In a webinar, Dr Heidi Leeson of Monocle Education discussed social-emotional learning (SEL) and shared her latest research on the most impactful areas of SEL in regard to academic performance. She also discussed the importance of using valid and reliable tools to measure learning-related behaviours, and how this data can be interpreted to provide teachers with a richer and more detailed understanding of their students. You can find out more about Heidi’s work and contact her here.
What is social-emotional learning (SEL) and why is it important?
SEL focuses on the whole learner, and emphasises the important connection between cognitive learning and social and emotional factors. There is an extensive body of research spanning 30-40 years to demonstrate the important benefits for academic learning of SEL skills. Students with strong SEL skills also tend to enjoy more satisfaction in their education as well as performing better academically. Beyond school, students with strong SEL skills are more career-ready, and are better communicators and problem solvers. There is also an inmportant relationship between SEL and mental health, and research suggests that strong SEL skills are correlated with positive peer-to-peer relationships, conflict resolution, and bullying prevention. There is also evidence that developing strong SEL skills in younger children can help to offset some of the challenges of the teenage years. It is important to note that SEL varies by age and developmental level.
Measuring social-emotional learning
While it is valuable to measure SEL, schools should start by identifying diagnostic areas of SEL to focus on, rather than trying to measure all SEL constructs at once. This should take into account students’ areas of strength as well as their needs or the areas of SEL where they appear to be weaker. It is also important to align the SEL focus with the school’s curricular focus, and to take into account the strengths and needs of neurodivergent students.
Using a range of data, including standardised test data, attendance data, and other school data in addition to SEL data, will help schools to tell the story of what is happening for their students and why. When measuring SEL constructs, it is important to accurately diagnose students’ behaviours – for example, what appears to be a lack of motivation may actually be poor self-esteem. Monocle Education uses a range of tools to measure SEL constructs and compare them with school data – you can learn more from their website.
Supporting students’ social-emotional learning
Once schools have developed a broad picture of students’ strengths and needs from a range of data, they can begin to work on developing particular SEL constructs. It is important to remember that different SEL constructs can vary by domain or subject area – for example, a student who is highly motivated in maths may not be equally motivated in English or PE. However, it is possible to use a students’ strengths in certain SEL constructs in one domain to scaffold that construct in other subject areas. Parents can play a vital role in helping to support the development of students’ SEL skills, although teachers and schools need to take care to ensure that seeking the involvement of parents is done in a way that is appropriate to local families and communities.