Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Building Learning Communities through Social and Emotional Learning: Navigating the Rough Seas of Implementation

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Building Learning Communities through Social and Emotional Learning: Navigating the Rough Seas of Implementation

Article excerpt

Educators have come to recognize the importance of their efforts in building students' social and emotional skills. However, the creation of lasting programming often fails to keep pace with educators' best intentions. In this article, the authors suggest guidelines for ways in which school counselors can be involved in implementing sustained social and emotional learning interventions in a manner that is consistent with the values and goals of such programs.

A growing body of research and practice in the area of social and emotional learning (SEL) reflects the importance of various interpersonal and intrapersonal skills as essential for success in school and life (e.g., Elias et al., 1997). These include communication skills, proactive skills, productivity, collaborative problem solving, self-reflectivity, and emotional self-awareness and self-regulation. School personnel are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of SEL approaches for their schools. As school counselors are increasingly called upon to provide leadership in areas such as violence prevention (D'Andrea, 2004), to address the social and emotional needs of students in a proactive manner (e.g., Thompson, 2002), and to incorporate the ideas of SEL into their practice (Pellitteri, Stern, Shelton, & Ackerman, in press), they need to consider how to best establish lasting and consistent SEL programming. Accomplishing this requires methods that enhance a sense of community in schools and that model important SEL skills and values. In this article, we draw from the literature, our work in the field, and the experiences of schools that have achieved long-lasting programming (Elias & Kamarinos, 2003) to make recommendations for how school counselors can help establish sustained SEL programming.


Socially and emotionally competent classrooms and schools are at the core of effective learning and can be conceived as a prerequisite for the achievement of state standards (Kress, Norris, Schoenholz, Elias, & Seigle, 2004). When translated into the classroom, social and emotional learning broadens the framework of education and addresses the complex interplay of emotions and cognition in learning, remembering, and understanding. Learning is a process closely linked to students' social and emotional needs, as well as the context of their learning environment (Brandt, 2003). Research has demonstrated that emotions drive attention, learning, and memory (LeDoux, 2000). Students distracted or overcome by emotions that interfere with learning may find it difficult to accomplish simple academic tasks such as following directions (Zins et al., 1998).

SEL strengthens students' preparedness for learning and promotes the development of prosocial attitudes and behavior that mediate school performance (Elias, 2003; Zins, Weissberg, Wang, & Walberg, 2004). A meta-analysis of educational research over the past 50 years (Wang, Haertel, & Walberg, 1993) revealed that social and emotional competencies-including students' metacognitive processes (e.g., planning), prosocial behaviors, effort and perseverance, and classroom management and climate-exert substantial influence on student learning. SEL factors are essential components of a positive, lasting, educational experience and are necessary for the achievement of state curriculum standards (Kress et al., 2004).

Emerging research underscores SEL's impact on motivational, behavioral, and performance outcomes (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, 2003). A number of SEL program evaluations have found that outcomes are related both directly and indirectly to school success (Zins et al., 2004). SEL program outcomes include improvements related to the development of positive relationships between students and teachers, attachment to school, student attitudes and motivation, and decreased nonattendance/dropouts (e. …

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