In a time when uncertainty, stress, and anxiety are prevalent in schools and society, regulating students’ emotions is more pertinent than ever before. Integrating Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) into a classroom helps students manage their own emotions and maintain relationships with others (Davis et al., 2021). In addition, a study conducted by Cunha & Heckman (2008) concluded that students who attended a school that had implemented SEL curriculum showed an increase in their cognitive abilities.
Students are not the only ones suffering from added stresses. Teachers and administrators have their own levels of anxiety that they are trying to deal with daily. These professionals must first recognize their own struggles and cultivate SEL within themselves before they can teach these strategies to children.
Anxiety and the Brain
What effects do stress and anxiety actually have on classroom learning? The brain is complex, and emotions do have the ability to affect explicit memory. When a student feels positive, endorphins are released stimulating the frontal lobes, creating a more enjoyable and successful learning experience. However, when students are stressed, cortisol is released. This rouses their defense mechanisms, causing the frontal lobes to focus primarily on the source of the anxiety and how to handle it (Sousa, 2017).
This response leaves no room for a student to absorb the math and grammar lessons that are so critical to state assessments and foundational academic growth. Often, teachers have no idea what students are trying to deal with at home, and even when they do know, there is little that a teacher can do to change the situation. What are teachers and administrators to do then? How do they ensure that student learning is taking place?
Self-Awareness and Emotional Intelligence
Research by Davis et al. (2021) concluded that teachers must first acknowledge and address their own anxiety and be taught skills to help regulate their own emotions. These skills include stress management, empathy, time management, and personal responsibility. Davis et al. (2021) pointed out that by implementing these skills, teacher burnout will decrease while teacher retention will increase. Osher et al. (2016) said developing SEL in teachers can also help them to relate to the children in their classroom.
These SEL skills, in addition to SEL classroom practices, should be included in teacher preparation programs and professional development sessions. A teacher cannot teach math without taking math classes. It stands to reason that a teacher should also be trained in SEL techniques to deal with society and classroom pressures and, in turn, will pass those techniques on to the students.
A teacher should be trained in SEL techniques to deal with society and classroom pressures and, in turn, will pass those techniques on to the students.
SEL and Student Benefits
Promoting SEL programs in the classroom creates multiple benefits that outweigh the cost of such ventures. First, students learn to develop meaningful relationships with each other, the staff, and even their own families. These cultivated relationships minimize behavioral problems within a school, freeing up time for administrators and teachers to focus on the more important task of fostering students’ learning growth. Another benefit includes academic success (Cunha & Heckman, 2008). As students learn how to minimize their anxieties and begin to feel emotionally safe and happy within the classroom, they now have the brain capacity to focus on the subjects that are being presented. Students who have learned to master their emotions receive better grades and higher achievement test scores (MacCann et al., 2020).
It is time to recognize the tremendous need for SEL for both staff and students. Doing nothing about the mental health crisis ensures academic and social failure. Our students deserve better. They deserve an administrator and teachers who are fully able and willing to be invested in that child’s future. They deserve the chance to reach their greatest potential. Our students deserve to be successful.
Bridgeland, J., Bruce, M., & Hariharan, A. (2013). The missing piece: A national teacher survey on how social and emotional learning can empower children and transform schools. A report for CASEL. In Civic Enterprises. Civic Enterprises. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED558068
Davis, K., Hammett, R., Seagraves-Robinson, T., Christian, D. D., & Low, G. (2021). Research review and notes: Social Emotional Learning: An appreciative approach to teacher development. AI Practitioner, 23(3), 122–135. https://doi.org/10.12781/978-1-907549-48-9-16
Klapp, A., Belfield, C., Bowden, B., Levin, H., Shand, R., & Zander, S. (2017). A benefit-cost analysis of a long-Term intervention on social and emotional learning in compulsory school. International Journal of Emotional Education, 9(1), 3–19. https://seu.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ1137973&site=ehost-live&scope=site
MacCann, C., Jiang, Y., Brown, L. E. R., Double, K. S., Bucich, M., & Minbashian, A. (2020). Emotional intelligence predicts academic performance: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 146(2), 150–186. https://doi.org/10.1037/bul0000219
Oliveira, S., Roberto, M. S., Veiga-Simão, A. M., & Marques-Pinto, A. (2021). A meta-analysis of the impact of social and emotional learning interventions on teachers’ burnout symptoms. Educational Psychology Review, 33(4), 1779–1808. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-021-09612-x
Osher, D., Kidron, Y., Brackett, M., Dymnicki, A., Jones, S., & Weissberg, R. P. (2016).
Advancing the science and practice of social and emotional learning: Looking back and moving forward. Review of Research in Education, 40(1), 644-681. https://doi.org/10.3102/0091732X16673595