Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Academic Learning + Social-Emotional Learning = National Priority: Policy Makers Need to Understand What Researchers and Educators Already Know: Social-Emotional Learning Helps Create More Engaging Schools and Prepares Students for the Challenges of the World

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Academic Learning + Social-Emotional Learning = National Priority: Policy Makers Need to Understand What Researchers and Educators Already Know: Social-Emotional Learning Helps Create More Engaging Schools and Prepares Students for the Challenges of the World

Article excerpt

Mr. Jenkins thought he had taught a great problem-solving lesson to his 5th-grade class. He posed hypothetical social situations, and students conversed animatedly in small groups as they generated alternative solutions. However, at the end of the period, Tamika approached him and asked, "Mr. Jenkins, does problem-solving work in real life?"

Mr. Jenkins asked Tamika if she was upset about something. She told him her two best friends from elementary school no longer spoke to each other, and she didn't know who to sit next to at lunch. Mr. Jenkins encouraged Tamika to think of different ways she might handle the situation. Tamika came up with several strategies and decided on one to try. Mr. Jenkins encouraged her to let him know how things turned out.

Every day students experience real-life situations like Tamika's that can affect their learning and well-being as well as the learning and well-being of their classmates. This reality raises important questions about what competencies schools should promote and how educators and students can relate most effectively and constructively with each other.

What do we want children to know and be able to do when they graduate from high school? How can we organize communities to ensure that all students reach these stated learning goals? Educators, families, students, policy makers, researchers, and child advocates are working to provide practical, evidence-based answers to these questions.

High-quality schools ensure that all students master reading, math, writing, science, history, foreign languages, and the arts. In addition to graduating academically proficient students who are culturally literate, intellectually reflective, and committed to lifelong learning, schools must also enhance students' intrapersonal and interpersonal competencies so they're optimally prepared for work and life (National Research Council, 2012).

Successful students develop personal strengths including grit, tenacity, perseverance, and positive academic mindsets. They also learn broader social and emotional competencies such as interacting with diverse individuals and groups in socially skilled and respectful ways; practicing positive, safe, and healthy behaviors; and contributing responsibly and ethically to their peers, family, school, and community (CASEL, 2013a, 2013b).

The best schools foster students' academic, social, and emotional competencies. Students learn to read so they can read to learn. Students also learn to relate so they can navigate. When schools promote students' academic, social, and emotional learning, students will possess the basic competencies, work habits, and values for engaged postsecondary education, meaningful careers, and constructive citizenship (Dymnicki, Sambolt, & Kidron, 2013). We need to balance academic learning with social and emotional learning in schools across the United States.

Social and emotional learning

Social and emotional learning--or SEL--involves acquiring and effectively applying the knowledge, attitudes, and skills to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions (CASEL, 2013a, 2013b). SEL programming is based on the understanding that the best learning emerges in the context of supportive relationships that make learning challenging, engaging, and meaningful (Jones, Bouffard, & Weissbourd, 2013).

Social and emotional skills are critical to being a good student, citizen, and worker. Schools can help prevent or reduce many different risky behaviors (e.g., drug use, violence, bullying, and dropping out) when they engage in multiyear, integrated efforts to develop students' social and emotional skills. This is best done through effective classroom instruction beginning in preschool and continuing through high school, student engagement in positive activities in and out of the classroom, and broad parent and community involvement in program planning, implementation, and evaluation. …

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