- Educators who adopted a standards-based physical education and health program integrating social-emotional learning into lesson plans are seeing positive results after a pilot implementation in 20 schools, according to the Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE).
- According to the organization, the free "health.moves.minds." program was created to address the growing number of students around the country with anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns.
- The program will now be available nationwide and includes standards-based lessons for grades K-2, 3-5 and 6-8, with accompanying activity materials and assessment resources, as well as opportunities for school-wide engagement, parent involvement and community service. Lessons for grades 9-12 will be available next spring.
Bill Casey, chair of the Physical Education Department at Illinois' Neuqua Valley High School, one of the 20 schools to pilot the program, says integrating SEL in physical education has prompted students to advocate for their own mental health and the emotional wellbeing of their peers.
"We’ve had several students reach out to teachers to share their mental health struggles and ask for help," Casey said. But he pointed out threading SEL in the curriculum required correct timing, as well as teacher and parent buy-in.
Schools embedding SEL throughout the curriculum have seen benefits including student emotional self-regulation, improved behavior and academic growth, according to various experts. Some educators even believe a strong SEL program can decrease bullying rates.
Integrating social-emotional skill-building into physical education is part of a greater emphasis on SEL as integral to a "whole-child education." Following the trend, schools are looking for ways to incorporate SEL skills across various subject areas.
A 2017 survey even showed 98% of principals believe schools can teach competencies such as empathy, self-regulation and interpersonal skills, and that these skills “help promote equality and reduce educational disparities.” However, principals also “reported needing substantial guidance on how to implement SEL,” according to the researchers.
A report released last year by Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development also found educators need more guidance and training on how to blend the practice throughout their instruction.
“You can’t assume that, just because they’re adults, they have the skills and the mindsets they need to model healthy behaviors and understand the core knowledge of social-emotional learning,” Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen wrote in the commission's report. "It’s hard for someone to give what they don’t have."
In early October, Dr. Becky Bailey, co-founder of a social-emotional learning and classroom management program, pointed out at a congressional event that effective SEL begins with a shift in adults' understanding of behavior and a culture of compassion in the school.
“The way I did things when I first started were very different from how I do things now," Casey, who has been in education for over 20 years, said. "I had to learn, and so will other teachers.”
"You can’t just buy a single curriculum and say, ‘We’ve done it,’" Sheldon Berman, superintendent of Andover Public Schools in Massachusetts, said at an SEL cohort meeting for superintendents and other educators in October. "It’s about the practices, the culture and what we communicate on a daily basis. Begin by asking teachers how they are incorporating basics already, and then expand on that."
In the process of adopting SEL in physical education specifically, it is also important to be aware of the ongoing debate around in-school yoga, meditation and other mindfulness practices some parents say are at odds with their Christian beliefs. To address this, districts can make such practices optional and be transparent about their intention behind teaching them.