the state already know to be true, but it also provides well-deserved validation and endorsement of their tireless work on behalf of Connecticut’s students. Significantly, it provides a rousing call to action for those in policy as well as practice around the promise that a whole-child approach holds for delivering the educational outcomes we all seek together.