Next Steps in Social-Emotional Learning

We've already discussed the importance of social-emotional learning (SEL) in schools and its link to improved academic performance and life outcomes. Perhaps you’ve had a chance to read Rennie’s Social-Emotional Learning: Opportunities for Massachusetts, Lessons for the Nation report or our Condition of Education Action Guide, which focuses on SEL. By now, you’ve heard so many within the education community call for a focus on the needs of the whole child. We all know how important SEL is, now it’s time to take action.

Our research has identified four key steps to implementing SEL in all schools. The first is to prioritize. As a state, we’ve come a long way in tackling this challenge in the past year. Last month, the Rennie Center joined educational leaders from across Massachusetts in launching a coalition to promote and support SEL in schools. The group, known as exSEL: Excellence through Social-Emotional Learning, is a collaboration of the statewide associations of Massachusetts elementary and secondary principals, superintendents, school committees, and educational collaboratives. This coalition represents more than 5,000 school and district leaders from every school district in the Commonwealth. This rare collaboration shows just how important this issue is and how dedicated educators are to making SEL a priority in every school.

So what’s next? While SEL is becoming a priority across the state, and many schools are putting practices in place, we still have a long way to go before SEL is embedded in all classrooms. To do that, we need to operationalize SEL. This means providing trainings and supports to help educators implement practices with fidelity and ensure sustainability. School districts need dedicated staff members to focus on implementation and the funds to do so.

The third step is to integrate SEL with academic learning. All learning should be social and emotional. We must not treat this as a new and separate goal or a specialized service, but rather the larger solution to many challenges. Lessons in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making can be tied into those on English, math, and STEM.

Finally, we need to figure out how to measure and evaluate our SEL programs. While it is critical to track and understand student development, adding assessments can become a burden. Figuring out how to collect data to inform decision-making is a crucial next step in moving SEL forward. Few have been able to do this so far, but the Boston Summer Learning Project is an interesting example.

Developing a robust approach to SEL is integral to setting a new vision for education in Massachusetts and across the country. It's time to get started.