Social Emotional Learning: I got it in school and so should you

September 21st, 2012

Category: Early Childhood Education

When I was growing up, I was lucky. As a nursery school student, my parents decided to keep me there for an extra year. Why? My teachers told my folks that I needed to continue developing my social skills. What did that mean? Well, for starters, I’d cry when I forgot the ABCs, I’d tattle when someone stole the swing from a friend, and I’d kiss all of the girls in school any time they did anything nice (I can assure you this is no longer an issue–I’m happily married with a child on the way). I tell you this story because, in hindsight, I am darn lucky I got a double dose of targeted social emotional support during the earliest years of my education. Unfortunately, not all kids get this kind of additional help.

Social emotional learning is important for all children, especially during the earliest years of a child’s life. Learning how to appropriately say hello, greet your neighbor, and socialize with your colleagues are essential for children and adults, alike. And yet, intentional, deliberate, research based instruction of these skills is sometimes missing—especially in the later years of elementary school. In recent years, I would argue this is an area where special education has gone miles beyond the mainstream, for the simple reason that children with disabilities, particularly children on the Autism spectrum, often need tremendous help in this area.

Yesterday, CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, revealed the 2013 CASEL Guide: Effective Social and Emotional Learning Programs. The report identifies 23 school-based programs that promote students’ self-control, relationship-building and problem-solving, among other competencies. During the unveiling of the report, two teachers gave testimonials (with video footage from their classrooms) on how they deliberately incorporate social emotional learning in their classrooms using research-based approaches. As a former special educator, I was struck by the similarities between the ‘morning meeting’ I would conduct with my students with Autism, in comparison to the group activities these teachers were having with their sixth graders.

The bottom line of yesterday’s unveiling: high quality, research based social emotional instruction is important, especially from grades Pre-K through 3. Research has shown that students who receive SEL instruction had more positive attitudes about school and improved an average of 11 percentile points on standardized achievement tests compared to students who did not receive such instruction.

I was a lucky four year-old; my teachers knew I needed help in the area of social emotional learning. Not all children get this kind of opportunity.  Delaware is working aggressively to measure the social emotional skills of its incoming kindergarteners.  However, the state will need sustain these efforts by continuing to incorporate social emotional learning into the K-3 standards as other states are doing.  These efforts will ensure that schools have supports to serve the social emotional needs of all students.

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Matthew Korobkin



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