Principal - May/June 2021 - 24

T

he COVID-19 pandemic has
underscored the need for
social and emotional learning
(SEL) in schools. Consider a
few statistics from surveys taken during
widespread school shutdowns and distance learning:
* More than half of the students surveyed
experienced anxiety.
* 45 percent felt excessive stress.
* 43 percent said they struggled
with depression.
* 61 percent reported loneliness.
* Comparing their engagement level prior
to COVID-19 school closures, more than
80 percent of teachers defined students'
current level of engagement with their
schoolwork as " much lower " or " somewhat lower. "
* One out of 4 students were reported to
be essentially truant (MIA, not logging
in, not making contact, etc.) during
COVID-19 closures.
Sources: 2020 Harris Poll commissioned
by the National 4-H Council and an
EdWeek Research Center survey.
This is an urgent matter to which
educators must respond now. Each of
these statistics represents real students
and a situation that's evolving based
on the support provided by the school.
One evidence-based way to respond is
to intentionally integrate SEL into your
school and make it as high a priority
as any academic initiative. This need is
supported by an abundance of research
on the benefits of SEL in schools, which
include improved academic performance, improved social behaviors, lower
levels of distress, improved attitudes,
improved social interactions, and fewer
conduct problems.
This is not a new concept-SEL has
been part of education for decades. But
we are now seeing it affect our students,

*

24

M A Y / J U N E 2 0 2 1 * N A E S P. O R G

educators, and families in historic ways. Prior to the pandemic,
many schools found it challenging to teach essential SEL skills
to students with significant mental health, social, emotional, and
behavioral needs.
The majority of behaviors students had difficulty demonstrating in the in-person learning environment were social behaviors
(e.g., hands to themselves, appropriate language, impulse control,
etc.). Subsequently, the gaps have widened, and the cracks in the
system of schoolwide support of SEL are no longer hidden in the
chaos of the school environment.
Needs have shifted from managing undesirable social
behaviors in a face-to-face learning environment to targeting
academic behaviors in a virtual or hybrid environment (e.g., lack
of engagement, attendance, organization, self-management, selfmonitoring, motivation, " grit " ). SEL encompasses academic and
social behaviors, so schools need to connect specific behaviors to
the absence of SEL skills.
As educators, we do a great job of identifying the absence of
specific academic skills that impede a student's ability to succeed
in a particular subject area and providing targeted instruction
to ensure learning, whether that student is a nonfluent reader
who needs additional support with vowel blends and digraphs
or a student not able to recall basic math facts and formulas.
But when it comes to behavior-academic or social-absences
are met with frustration, and labels such as " acting out, " " being
disruptive, " or " being lazy " are attached to the student.
Why is it that we teach specific skills in math or reading to get a
student back on track, yet when we identify students demonstrating specific behaviors, we don't view it as a student needing the
necessary instruction to learn the SEL skill necessary to reduce
or eliminate those undesirable behaviors? Schools need to apply
the same systematic teaching they use to support students who
struggle academically to SEL skills.

THE WHYS OF SEL IMPLEMENTATION
Reacquaint yourself with the definition of SEL and the purpose
for its implementation. The Collaborative for Academic, Social,
and Emotional Learning (CASEL) website defines SEL " as a process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities,
manage emotions, and achieve personal and collective goals; feel
and show empathy for others; establish and maintain supportive
relationships; and make responsible and caring decisions. "
CASEL further highlights five core competency areas within
SEL: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Echoing the
importance of the CASEL 5, a newly released World Economic


https://theharrispoll.com/the-state-of-teen-mental-health-during-covid-19-in-america-a-4%E2%80%91h-and-harris-poll-youth-mental-health-survey/ https://theharrispoll.com/the-state-of-teen-mental-health-during-covid-19-in-america-a-4%E2%80%91h-and-harris-poll-youth-mental-health-survey/ https://www.edweek.org/research-center/ https://casel.org/ https://casel.org/ http://www.NAESP.ORG

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