If you were at the 2019 Model Schools Conference or have been paying attention to educational trends at all, you know that social-emotional learning (SEL) is at the forefront of relevant K–12 topics. It’s not that SEL is a new concept that is just being explored; rather, it’s answering the question of how we can best support our students—and not just academically.
It’s important that we really examine the proof of need on a national level to better understand the important role that SEL plays in schools today.
What the Research Says About Social-Emotional Learning
According to a study by the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, between 2005 and 2017, rates of depression among kids ages 12 to 17 increased by 52%. The increases were nearly as steep among those ages 12 to 13 specifically (at 47%) and 18 to 19 (at 46%), and rates roughly doubled among 20- and 21-year-olds. In 2017, more than one in eight Americans ages 12 to 25 experienced a major depressive episode.
Jean Twenge, a San Diego State University professor of psychology, has made a correlation between these drastic hikes and the use of technology, telling Time magazine: “There was one change that impacted the lives of young people more than older people, and that was the growth of smartphones and digital media like social media, texting, and gaming.” While older adults also use these technologies, “Their adoption among younger people was faster and more complete, and the impact on their social lives much larger,” Twenge said in an interview with Time.
Honestly, we probably don’t need hundreds of studies to show this correlation. Our kids aren’t getting outside as they did in the past. They aren’t building forts with the other neighborhood kids, and they aren’t forming those deep childhood bonds. And they aren’t learning social norms through trial and error the same way that previous generations did. Instead, they have digital, often unfulfilling, relationships built on likes, tweets, and shares. They are struggling. They are desperate, and they are hurting. And what’s more than that, they are looking to us for help, even if they haven’t yet realized it.
A District's Journey to SEL
I just finished my first year as an assistant principal. This past year, students would come into my office after struggling with any number of social issues: arguing with a peer, blowing up on a teacher, not being able to respectfully disagree, not being able to bounce back from setbacks. And one of the biggest challenges is that they aren’t learning. They continue to make the same mistakes, time and time again.
In February, I attended my first SEL training by R. Keeth Matheny (who also presented at MSC—you can still access his info on the conference app!), and throughout this training, I had so many ah-ha’s that my head was spinning! The one thing that stood out most was when he said many schools hold students accountable for lessons that are not explicitly taught in the classroom—that is, social-emotional lessons. I could not in good conscience send one more kid out of my office without giving them these tools. So, here is what Lucerne Valley did.
First, we launched a peer counseling club. With this club, we empowered a group of tenth through twelfth graders to create SEL lessons, which they then presented to our Associated Student Body (ASB) and Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), two very active social student clubs with a great deal of sway on our campus. Since these clubs have large presences on campus, they really helped spread these SEL lessons to many students!