Credit: Alison Yin for EdSource

To improve education, California is asking schools to improve the way they meet the emotional as well as the academic needs of students.

Among the strategies is what’s known as social and emotional learning, which refers to an organized method of teaching students behavioral expectations, self-management and relationship skills.

This FAQ explains what social and emotional learning is, why schools say it matters and which school districts are paying the most attention to the concept.

What is social and emotional learning?

Social and emotional learning means teaching students, step by step, to manage their behavior and get along with their classmates. It can include helping students to understand what they’re feeling, show empathy for others, create healthy relationships and make responsible decisions. There is no single curriculum or approach. The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning has produced a two-volume CASEL guide to social and emotional learning programs with a preschool and elementary edition and a middle and high school edition.

Students may be helped to name their feelings — mad, excited, frustrated and nervous — and to think about how others might feel. Instruction methods include “greeting games,” morning circles and literature discussions. Teachers may integrate social skill building into learning by pointing out, for instance, how it might hurt someone’s feelings if a student laughs during a class presentation. Social and emotional skills most often are taught in preschool and elementary school. In later grades, these skills may be developed, for example, through role-playing exercises in which students practice what they would say and do if a student is being bullied, or through “restorative practice” circles where students restore relationships by making amends if they have caused harm to others. Teachers may also model how to treat others with consideration and other aspects of social-emotional learning.

Why is social and emotional learning important?

To be successful at school and eventually at work, children need to learn how to manage stress, express their ideas and work collaboratively, according to research. Children learn a lot about these skills at home. Learning and practicing these skills in the pressured environment of school is another step toward mastery, say social and emotional learning proponents.

How does social and emotional learning affect academic achievement?

Eight studies that tracked the academic achievement of students for an average of 3.75 years after a social and emotional learning program found that participants performed about 13 percentage points higher in grades and standardized test scores than their peers, according to a 2017 overview of 82 social and emotional studies by researchers affiliated with the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning. Researchers say that more studies are needed before the link between social and emotional learning and academic achievement is solidly established.

Is my school going to measure my child’s social and emotional skills?

Probably not formally, at least not now. Most districts have not begun collecting data on whether a child has improved his or her ability to prepare for class, solve problems or be kind to others. But data collection is underway in eight school districts — Fresno, Garden Grove, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco, and Santa Ana — that make up the CORE collaborative. Those districts, which serve more than 1 million students, have developed a system for measuring a child’s social and emotional skill development. They work with one another to share what works in social and emotional learning. Other districts, including Aspire Public Schools, Sweetwater Union High School and Green Dot Charters, have signed up to be a part of the CORE data collaborative.

A report by Policy Analysis for California Education found that the measurements of social and emotional skills in the CORE collaborative were a valid way to track student progress in those areas.

Is this something districts have to focus on in Local Control and Accountability Plans?

Only indirectly. In their plans (known as LCAPs), school districts have to set goals for improvements in school climate, student engagement and parent engagement, among other areas. Social and emotional learning is intended to help students collaborate in the classroom and on the playground, which would contribute to a feeling that school is a good place to be.

How are teachers trained to promote social and emotional learning?

Updated July 28, 2017. As of the 2017-18 school year, California teacher preparation programs are supposed to begin training future teachers in social and emotional learning as part of classroom management, according to new requirements set by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. That’s exciting to those in the field; in the past, few California teacher preparation programs required such training, according to a report from the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning.

How extensively are California schools promoting social and emotional learning? Which California districts are most involved?

Hundreds of school districts in California are talking about social and emotional learning, according to a search of 2016 final Local Control and Accountability Plans posted on the Education Trust-West’s LCAP watch. Whether that talk translates into spending on teacher training and curriculum is another matter. One way to find out if your district is investing in social and emotional learning is to go to the district’s website, download its Local Control and Accountability Plan and search for “social and emotional learning” or “SEL.” Look for line items that are attached to a budget amount.

As mentioned above, the eight CORE districts —  Fresno, Garden Grove, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco and Santa Ana —  are committed to teaching and measuring social and emotional learning alongside measures of academic progress.

In 2016, California joined the Collaborating States Initiative, a two-year project to help state educators understand what social and emotional learning — which includes teaching students to listen respectfully, manage stress and set personal goals — looks like in the classroom and how states might map out a grade-level guide to developmentally appropriate skills.

How does social and emotional learning relate to creating a positive school climate?

Social and emotional learning involves a student’s personal development. This is internal work. Improving self-control, for instance, is an internal process of recognizing how you are feeling and what you might do with those feelings.

School climate involves external policies and practices. Do school staff greet students by name? Are discipline policies consistently applied? A welcoming school climate supports positive student self-development, and vice versa.

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  1. Kirt Manecke 3 days ago3 days ago

    Thank you Jane for the excellent article. Social and emotional skills are so important, yet in today’s world of screens, kids are not learning these important skills. Great to hear that California recognizes this.

  2. Brad Strong 3 months ago3 months ago

    "Few California teacher preparation programs require future teachers to take classes in social and emotional learning, according to a report from the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning." -- Good news, this should no longer be the case. Beginning July 1, 2017, all teacher and administrator preparation programs are required to include SEL in programs of professional preparation in California as a result of revisions to the program, content and performance expectations that … Read More

    “Few California teacher preparation programs require future teachers to take classes in social and emotional learning, according to a report from the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning.” — Good news, this should no longer be the case. Beginning July 1, 2017, all teacher and administrator preparation programs are required to include SEL in programs of professional preparation in California as a result of revisions to the program, content and performance expectations that we’re revised over the course of the last 3-4 years. This will certainly take some time for all programs and education faculty to get up to speed but it is now required based on actions taken by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

    Replies

    • Jane Meredith Adams 3 months ago3 months ago

      Thanks, Brad. I will update the post to reflect the change. Jane

  3. Bunny Hull 3 months ago3 months ago

    Thanks for your great reporting! We’ve been teaching social-emotional learning through the arts to children since 2008. We concentrate on early elementary K-2. Social-emotional learning is vital. And principals at schools we’ve served have confirmed the effects of what we teach to students, teachers and parents through our programming on school climate and culture. They’re all intertwined.
    Bunny Hull, Executive Director, Dream A World Education

    Replies

    • Jane Meredith Adams 3 months ago3 months ago

      Teaching these skills through the arts sounds cool.

  4. Mary ONeill 3 months ago3 months ago

    Great article Jane. I am so happy to know that EQ is being taught at an early age! Nice work.