Social and Emotional Learning Vital to Student Success

November 20, 2019

It used to be that society deemed a well-educated student as having not only strong academics but also solid grounding in personal and social responsibility, creativity and critical thinking.  Now, according to research in Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, student success tends to be measured narrowly based on test scores, particularly in English and math.

“A common perception holds that attending to social and psychological development will minimize time for what is ‘most important’—intellectual growth and academic performance,” according to the article, “Integrating Social-Emotional and Academic Development in Teachers’ Approaches to Educating Students,” by Dionne Cross Francis, Jinqing Liu, Pavneet Kaur Bharaj and Ayfer Eker.

The authors describe a “wealth of evidence” showing that students emerge stronger academically when social and emotional development have been integrated into their learning.

Indeed, a metaanalysis of 213 school-based social-emotional learning programs including more than 270,000 students in Kindergarten through 12th showed “increased prosocial behavior and improved performance on achievement tests,” the paper states.

Students, including under-achievers, also tend to perform better when their teachers possess strong social-emotional competencies.  Yet teachers by and large are not equipped to nurture students’ social-emotional learning.

Most teacher-training programs do not consider socio-emotional learning to be as essential as disciplinary and pedagogical content knowledge, according to the research.

The authors make several policy recommendations, including a mandate that teacher education programs include courses in social-emotional learning and human development.  These courses can best prepare teachers to create classrooms that are enriching both academically and emotionally. Unless these courses are required of all teacher candidates, “only a select set of teachers are adequately equipped to meet students’ needs,” the paper states.

Teachers also benefit when their own emotional needs are met, yet programs supporting teachers’ emotional well-being “are relatively few,” the paper explains.  “Given the stressful nature of the teaching profession, being able to emotionally regulate and engage in self-care is essential.”

The authors also recommend teacher education programs require teachers to take at least one child or adolescent development course to ensure teacher candidates know the typical developmental milestones of the students they teach.

And, they recommend that teachers who teach teachers have expertise in specific content areas.  Often, they explain, teachers are taught content not in the education department but in the core content departments, such as biology and chemistry.  Teachers would be better served if core content was taught within the context of education.