In multiple states, schools are implementing social-emotional learning standards to ensure students learn interpersonal skills and are cared for as whole beings.
Caring for the whole student – not just academic performance – is not a new concept, but it is continually gaining traction. From trauma-informed teaching to engaging introverts and extroverts, teachers are encouraged to creative a positive, nurturing environment that will help students thrive long after they leave the classroom. Social-emotional learning standards offer a structured method of fostering this sought-after learning environment.
What the Standards Cover
These standards include focusing on self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. These categories cover skills like managing stress, practicing empathy, resolving conflict, labeling feelings, evaluating consequences, and more. Depending on the grade level, students are expected to have mastered different elements of these skills.
For example, a student in first grade might be expected to learn and implement standing up for a friend who is treated poorly while an 11th grader should know how to analyze his or her own role in physical or emotional harm to others and how different cultures influence such behavior.
Benefits of Social-Emotional Standards
Edutopia, an online community dedicated to developing K-12 education, considers social-emotional learning standards to be one of its core values. In a video on the site, an elementary school principal in Oakland, California, Natalie Walchuck, describes some of the positive benefits of developing and implementing social-emotional learning standards.
“We find that academic outcomes increase exponentially when students are nurtured, loved and cared for,” she says. “That we get much more out of them when we first address social-emotional needs. So for us, it’s actually an academic intervention, and not just an emotional one.”
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) also found valuable benefits to implementing social-emotional learning standards in schools. In their research, CASEL found that 93% of teachers want schools to focus more on the emotional aspects of learning. Students saw 11% gains in academic achievements when exposed to social-emotional learning standards and experienced higher chances of a better life, with decreased likelihood of involvement with police, time in detention facilities, and reliance on public assistance.
Where Social-Emotional Standards are Practiced
CASEL tracks policy for social-emotional learning standards across the United States. To categorize states, CASEL considered five factors to determine access to social-emotional learning standards: student indicators specific to grade levels, caregiver guidelines, guidelines for creating a positive environment, guidelines on making instruction culturally sensitive, and guidelines on making instruction linguistically sensitive. Currently, according to their research, all 50 states offer standards at the preschool level but only eleven states have some standards for K-12. Out of those eleven, only Illinois, Kansas, and West Virginia offer them throughout the entire education system.
What Teachers Can Do
Even though some states might not offer standards, individual cities have the ability to implement them. Texas does not regulate state-wide standards, but Austin implemented social-emotional learning standards for every school in its district. Even if your state or city does not officially mandate these standards, you can begin to implement them in your own classroom.
Start by becoming familiar with the resources that are available to you and educate yourself not only on the core standards, but your specific school district’s greatest needs. Depending on your class and location, some needs might be higher than others. Some schools have bigger bullying problems while other schools might struggle more with mental health issues. Talk to your school’s administration and counselors to see what trends are present among students and how the community can come together to implement better strategies to help.
Implementing social-emotional learning standards can be a lengthy process. As you consider standards to implement in your own classroom, remember your students and the impact you can have on them. While it can be easy to obsess over strategy and standards, remember the human beings under your care and begin by staying present in your classroom and leaning in on the hard, messy days.