Committee for Children Blog

2019 Social-Emotional Learning Exchange


Reflections on three days at the center of the SEL universe

Earlier this month I had the great fortune to attend the inaugural Social-Emotional Learning Exchange conference hosted by the Collaborative for Academic Social and Emotional Learning in Chicago, Illinois. It was an amazing experience to spend three days surrounded by so many people dedicated to supporting SEL education in the USA and around the world. It seemed like all the leading SEL thought leaders were speaking there, and every attendee I met was doing amazing work back home to support their students’ social-emotional growth.

At 1500 attendees, it’s the largest SEL conference yet, but I know that that’s only a small fraction of the people who wanted to attend. For all of you who weren’t able to make it this year, here are a few of the highlights that stood out to me at this year’s Social-Emotional Learning Exchange.

  1. Social-emotional learning is a movement whose time has arrived. From New York Times columnist David Brooks’ opening speech through to Tim Shriver’s closing remarks, it was clear that the importance of SEL is gaining recognition beyond the world of education. Its importance as a tool to help bring our increasingly fractured society together was a common theme throughout the conference. Along with that recognition, though, comes great responsibility. Rick Hess’ warning that the SEL movement needs to stay focused on providing high-quality, research-based programs and avoid becoming politicized in order to avoid the fate of previous initiatives like Common Core really struck home for me.
  2. Social-emotional learning is a truly international movement. From India to Brazil, from Uganda to China, leading educators around the world are recognizing the value of SEL. It was so empowering to realize that the work we’re doing at home is complementing work being done with millions of children across the globe. I was particularly excited to hear Louka Parry announce the establishment of Karanga: The Global Alliance for Social Emotional Learning and Life Skills. I look forward to learning more about their work in the near future.
  3. High school and out-of-school time are the new frontiers of SEL. Although most SEL education still takes place in preschool and elementary school classrooms, awareness of its importance is growing among high school educators and providers of out-of-school-time and after-school care programs. Along with this awareness is coming a lot of great thinking about what effective SEL looks like for these students. The Mikva Challenge and Second Step Out-of-School Time are great examples of how SEL is being reimagined for these new settings.
  4. SEL has an important role to play in the quest for racial equity in education. Hearing Taryn Ishida, Roberto Rivera, Dr. Dena Simmons, and Meena Srinivasan speak about building a culture of equity through SEL was one of the most inspiring and challenging moments of the conference. Inspiring, because it helped me see what an important role SEL can play in transforming our education system into a more equitable one. Challenging, because it highlighted how much difficult work there is ahead for all of us if we truly want to make a difference on this issue. As Dr. Simmons said, “We can’t SEL away inequity. We have to do the equity work.”
  5. Chicago pizza is truly the best. My sincerest apologies to New York and Naples. Please maintain a growth mindset see this honest criticism as an opportunity to reflect and make your pizza more Chicago-like in the future.