Academic journal article International Journal of Emotional Education

Teachers' Voices on Social Emotional Learning: Identifying the Conditions That Make Implementation Possible

Academic journal article International Journal of Emotional Education

Teachers' Voices on Social Emotional Learning: Identifying the Conditions That Make Implementation Possible

Article excerpt


Recent research has found that social and emotional learning (SEL) interventions have a positive impact on student performance (Bisquerra, 2009; Durlak, Domitrovich, Weissberg & Gullotta, 2015; Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011; Zins, Weissberg, & Walberg, 2004). These programs also reduce aggression and emotional distress among students, increase prosocial behaviors in school, and improve positive attitudes toward self and others (Elias & Arnold, 2006; Greenberg et al., 2003). These studies establish that addressing the social and emotional functioning of students not only improves students' achievement, but also improves the learning environment and students' experiences in school. The rise in violence in schools (Robers, Kemp, & Truman, 2013) and the prevalence of bullying and harassment (Elias & Zins, 2013) in the United States has made it clear that educators need to focus on more than simply teaching content such as language arts, math and sciences; educators must also prioritize teaching children how to navigate their emotions or solve conflicts. Therefore, optimizing learning conditions for students requires that teachers focus on developing students' social and emotional skills, as well as meet academic standards, in a safe, caring and supportive environment that promotes healthy student development and motivation (Osher, Bear, Sprague, & Doyle, 2010).

In spite of the evidence supporting the value of SEL, teachers are still faced with accountability demands that emphasize students' performance on standardized assessments (Loveless & Griffith, 2014) especially in charter schools, where more autonomy comes in exchange for greater accountability (National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, 2015). This emphasis on students' performance puts charter school teachers in a difficult position; while many teachers realize the importance of SEL (Civic Enterprises, 2013), raising achievement, even if it means narrowing the curriculum to ensure mastery of the tested subjects, becomes the priority (Levin, 2013). Accountability measures favor teaching practices that prioritize students' cognitive development.

Even when schools do implement SEL programs, their success depends heavily upon teachers' commitment to SEL and their level of comfort with this content, as well as their perceived support from the school (Brackett, Reyes, Rivers, Elbertson & Salovey, 2012). Unfortunately, even when SEL is implemented in schools, teachers often receive limited training and support (Jones & Bouffard, 2012), which are essential for achieving quality implementation (Durlak, 2015). Despite the recognized importance of teachers' beliefs about SEL and their preparation to teach these programs, few studies have examined teachers' experiences with adopting SEL programs and implementing them in classrooms (Durlak et al., 2011).

This study is based on the premise that it is possible and necessary to help teachers build practices that address the whole child, integrating both the cognitive and social and emotional development of children. This study contributes to the field by identifying the conditions that support teachers' development and implementation of SEL programs and practices. Using a practitioner-driven methodology, action research, the staff of a high performing charter school in a disadvantaged urban community in California (United States) engaged in an inductive process of reflection and action to address students' social and emotional needs. A detailed analysis of this process has value for uncovering elements of implementation that may be relevant to SEL implementation in charter schools and other settings coping with demands to boost academic performance, particular those in challenging socioeconomic contexts.

Conceptual Framework

SEL is the process through which students improve their capacity to integrate thinking, emotions and behavior to accomplish important tasks in daily life (Zins et al. …

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