The Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development, which met for the first time last month, unites leaders with diverse backgrounds with the goal of helping our nation’s schools integrate social, emotional, and academic development into K-12 education. This blog post is the second in a series of posts of perspectives on why supporting young people holistically is crucially important.
Our students know what we need to do.
As a country, we’ve made a lot of strides in education over the years. But we know we need to do even better. That’s abundantly clear when looking at data, and it’s even more powerful to hear this directly from students. I was so moved to hear from a group of young people at Aspen Institute’s inaugural convening of the National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development. They urged us to believe them when they let us know they are struggling. They asked us to hold everyone to high expectations while also offering support to get there. They said, “Tell me I matter.”
It is time for all Americans to pay attention to the role that social and emotional learning plays in developing students to be college, career, and community-ready. Gone are the days when we dismiss social and emotional learning as “soft skills.” Research has demonstrated over and over again that there is a strong relationship between social and emotional competencies, academic success, and lifelong well-being. For example, high school graduation, college degree attainment, employment, welfare status, and involvement with the criminal justice system can all be predicted based on the level of social and emotional competency that a student has in kindergarten.
Social and emotional learning is increasingly pointed to as a missing piece of current education-reform initiatives. Our students need us to truly understand and connect with them, and teach them to have a voice, to respectfully disagree with others, to solve conflicts, and to find common ground. Social and emotional skills like these are key to students’ academic success, since they help build strong cognitive skills. These skills are also key to future opportunities, as 80 percent of employers say they are the most important to success in the workplace—yet they say these skills are the ones most lacking in their future employees.
At New Teacher Center, my colleagues and I work with school districts every day. We partner with them to put on-the-job learning and coaching in place to help teachers succeed from their first day to their last. In the course of our work, we’re seeing that teachers care deeply, and they want to make a real difference for students academically – but also socially and emotionally. They’re telling us they need support to do that effectively, to establish optimal learning environments that prioritize social and emotional elements of learning as the foundation of academic success and well-being. That’s just what we at NTC are trying to do, by working with school districts to put highly relevant and job-embedded coaching in place for teachers. We create programs that pair teachers with accomplished peers who are specially trained to help them learn and practice new skills and approaches, and to integrate research about social and emotional learning into their everyday practice in classrooms. When teachers receive support like this, our students do have a greater chance of being life-ready.
When we’re successful, we see students engaged in different activities – some in small groups collaborating and actively listening to one another, and some working individually. All are engaged with content that matters to them, with choice and agency in their own learning. That’s proof the teacher successfully created an environment where norms, routines, and procedures promote respect, equity, and caring, and where students are taking an active role in their own learning. This does not happen by chance, but instead takes a deliberate focus on integrating social and emotional practices into teaching.
I am inspired that the Aspen Institute’s Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development is uniting educators, researchers, scientists, policymakers, and business leaders to fully integrate effective and cognitive development in PK-12 education. In my career, I have never seen such a bipartisan and comprehensive gathering representing all sectors of our society. It is an honor to be a part of this effort. We have a unique opportunity to provide a forward vision and defined path about what it looks like to merge social and emotional learning with rigorous academics.
We know a high-quality education makes a world of difference for students. Now is the time to unite in attending to the academic, social, and emotional learning needs of all students.
Ellen Moir serves on the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development. She is the founder and CEO of New Teacher Center, a national nonprofit dedicated to improving student learning by accelerating the effectiveness of new teachers, experienced teachers, and school leaders.