March 4, 2016-- There has been a lot of focus on social and emotional learning (SEL) in education these days. What exactly is SEL and why does it suddenly seem to be so important?
Social Emotional Learning is the way in which people learn “to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” (CASEL) Basically, social and emotional learning helps people become their best self and connect with others in meaningful ways.
SEL has become especially important for schools because the current research is showing that students who have these skills do better academically. They experience less stress and are better able to manage their emotions. Students with these skills have better relationships with their peers and have fewer behavior problems. Parents, teachers, and the students themselves all highly regard these outcomes. In fact, the ISD community values them so much that it is the number one strategic goal of the strategic plan adopted last year.
Goal 1: Students fully develop and utilize social and emotional skills.
How does a school promote social emotional learning? There are four basic approaches to doing so. First, it is through the use of teaching practices that promote responsibility and choice and involve self-assessment and self-reflection. The use of differentiation, which was the 2015-2016 professional development theme, is one example. Another approach to strengthening social emotional learning is to imbed SEL objectives into academic curriculum. ISD counselors will be planning with other departments to look at objectives that seamlessly integrate into the PE/health, social studies, and science curriculums. The third approach to promoting SEL is through organizational strategies. Two examples of this are already underway at ISD. One example is the middle school and high school Positive Behavior Support Program, which encourages respectful behavior and helped us define our community norms. It began in October 2015. A second organizational strategy to support social emotional learning is the new Harassment Policy draft which will be presented at the March School Board meeting for its first reading. The final and perhaps best-known approach to promoting social emotional learning is the free-standing lessons. In the elementary school they take the form of guidance lessons using the Second Step program. In the middle and high school, they take the form of advisory lessons.
Helping students fully develop and utilize social and emotional skills is a laudable goal. Students with these skills will not only be successful academically, but it also empowers them to flourish in life. The development of these skills is part of what makes an ISD education so unique and so valuable. However, it will take the whole ISD community – teachers, counselors, administrators, board members, parents, and students working together to achieve this goal.