Next week, the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development is set to release its final package of recommendations, a document likely to detail how schools approach social-emotional learning (SEL) initiatives in the future.
The nonprofit think tank's 25-member commission, formed in the fall of 2016, includes educators, policymakers, business leaders and military officials. Its work has included convening scientists and school leaders to review research on how students’ social and emotional development affects how they learn and how teachers can make use of that knowledge in the classroom. It also conducted site visits and focus groups, and collected feedback from the public to shape its report.
Schools nationally have expanded SEL programs in recent years in attempting to create more positive school experiences for students, prevent and reduce bullying, and give students strategies to cope with stress, depressive symptoms and sometimes trauma. And a recent survey of high schoolers — conducted for the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning — goes hand in hand with this trend: The results show current and recent students in schools with strong SEL programs are far more likely than those in weak SEL schools to positively rate these environments, say they feel safer, and say teachers and principals are supportive and respectful.
Strong SEL schools were identified as those helping students develop most or all of these skills: getting along or working with different types of people, confidence, empathy, solving disagreements in a positive way, understanding emotions, dealing with difficult situations and managing stress. Students in such schools were also more likely to say they felt prepared to succeed after high school.
The results showed, however, that the majority of high school students don’t attend schools that could be considered strong in SEL. A little more than a third of current high schoolers and fewer than a quarter of recent students said their schools were strong in these areas. Civic, formerly Civic Enterprises, and Hart Research Associates conducted the online survey of 800 current and 500 recent students, with funding from the Allstate Foundation, which has been focusing on SEL with its Good Starts Young campaign.
The authors stressed that a diverse mix of students should be involved in educators’ decisions about expanding SEL programs and determining how to measure to what extent students are acquiring those skills.
“Given all that teenagers and young adults must contend with today — the overwhelming nature of social media, increased mental health problems, bullying and harassment, academic pressure, high rates of poverty, racial and ethnic prejudice, and in many places, exposure to violence in their schools and communities — it is all the more important to listen to them and recognize the challenges they face,” the authors write.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania State University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation also recently released a detailed report summarizing the research on SEL. They write that SEL "has moved from the periphery towards the center of educational curricula and pedagogy, and the goal of enhancing the SEL of children and adults has become key to creating a healthy, safe, and supportive school culture."
The report recommends that schools create "permanent SEL committees" responsible for creating and monitoring SEL efforts and reach out to families and community organizations to support students' social-emotional growth and competence.
Leading up to the release of the Aspen Institute report, we’ve compiled highlights of past coverage to provide background on the commission's work:
Aspen Institute commission to promote SEL in schools As states are creating school accountability systems that incorporate measures of success outside of academics, the commission will help bring proven social-emotional skill-building methods into classrooms nationwide.
Aspen Institute panel's research stresses SEL importance in future careers, relationships In a series of “consensus statements,” the Council of Distinguished Scientists presents a research base for the recent push to integrate SEL programs into instruction.
Commission shares progress on efforts to expand social-emotional learning in schools A midterm report says educators need more guidance and training on how to blend SEL into their teaching.
Creating schools that 'fit our kids' SEL can help boost the achievement of all students — not just those who have experienced trauma or have behavior issues, says a panel of educators. SEL also creates a school culture that is “inclusive of and responsive to” diversity.
Parents, students issue 'call to action' documents on SEL Parents want educators who view students through their strengths instead of their weaknesses, and they want to be involved in schools’ efforts to connect academic learning to students’ social-emotional development.