SEL: If schools are going to do the ‘other stuff,’ they’d better make it count

SEL is one of those acronyms familiar mainly to educators. But once the idea behind social emotional learning is explained, only the staunchest readin’, ’ritin’, ’rithmetic types could possibly be against it. Simply put, should schools help students to develop the personal characteristics and interpersonal skills that are associated with success in school and life?

Even if the answer is a resounding “yes,” that still leaves the question: Can they?

McREL CEO Bryan Goodwin explores the research attempting to answer these questions in the October edition of ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine. Frustratingly, he finds, SEL programs—and researchers’ attempts to evaluate them—have been too inconsistent to allow for sweeping do’s and don’ts on SEL objectives and design.

Goodwin’s conclusion: Don’t give up, because while teacher quality is obviously important to student achievement, it defies reason to pretend that all the “other stuff” that happens in school and in children’s lives doesn’t also matter. How can students’ physical and mental health, and the state of such traits as curiosity and self-regulation, not contribute to their achievement (or lack of it) in school?

After reviewing the challenges that researchers have faced in defining and measuring SEL, Goodwin concludes with some advice for educators to think hard about: Be clear what you’re trying to accomplish. Think twice before using SEL measures for accountability purposes. And, have an experimental mindset. Perhaps most importantly, he cautions, “avoid trading one set of ‘stuff’ for the other.”

Read the entire column.

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