Committee for Children Blog

Jump-Start Your School Year by Making These 5 Academic–SEL Connections

Social-emotional learning can go hand in hand with academic instruction - Jump Start Your School Year

All Learning Is Social and Emotional. That book was on my summer reading list, and wow, did I have an aha moment when reviewing it.

Why, you might ask? Although I’ve seen and experienced the connections between social-emotional skills and academics and the benefits of those connections, until reading All Learning Is Social and Emotional, I didn’t realize just how many ways they intersect and how crucial that intersection is for various situations.

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is a process. It’s the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary 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). Applying these social-emotional skills in academic situations improves social-emotional skill development and enhances academic success at the same time. A dual benefit. Jump-start your school year by making these five academic–SEL connections.

1. Most Academic Learning Situations Require Social-Emotional Skills

Managing academic projects and homework requires self-management skills, such as breaking down long-term projects into smaller chunks and managing deadlines by planning and organizing schedules and tasks to get work completed on time. Group work, too, requires many different social-emotional skills. Those skills include social awareness, relationship building, self-management, and responsible decision making. More specifically, working in groups necessitates listening, collaboration and teamwork, respect for different perspectives, and capacity to manage strong feelings effectively.

2. Social-Emotional Skills Help Students Accomplish Rigorous Academic Tasks

Students who experience a lot of academic pressure to perform well, whether because of the environments they’re in or the pressures they put on themselves, can have high levels of anxiety and adverse health effects. Regulating and managing emotions such as frustration and anxiety, dealing with disappointment, and setting realistic goals are some of the many social skills that can better equip students for high stress and high-pressure situations. When students can effectively manage their social-emotional responses to rigorous academic content, they can buffer the negative effects of those moments and thrive in them.

3. Social-Emotional Skills Can Empower Students Academically

Social-emotional skills increase student capacity to engage in learning by improving skills for making responsible academic decisions, and for taking academic risks. A solid social-emotional foundation can also help students successfully solve problems throughout the learning process.

4. Social-Emotional Skills Are Strengthened Through Academic Instruction

We build social-emotional competencies through academic tasks. Students do not typically retain and apply their social-emotional competencies through one-and-done instruction. Repetition matters when learning. As with academic skills, students learn to use their social-emotional skills by practicing them. For example, setting goals can be a step in working on a math problem, and identifying characters’ feelings can be part of discussions for a literature unit.

5. Effective Academic Instructional Practices Boost Social-Emotional Learning and Skill Development

Effective instructional supports include explicitly teaching skills to fluency—prompting students before they will need to use the skills, providing positive feedback during and after use of the skill, and continuing to teach skills throughout the year. They also include modeling and repetition through opportunities for practice. These effective instructional practices that support academic skill development also support social-emotional skill development.

The bottom line: Social-emotional learning needs to be integrated into academic lessons and tasks, and this integration can have a powerful and sustained effect on both academic and social-emotional development.

How have you integrated academics and SEL in your work? What benefits have you seen for students when doing this?