We started our “SEL in the Classroom” series by focusing on the importance of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in the elementary-age classroom. In this post, we continue up the grade-ladder and make secondary classrooms the center of attention. Read on for three reasons why SEL is a crucial component of the secondary classroom.
1. Secondary schools are an optimum time to teach and support SEL.
As anyone who teaches in a secondary classroom knows- it’s a lot, in a lot of ways. Most middle schools and high schools are a combination of smaller elementary schools. Students go from a small, intimate, elementary school where they knew every teacher and every teacher knew them, to a whole new world. All new people, places, experiences and new, complex emotions to go along with it all. What teachers have long suspected is that secondary grades are pivotal to producing a well-rounded, adaptable young adult are true. In a study done by The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), it is stated that “The rapid physical, emotional, and cognitive changes that characterize this period provide unique opportunities to develop and practice.” Not only is explicit SEL instruction and support needed for students in middle and high school, but it’s also a prime time to teach them about SEL and have them practice and grow their SEL skills. Students need the support of SEL, as they are molding their personalities and world views by the constant experiences and interactions they have. They are also still open-minded enough to be able to build on and practice SEL skills, while still being able to feel supported and seek guidance if necessary.
Not only is explicit SEL instruction needed for students in middle and high school, but it’s also a prime time to have them practice and grow their SEL skills.
2. Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs) can offset Averse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) - including setbacks due to the pandemic.
School psychologists are familiar with the terms ACEs and PCEs. In summary, those terms refer to incidents in a child’s life that have a lasting negative or positive impact. In a 2019 study by Bethell, Gombojav & Whitaker, it was found that “Research comparing adults who reported high numbers of PCEs with those who reported low or no PCEs found that adults reporting more PCEs showed 72 percent lower levels of adult depression and/or poor mental health and were 3.5 times more likely to get the social and emotional support they need as an adult.” This means that by utilizing SEL in the secondary classroom, you are helping that student develop and form skills that will help them to be a healthier, more resilient adult. Research has shown that one strong PCE for students is having a sense of belonging and connection, as well as having at least one trust (nonparental) adult in a student’s life. SEL at a secondary level provides both of those things. For example, students knowing that they can check in with their advisory teacher, or another trusted adult; or providing students opportunities to grow and connect socially and emotionally with each other through community events, student retreats, or structured activities during the school day.
3. It provides insight into students that allow for deeper learning.
SEL allows for students to, over time, reveal more about themselves to trusted adults in a school setting, which leads to deeper learning. This is especially important in two ways:
1. Over the last few years, the percentage of mental health-related emergency room visits for 12-17-year-olds has increased by over 30% (CDC). Our adolescents are in a true mental health crisis, and SEL is one tool that can be used to help students.
2. “Learning Loss” is a term that has been buzzing around regarding the time students spent out of a physical school building. Remote learning left much to be desired for many students and families. Many students have fallen below grade-level standards, and need to make up for the loss.
At a basic level, teachers that can form stronger, more authentic relationships with students can teach their content on a deeper level. When students know their teacher is invested in their wellbeing and their learning, they are more likely to engage with the content in a meaningful way. SEL can be used as a way to help students develop and use strategies and skills in their everyday lives, as well as highlight weak areas or areas where students need support in SEL
SEL is important for all ages and grades. Given the pliability of middle and high school students, SEL must be a regular part of a student’s secondary school experience.