The case for implementing social emotional learning (SEL) in the classroom is clear. Research shows that students who have practiced interpersonal skills, responsible decision making and self-regulation perform better academically and are ultimately more successful in future careers.
In D2L’s webinar, How to Make SEL a Success in Your K-12 District, host Kassia Gandhi welcomed a panel to discuss common barriers to SEL adoption and solutions for educators looking to implement it in schools. Our guests included Kendall Sweeney, director of impact at Move This World, Erica Battle, educational consultant and Jean Jarick, solutions engineer at D2L.
The Case for Social Emotional Learning in K-12 Schools
Kassia Gandhi kicked off the discussion by establishing a broad foundation for what social emotional learning is.
“SEL has been around for years,” she said. “There have been different things that we’ve called it, but at the end of the day what we’re looking at is [a student’s] ability to:
- set goals
- feel empathy
- manage stress
- manage responsibility
- manage emotions
Gandhi explained that although SEL competencies vary, what’s important is to focus on how these skills and strategies support students in being successful, not just in the future, but also in their current academic career.
For anyone on the fence about the positive impact of SEL, Gandhi mentioned that the pandemic years led to a resurgence of SEL and a lot more research being conducted around the topic. A 2021 report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that students’ social and emotional skills were strong predictors of their school grades. This held true across different backgrounds, ages and cities.
In addition to this, a 2021 McGraw Hill report found that 84% of educators surveyed believed incorporating SEL into the core curriculum was more important than ever, but that 81% felt it wasn’t emphasized enough in their respective schools.
“If we look at the other side of this,” Gandhi explained, “the employers and future corporations that our students might go and work for are saying that SEL skills are a huge demand in the workforce, but they’re getting more and more difficult to find in employees.”
If the need for greater adoption of SEL from a younger age is there, what’s stopping educators and school administrators from moving forward with implementing it?
The Biggest Barriers To Implementing SEL in Schools
Erica Battle shared her thoughts, noting that in her experience, it’s not one barrier, but rather a combination of things that makes it challenging for teachers to start with SEL. She cited “time” as one of the major issues, saying that when educators think about SEL, they tend to think of it as one more thing they have to do versus something that could naturally be embedded in what they’re already doing.
Another issue Battle sees is the actual know-how. Do teachers really know how to do this?
“Our landscape in education is changing,” Battle said. “We have more second career teachers than we ever have that are non-traditionally trained. They’re trying to grasp the content and [understand] how to deliver effective pedagogy. And then we’re asking them to embed these SEL skills that may not have even been touched on in their programming. So, there’s a disconnect [between] what we’re wanting teachers to do and how we’re preparing them to do it.”
Jean Jarick agreed with Battle’s sentiments, saying that it’s not that teachers are unwilling to implement it—it’s more that they’re burned out and don’t have time.
“I was exhausted [when I taught in the classroom] and it felt like one more thing where [someone says] ‘here’s another program.’ It didn’t always feel like it was connected to the other stuff that I was doing in the room.”
It comes as no surprise that Kendall Sweeney mentioned time being a barrier, but she also brought up buy-in.
“If the buy-in is not there, whether that be from a school leader or a teacher, it’s going to have a real impact on the program’s ability to take off.”
Sweeney shared that where they typically see successful implementations of SEL is where there is a leader or administrator who is passionate and wants the process to be seamless. That, in turn, helps combat the time barrier because teachers can build it into their regular routines.
Practical Tips for Educators Looking to Adopt SEL in the Classroom
Understanding and identifying challenges is important, but what about solutions? Gandhi asked the three panelists for advice on implementing SEL in schools. Here’s what they had to say:
Look for Opportunities To Infuse SEL in Your Regular Curriculum
Battle stressed the importance of not treating social emotional learning as something separate from what teachers already do in their classrooms. She encouraged educators to look for ways they could sprinkle in lessons during everyday learning.
As a second career teacher who taught in high needs areas, Battle knows all too well the struggle that educators face but shared practical examples of this advice in action. When she taught reading, she would take themes from stories and relate them back to SEL skills. She didn’t necessarily say “Hey, I’m about to teach you how to be empathetic.” Instead, she found that talking about the feelings that the characters experienced and relating that to real life made a positive impact.
Choose a Program With a Well-Designed Structure That Provides Data
For those wondering how to implement social emotional learning at a school or district level, Sweeney shared a couple of things that are crucial to keep in mind.
First and foremost: the structure. Sweeney said this matters a lot because a well-structured SEL program means it’s that much more likely to fit seamlessly into the natural flow of an educator’s day. Prioritizing ease of use will give schools and districts a higher chance of success.
“On the other end of things,” Sweeney continues, “administrators are also super busy. As much as they might want to be able to drop into classrooms all the time, there’s a ton that they have on their plates.”
Sweeney recommends choosing a program that gives administrators access to engagement data. This way, they can see from a school-wide perspective what engagement levels look like across different classrooms.
Embrace the Use of Technology
Gandhi and Jarick both believe it’s possible to use technology to support teachers on their SEL journeys while ensuring the human aspect isn’t lost. It all depends on how the tech is used.
For example, using technology to help deliver professional learning to teachers via an LMS is a wonderful way to help educators access the resources they need in a flexible manner. The way content is delivered makes a big difference as well, Jarick said.
“With respect to saving time, why not deliver content to teachers that’s ready to go? We can’t expect them to read through a book, but we could suggest opening up a content module and showing them bite-sized videos.”
Jarick also thinks technology can enhance the assessment of the skills, which can save time as well.
“With the rise of AI, there are growing concerns around technology, but the thing to remember about that is that there is a human delivering this content. It’s not students working through social skills independently all day on the computer. There is a person who’s in charge of tailoring and personalized that program and even having their voice in there.”
In her eyes, technology can make the experience more intimate for learners who aren’t able to express themselves because that’s the platform they’re used to communicating on.
“Let’s face it,” Jarick pointed out. “Middle school and high school students are spending a significant amount of time communicating with friends on their screen. I really think leveraging technology is going to enable them to express themselves more freely as well.”
Although it isn’t easy, it’s clear that embedding SEL into teaching practices benefits students in the long run. With careful planning and a well-thought-out strategy, it’s possible to do it in a way that isn’t overwhelming.
Want to learn more about SEL in the K-12 classroom? Catch the webinar replay today.
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