For Teachers, Social and Emotional Learning Is a Top Concern

Social Emotional Learning Hero

Each year, HMH teams up with market analytics firm YouGov to gauge how teachers and administrators across the country view the state of education. In May 2021, we asked over 1,200 educators nationwide about what worries them and what gives them hope. Our latest Educator Confidence Report (ECR) revealed that educators are most worried about students' well-being, even more than low teacher salaries or students falling behind. Their concern is unsurprising in light of the emotional and mental strain students have faced over the course of the pandemic.

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We talked with Melissa Schlinger, vice president of programs and practice at CASEL, for her perspective on the rising importance of SEL. Schlinger is not surprised that educators name SEL as a top concern. After all, she says, visits to CASEL’s websites were up about 400% during the pandemic. The organization even started a webinar series on topics ranging from adult SEL to virtual learning and SEL.

"We've seen an awakening to the importance of SEL," says Schlinger. "For our students who are doing remote learning or who are suffering from trauma, it turns out that SEL competencies ended up mattering more than some of the other skills we've been focusing on. SEL is not a 'nice to have.' It is critically important for healing, building relationships, and contributing to a healthy democracy."

Read on for more of what our survey revealed about educators' views of social and emotional learning, and for Schlinger's take on each point.

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“A big obstacle to SEL implementation is not money or time, it’s where to begin.”

Melissa Schlinger Vice President of Programs and Practice at CASEL

What the ECR Shows: The majority of teachers (82%) said that a well crafted, fully integrated social and emotional learning approach will make an impact on student outcomes.

Melissa Schlinger's Take: A big obstacle to SEL implementation is not money or time, it’s where to begin. Educators are not sure what it means to prioritize SEL in education. Does it mean a program? Does it mean a new discipline strategy? Does it mean school climate? Does it mean parent engagement? Does it mean youth voice? And the answer is yes. It means all of those things.

SEL implementation requires a systems approach. It requires a paradigm shift in how we think about education. We have to recognize that learning is happening everywhere and your social and emotional learning is happening all the time, not just for 30 minutes on Friday when you do a lesson. It's how you engage with each other in collaborative learning, conflict management, discipline issues, how you engage with caregivers, or how you invite in community partners, or how the adults are engaging with each other. These have as much, if not more, of an impact on the promotion of SEL as the lessons that we're teaching do.

What the ECR Shows: Looking forward, 58% of educators are concerned that students will have increased social and emotional needs post-pandemic. Looking back, 72% of educators said they struggled to meet the social and emotional needs of their students this past school year.

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Melissa Schlinger's Take: SEL is still not routinely taught as part of undergraduate teacher certification and licensing. So how do we prepare teachers and get them the resources and training they need to meet students' SEL needs? We're hopeful that educators will recognize the need for SEL in the teacher and principal pipeline. Education leaders need to understand how to create a school that builds relationships and a sense of belonging, that is culturally affirming, and that is infused throughout a school's policies and practices.

Frankly, even if SEL were a part of certification, that doesn't mean it's something that you master and then you're done. Educators need ongoing support to create an environment that promotes social and emotional learning and positive relationships amongst adults and students. School leaders have to make sure everyone understands SEL and their role in promoting a positive school climate and social emotional competence. It's not just about the classroom teacher or the guidance counselor. Principals establish school climate. The superintendent creates a school district that's prioritizing SEL, both with communication and aligning resources towards these goals. Bus drivers, school secretaries, and other support staff also play a role.

What the ECR Shows: Educators agree that by incorporating strategies to address social-emotional challenges, they can get students back on track post-pandemic. Not only do 56 percent of educators believe that resources to support SEL in the classroom will be the most critical in achieving this goal, but 82 percent agree that a well-crafted, fully integrated SEL approach can have a positive impact on academics and well-being.

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Melissa Schlinger's Take: People overwhelmingly agree on the importance of SEL. The demand is there, but the supply in terms of resources, time, and knowhow has not caught up. So how do schools get the resources they need? The budget that was passed in December [2020] includes quite a bit of funding that has broadened to include social and emotional learning over the years. And those buckets of money for Title I, Title II, and Title IV schools has increased, and there's been more explicit language around educator effectiveness, which can include social and emotional learning or school safety.

A school safety plan should include SEL. We need to create positive relationships, a sense of belonging, and inclusive environments where people feel emotionally safe. This is how we show kids they are loved and cared for.

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Want to learn more about teachers' views of the profession and the future of education? Download the full Educator Confidence Report.

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