SEL: It Might Be a Little Harder to Measure, but That Doesn’t Mean it’s Unimportant
- 31 March, 2023
- Reading Time: 4 minutes
I’ll admit, the above title is a bit in conflict with my last blog post, in which I agitated for some level of measuring success in implementing DEI policies. If you don’t measure it, you’re unlikely to fund it. And then it’s more likely than not that it will fail.
Here, the idea of measurement is perhaps even more ephemeral, but sometimes even the nebulous, the amorphous – because it’s ultimately a social good – needs to be anchored in a student’s life.
Having emerged from the era of COVID-19 school closings, it may now be more important than ever – in the wake of such a dislocating, collective, and sustained experience – to attend to the social and emotional learning (SEL) considerations of young learners in the U.S. and around the world. The pandemic had a profound impact on student’s mental health, socialization, and emotional well-being (See Psychiatry Online), and addressing these issues directly (in addition to such concrete issues like learning loss) – without the United States all-too-pervasive politics serving as an all-too-reliable occluding lens – will be critical to ensuring students’ current and future success and mental health both in and out of the classroom.
One of the most significant effects of the pandemic was social isolation and disruption of routines that children experienced. Many were cut off from their friends and social support networks, which reliably (See MDPI) led to or fueled feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety – particularly among (though certainly not unique to) the very young. Students were robbed of the routines and structures that they traditionally relied on – i.e., regular schedules, extracurricular activities, and face-to-face interactions with teachers and peers. These disruptions led to feelings of uncertainty, stress, anxiety, and sometimes muted levels of motivation, which affected students’ academic performance and overall sense of well-being.
To address these challenges – at this moment – schools, teachers, and caregivers need to prioritize and privilege – in whatever way they can – social and emotional learning. SEL refers to the process through which individuals develop the skills and knowledge necessary to manage their emotions, build relationships, and make responsible decisions. These skills are critical for students’ success both in school and in life, and they are particularly important in times of stress and lingering uncertainty. It is about developing the grit needed to forge ahead and gain for oneself the best opportunity to succeed.
One key aspect of SEL is emotional regulation. Students need to be able to identify and manage their emotions in order to function effectively in the classroom and in their personal lives. This is especially important in the aftermath of the pandemic, when many students may still be experiencing heightened levels of anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. Teachers and caregivers can help students develop emotional regulation skills by teaching strategies like deep breathing, mindfulness, and positive self-talk.
Another important aspect of SEL is relationship building. Students need strong relationships with their peers and teachers to feel connected and supported. Schools and the teachers within them can promote relationship building by creating opportunities for students to work together on group projects, participate in extracurricular activities, and engage in peer mentoring programs. Teachers can also help build relationships with their students simply by showing empathy, listening actively, and providing opportunities for one-on-one interactions.
Finally, attending to SEL considerations can help students develop the skills they need to make responsible decisions. This is critical in a post-pandemic world, wherein students, future leaders, will face all-new challenges and uncertainties. By teaching students problem-solving skills, decision-making strategies, and conflict-resolution techniques, schools, teachers, and caregivers can help students develop the resilience and adaptability they need to thrive in the face of adversity.
As we navigate the aftermath of the pandemic and the era of widespread school closings, prioritizing social and emotional learning is of utmost importance. Schools can begin to right a ship that is clearly listed (See The Education Trust), help students develop the skills and knowledge they need to manage their emotions, build relationships, and make responsible decisions. This, in turn, will lead to better academic outcomes, improved mental health and well-being, and a more resilient and adaptable student body. Ultimately, paving the way for a more resilient and adaptable generation of future leaders.