Committee for Children Blog

Make SEL Day More than Just One Day

kids in a circle celebrating SEL Day

CEO Andrea Lovanhill on SEL Day and How to Really Make an Impact

SEL Day is a global campaign that celebrates how social-emotional learning (SEL) supports children’s academic success, mental health, and well-being. From its grassroots origins in 2020, the event has grown to include more than 4,000 SEL champions representing all 50 US states and 88 countries who’ve made 11,000 commitments to promote and advocate for SEL.

While every day is SEL Day for us at Committee for Children, we’re marking this year’s celebration with an interview featuring our CEO, Andrea Lovanhill. As a leading voice in the SEL space, Andrea shares her insights on where we are today in bringing critical life skills to students and what the future holds for the collective impact we can make on children and communities through social-emotional learning.  

Why is SEL Day important?

Andrea: When SEL Day first started in 2020, it was driven by a community of social-emotional learning champions who believed we needed to raise awareness about the crucial impact of social-emotional skills on children’s success. Today, we’re seeing that awareness blossom and take hold all around the US. Celebrating and supporting SEL Day is a way of saying, yes, social-emotional skills are critical for success—they matter to us and our children. Through the SEL Day commemoration, we’ve been able to celebrate, affirm, and continue to grow a passionate, committed community of SEL advocates.

Committee for Children has been advocating for children’s social-emotional learning for the past 45 years, so we live SEL every day in our organization. Naturally, we’re thrilled social-emotional learning now gets widespread international recognition and respect, and that we have a special day each year to elevate and communicate the power of these critical skills and competencies. The more awareness everyone has about the value of social-emotional learning, the more positive impact we can grow for our kids, now and in the future, in the classroom and beyond.  

We’re excited to celebrate on March 8! And it’s important for supporters to know there’s still plenty of work to do. Though many states like Washington, Colorado, New Mexico, Wisconsin, and others understand the importance of social-emotional learning and recognize SEL Day through official proclamations, SEL programs are at risk of being eliminated in certain parts of the country. Ensuring all kids have the life skills they need to succeed in and out of the classroom requires attention beyond one day in March. Protecting and growing student well-being everywhere requires ongoing commitment from educators, parents, advocates, and policymakers.

What role do policymakers play with SEL? 

Andrea: Policymakers play a critical role. They set priorities for school districts and hold the purse strings for the resources necessary to build high-quality learning environments. Educators and families understand the importance of SEL, and it’s vital that policymakers do too. We need legislation that ensures these efforts are prioritized, aligned with appropriate standards, and adequately funded so school communities have what they need to foster the social-emotional well-being of children and youth.

Right now, there is a resolution going through Congress to designate a National SEL Week. This process is important because it provides the space to engage in meaningful conversations with policymakers about the opportunities for SEL to address the challenges for youth in the classroom, including mental health, bullying, and social media use. That’s especially important during this critical election year when the topic of K—12 education is front and center in the national conversation.

This work to engage policymakers is also important at both the state and local levels. I encourage everyone to get involved in opportunities to connect with policymakers at all levels to support SEL funding and policy.  Send an email to your local officials or visit our website to learn about all our advocacy efforts and how you can help keep this conversation going.

How does SEL impact academic success

Andrea: When educators talk about kids being “ready to learn,” they’re not just talking about diving into specific academic subjects. When families talk about helping their kids build skills for success as they grow, they aren’t only talking about learning spelling and multiplication. They’re also referring to the skills kids get through social-emotional learning—skills like critical thinking, focusing attention, goal-setting, and communication. These skills are vital to learning in all areas. If a child doesn’t have strong problem-solving skills, they will likely struggle when it comes to solving a math problem or complex equation. Or, if a child needs to grow their motivation, deal effectively with frustration, or understand how to ask for help and has no pathway to support these needs, they will struggle with many learning experiences.

Research shows that social-emotional development can strengthen academic achievement.  A 2017 study found that, on average, students who had participated in SEL programs performed significantly better academically compared to their peers who did not. Specifically, 3.5 years after the SEL program ended, these students scored 13 percentile points higher in academic performance compared to those who did not participate.

Part of what makes SEL so valuable is that it acknowledges that all learning is social and emotional. Educators, families, and students see and experience this truth over the course of a child’s academic career and beyond.  They know that children learn better in safe, supportive environments; that their learning is bolstered by positive relationships and engagement; and that connection to their school community is key to their success.

How can we celebrate SEL Day?

Andrea: Educators and school leaders can take this day to showcase their social-emotional learning initiatives, tell their success stories, and honor SEL champions within their school community. This is an opportunity to give changemakers a platform to share how SEL is making a positive impact on students and their school climate. Another important way advocates can celebrate SEL Day is to take action by contacting policymakers and urging them to keep SEL as a top priority for education funding.  To make this easy, Committee for Children has created a social media toolkit you can use to advocate online.

Additionally, our team put together several fun SEL resources for teachers and families that include activities like how to use belly breathing to regulate emotions and how to build a schoolwide gratitude wall.  For a deeper dive, we’re sharing our white paper that outlines the latest research on the benefits of taking a comprehensive approach to social-emotional learning.  

Lastly, we’re tapping into the power of social media to spotlight and share our unique SEL superpowers. Life skills like problem-solving, self-awareness, and communication benefit us as adults, too. Visit our Instagram and Facebook channels to see how our employees use social-emotional skills at work and in their everyday lives. 

What can we expect to see from Committee for Children? 

Andrea: This spring we’re thrilled to launch Second Step® High School, the newest addition to our Second Step® family of social-emotional learning programs. This SEL curriculum for Grades 9–12 has long been long been desired by our clients, and we’re excited to be able to offer a full K–12 suite of programs to support our district partners and school communities. There’s strong research highlighting how adolescence is a pivotal time for the development of these critical life skills. Developing these skills will empower high school students with the tools to be successful in school, college, the workforce, and throughout life.

We also partnered with Aperture to offer four co-developed assessments to demonstrate the impact of our Second Step® programs.  The DESSA Second Step® Assessments are fully aligned with our K–8 curricula and measure social-emotional skills taught within the programs. Through these assessments, educators will gain key insights into students’ strengths while also identifying areas where additional support for skill development is needed. By partnering with a leader in SEL assessments, we are providing a complete research-based solution for educators and districts who want to understand students’ social-emotional growth and giving them a way to evaluate the return on impact they are getting from our programs.