- About 60% of teachers and principals report setting goals for students' social-emotional learning (SEL), according to new survey data from the RAND Corp.'s American Educator Panels.
- Based on the results, urban school and district leaders are perceived as much more likely to set SEL goals than their nonurban counterparts. Half of urban teachers said their school leadership creates these objectives, compared to 41% of nonurban teachers. And at a district level, 58% of urban principals say these goals exist, compared to 37% of nonurban principals.
- The responses demonstrate that school SEL goals are by no means universal, and even when they do exist, principals may not be communicating them effectively to their staff. One potential barrier to setting these benchmarks, the report says, may be a lack of schoolwide assessment resources, which are necessary to set and achieve data-driven SEL targets.
Social-emotional skills — including empathy, problem solving and self-reflection — are valuable tools for any person to have and are receiving more attention in school settings. Just this week, the Aspen Institute's National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Learning released its final set of recommendations, which include making SEL a bigger part of what's taught and assessed in schools. As the RAND study's authors concur, these skills help boost academic achievement, but more importantly, they translate to higher levels of success beyond a student's education: "A growing body of evidence shows that social-emotional skills predict long-term life outcomes, even after controlling for differences in academic achievement," they write.
A 2015 study, which analyzed SEL programs involving more than 270,000 K-12 students, found that teaching these skills led to students being happier, more self-sufficient and less likely to get into trouble. But the RAND report also notes that "few studies have investigated the extent to which educators promote SEL among their students." And, given educators' roles in helping students acquire these skills, an apparent lack of research on this topic seems notable.
Based on the survey results, there appears to be a disconnect between some educators and principals regarding SEL goals. As school leaders, principals must ensure there is effective communication among and involvement of staff members in establishing and developing a clear, detailed implementation plan, as well as measuring a school's progress in achieving the benchmarks it sets.
As educators continue embracing SEL, and education policy follows suit, it's important for administrators to go further than just setting abstract targets. Resources such as the Aspen report can give schools some concrete ways to work toward those goals.