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Social Emotional Learning Is Essential for Student Success

Social and emotional skills, habits, and mindsets—such as being able to manage emotions, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions—can set students up for academic and life success. Decades of research show that incorporating social and emotional learning (SEL) into instruction can lead to positive outcomes, from increased test scores and graduation rates to positive behaviors that support student success in school and beyond.

What can teacher preparation programs do to prepare teachers to integrate SEL into everyday classroom learning? A new case study from the Learning Policy Institute (LPI), Preparing Teachers to Support Social and Emotional Learning: A Case Study of San Jose State University and Lakewood Elementary, provides rich examples of how a publicly funded university in California integrates social and emotional dimensions of teaching and learning into its program, from courses on foundational theory and academic curriculum to fieldwork.

LPI researchers chose to study the San Jose State University (SJSU) program because it provides aspiring educators with an educational experience that emphasizes social, emotional, and academic learning. It shows how educator preparation programs can

  • Develop teachers’ social and emotional competence. Teachers must have strong social and emotional skills themselves in order to pass them on to students. Teachers with strong social emotional skills are also more likely to stay in the classroom.
  • Help teacher candidates set the stage for SEL by teaching them to develop a safe, inclusive, and supportive classroom environment. The science of learning and development is clear that, in order for students to thrive socially, emotionally, and academically, they must learn in a safe and supportive environment.
  • Integrate the teaching of SEL into the teaching of academic subjects. Social and emotional competencies can be woven into the teaching of core academic content and curriculum, moving beyond the common misconception that SEL is only taught in stand-alone lessons.
  • Develop strong university-district partnerships to improve a focus on the social and emotional dimensions of teaching and learning throughout the teacher preparation process. During their student teaching, teacher candidates must apply the multiple theories and strategies they have learned in their coursework. For these experiences to be successful, teacher candidates should be able to see their mentor teacher model good teaching that is attentive to SEL.
  • Provide time to teacher preparation program faculty for training and collaboration to integrate practices that support SEL effectively in their coursework. Faculty need time to participate in trainings, read, inspect their own syllabi and assignments, and collaborate with each other. Integrating SEL into a preservice program requires time for the whole staff to develop a common language and commitment across the curriculum.

This case study provides practical examples of how SJSU is addressing these issues in practice: including incorporating mindfulness strategies in university classes, teaching growth mindset strategies in mathematics curriculum courses, and providing SEL training for mentor teachers. The case study concludes with implications for practice and policy, making it a useful resource for those who want to improve the integration of social, emotional, and academic learning throughout the teacher preparation process.

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