National Commission Builds Case for Connecting Students’ Social, Emotional, and Academic Development

January 23, 2018

Commission invites students, families, community members, educators, and others to inform final recommendations

Contact: Melissa Mellor
The Aspen Institute | (202) 736-3552

Washington, DC, January 23, 2018 – The Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development released an interim report today highlighting the important role that social and emotional development plays in student learning.

“How Learning Happens: Supporting Students’ Social, Emotional, and Academic Development” includes initial findings on how students, teachers, parents, and administrators across the country are integrating social, emotional, and academic learning in K-12 education. It’s a milestone in the Commission’s two-year effort to engage communities nationwide.

“We have reached remarkable consensus on the need for this new focus on learning in schools,” says Tim Shriver, a co-chair of the Commission, chairman of the Special Olympics, and co-founder of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. “Parents, educators, and kids understand that successful schools help students become all that they can be.”

The 25-member Commission includes senior leaders from the fields of education and youth development, policy, academia, business, and the military.

Led by the Commission, a wide range of stakeholders—including committees of students, parents, educators, scholars, funders, and partner organizations from across the nation and different political philosophies—are working to develop recommendations in research, practice, and policy that will help the nation’s schools work with their communities to support the whole student.

“The Commission is being very deliberate about including a variety of perspectives and working with numerous partners,” said Gov. John Engler, a Commission co-chair, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, and former Michigan governor. “This isn’t about telling communities what to do, but about respecting local conditions and supportive positive change that can bring about much greater opportunities for the nation’s young people.”

After listening to those engaged in this work and visiting local communities that have made students’ social, emotional, and academic development a priority, the Commission’s report elaborates on the following findings:

  • Learning is social and emotional.
  • Supporting students’ social and emotional development encompasses a range of instructional approaches that must be implemented intentionally.
  • The interconnectedness of social, emotional, and academic development must be reflected in all aspects of schooling.
  • Effective social and emotional development creates learning environments that support each student’s individual needs.
  • Educators’ social and emotional knowledge and skills are crucial to this work.
  • Local communities need to shape and drive the process of comprehensively supporting students.

The Commission also has released several publications exploring important dimensions of social, emotional, and academic development. A highlight of the Commission’s first year was the release of a landmark consensus statement from a 28-member alliance of leading scientists and scholars outlining the scientific evidence for how people learn. The Council of Distinguished Scientists’ research brief, “The Evidence Base for How We Learn,” concludes that learning cannot be separated from the social and emotional dimensions of human development. Indeed, these domains are “deeply intertwined in the brain” and are central to how people learn.

“We know from the science of learning that students need to learn how to focus their attention, manage emotions, show resilience in the face of challenges, and use feedback productively to improve their work,” says Linda Darling-Hammond, a co-chair of the Commission and president of the Learning Policy Institute. “These are all social and emotional competencies schools can teach to produce stronger academic results and support success in the world of work and in life.”

Drawing on input from students, educators, researchers, and others, the Commission will continue to explore how to most effectively implement social, emotional, and academic learning in American schools. Its further work includes:

  • A research agenda that helps close the gap between what is known about the interconnectedness of social, emotional, and academic learning and what is typically done in schools;
  • Practice recommendations that will help districts and schools work with their communities to support students’ social, emotional, and academic development;
  • Policy recommendations that can create favorable conditions for supporting students’ comprehensive development without creating mandates or stymying local efforts;
  • Capacity-building strategies that enable teachers and other youth-serving professionals to support students’ comprehensive development; and
  • A sharp focus on equity and considerations for specific groups of students, while supporting the development of all

The Commission will be asking for input from a broad array of stakeholders throughout 2018 to inform its final recommendations. As an initial step, the Commission is requesting responses to three key questions that are included as part of the interim report. Students, families, community members, educators, partners, and others are invited to respond to the questions at

About the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development
The Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development is engaging and energizing communities to re-envision what constitutes success in our schools. Scientific evidence demonstrates that social, emotional, and academic development are interconnected in the learning process. The Commission is drawing from research and promising practices to explore how to make all these dimensions of learning part of the fabric of every school. Building on existing work in schools, communities, and states across the country, the Commission is working to identify specific action steps in research, practice, and policy that will help shape and sustain a new era of education that reflects what we know about how learning happens.

To learn more, visit and follow the Commission on Twitter at @AspenSEAD.

About the Aspen Institute
The Aspen Institute is a nonpartisan forum for values-based leadership and the exchange of ideas. The Institute is based in Washington, D.C., and has campuses in Aspen, Colo., and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit

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