On Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning


As an article I recently read on Edutopia reveals: “Researchers generally agree upon five key competencies of SEL (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor & Schellinger, 2011 (10)). These competencies provide the foundation for maintaining high-quality social relationships and for responding to the challenges of life”:

Image credit: Edutopia

“Responding to the challenges of life”.  What a simply powerful way to describe our purpose. As educators, as peers…as people. Some of our greatest thinkers and writers suggest this could be one of our very reasons for existence.  At the least,  is the perhaps the heart of our calling.

In thinking about this, I began to wonder about how we are addressing these important features of learning. Specifically, how we might leverage our time and resources, possibly even redesign our current practices so that they  help build and solidify SEL skills while impacting academic gains. In the spirit of transparent thinking, here is a belief of mine:

Simply doing more doesn’t necessarily lead to learning more.

We are doing great things. There is always more we can do. Both statements are true of schools today. But simply adding more to the plate won’t necessarily get the job done. We might need to think about things in terms of quality vs. quantity.  By bringing in rich opportunities for our students to create and design, problem solve, and participate in worthwhile and meaningful activities, we provide opportunities for maximizing learning and addressing the above five target areas. But how?

Recently, I was inspired by a twitter chat and the flow of ideas that followed on a totally different topic. As usual, I began considering the ideas alongside my current thoughts on the SEL model, and a few ideas began to rumble around in my brain. Here are five of them:

  • Student Clubs. These could be as varied as our students’ interests, needs and goals. Driven by students, they provide opportunities for becoming involved and invested in the school community. They establish a forum for collaboration, problem solving, and pursuing personal passions–skills that translate into other academic areas and are necessary for developing life-long learners and habits of mind. Think gardens, yoga, painting, historical studies, and book clubs. Innovative ideas such as MakerSpace and Genius Hour.  Could we bring in businesses to share expertise with students? There is great potential here to make connections with larger communities while giving students a purpose.
  • Student EdCamps.  Students given opportunities to reflect on their learning, share ideas, and learn with and through other students. We like this idea for teachers–why not for students? If we truly want a community of learners, we must think about giving them more-or different-ways to own it.
  • Community Fairs.  Our students become experts on a wide range of topics….let’s let them create and lead these multi-year events for our community. I’m thinking booths, performances, markets, classes…. the impact potential here is great. We have a plethora of creative educators who can (and should) be brought on board to make things like this the standard rather than just an idea.
  • Service Learning and PBLs. We must seriously consider the valuable learning opportunities that exist here. Aligning skills across curriculum (think history through Art, math through Music) while having a path to impact the local community builds big ideas and fosters generalizations. When we can make connections, reflect, and apply skills across different areas as we engage our students in authentic experiences, we are truly engaged in a learning process rather than a learning task.
  • Teacher Learning.  I think one thing that needs to happen, for us to really begin identifying more ways to make use of our data, is to give teachers real, doable ways to collaborate and create.  I like the idea of having ongoing PD, with teachers capturing and reflecting on that via Teacher ePortfolios throughout the year. These would be shared with administration during mini-evaluation checkpoints–as an avenue for feedback, recognitions, and suggestions.  

We are doing awesome things in education today. We have brilliant and talented educators in place whose passion and love for kids is truly spectacular. Is there room for doing more in the way of addressing our students’ social, emotional, and academic needs? These are just a few ideas and questions I have had lately while thinking about how we do school.

What do you think? What roadblocks do you see with these ideas? Do we need to think about extended time? Or should we think about making different use of our current time? Where do you see some missed opportunities? I’ll blog out my thoughts on those questions as they become more blog-able. I would love to hear your feedback and ideas…I think this is truly a conversation that’s ready to be had!


1 thought on “On Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning”

  1. I taught Pre-K for three years. It is interesting in Early Childhood that educators are so focused on all areas of development, cognitive, emotional, social, physical… I now teach 1st grade and formerly have taught 3rd grade. With the emphasis on standards based learning and teaching to tests, that concern for students’ emotional and social development has gone by the wayside!


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