A recent study concludes, once again, that social-emotional learning is beneficial for student development.
Social-emotional learning, or SEL, teaches students how to manage relationships, conflict, stress, and their feelings appropriately.
It is incorporated into the student’s formal curriculum so that they are learning social skills alongside their traditional subjects like math and science.
While it may seem like teaching these soft skills wastes time that could be used on academics, numerous studies have proven SEL is actually time well-spent.
Short-term benefits of SEL include:
And long-term benefits include student academic gains, less poverty, an 11:1 ROI, and overall improved life outcomes.
A new study confirms these findings, further solidifying the case for SEL.
The analysis found that, “Students who completed social-emotional learning interventions fared better than their peers who didn’t participate on a variety of indicators — including academic performance, social skills, and avoiding negative behaviors like drug use.”
As a meta analysis, the study reviewed existing published research to check for trends. So while the favorable results were of no surprise, they exposed more positive benchmarks than previously recorded.
One example is in academic gains.
A previous study by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, or CASEL, showed that students engaged in SEL programs will see an 11-point gain in their academic scores. But the meta-analysis showed that the gain is actually slightly higher, at 13 percentage points.
This study also pieced together how SEL produces long-term favorable outcomes for students.
“The analysis suggests that, in addition to their immediate effects on student behavior, SEL programs may have long-term preventative benefits.
Perhaps students who’ve been given targeted instruction in areas like smart decision-making, forming healthy relationships, and goal setting learn to apply those skills in other areas of their lives. That may mean they are less likely to make unhealthy decisions related to drugs and other risky behaviors.”
The true power of SEL comes down to approaching social skills as a teachable subject.
Once learned, SEL skills are used in all areas of the students’ life, helping them achieve more in school, have positive relationships, and make better choices overall.
Of course, SEL is not the cure-all for schools to improve grades, behavior, and student outcomes.
When it comes to student discipline, many programs are often needed to begin seeing a shift toward the positive. Even the schools involved in the study had other behavior management programs in place that likely contributed to their favorable outcomes.
“Researchers were unable to determine what components of the social-emotional learning programs made them more or less effective. For example, were the classroom programs in the analysis coupled with broader changes to school policy, like less punitive approaches to discipline?”
This is a reminder that a full mindset change is required to truly support our students’ emotional, academic, and behavior needs.
“[Social and Emotional Learning] advocates increasingly support a broader approach. Even schools with evidence-based programs need to work to change bigger, systemic factors, like how their teachers approach their work, how they discipline students, and how they interact with families.”
It may not be easy to make that shift. Teaching social skills alongside academics in a less punitive disciplinary environment tends to go against the traditional school model.
But as this study proves, education — and our students — are evolving. And for now, this is what they need to succeed.