Social-emotional learning expands to meet teachers’ needs

Social-emotional learning expands to meet teachers’ needs

(Va.) As more states work to implement social-emotional learning programs to help improve long-term student outcomes, some experts are calling for schools to also consider the social-emotional needs of teachers.

A new whitepaper from the National Association of State Boards of Education, found that educators face significant stress associated with a lack of classroom support, poor working conditions, inadequate pay or any number of issues can hinder their ability to improve students’ social-emotional skills and promote higher achievement. All of which, they said, can lead to teacher burnout.

“Spurred by research showing the gains students realize from school-based social and emotional learning, states are pursuing supportive policies for districts that are implementing, sustaining, and spreading it,” wrote Don Long, author of the brief and former director of Teaching, Leading, and Learning Policy at the state boards of education association.

“But unless they also address the (social and emotional learning) needs of teachers—especially those experiencing stress, poor working conditions, and classes with many historically under-served students—long-term, system wide gains for students are less likely,” he wrote.

Social-emotional learning can help children manage their emotions, feel and show empathy for others, make responsible decisions, and establish and maintain positive relationships.

Research shows that addressing students’ social-emotional in addition to their academic development can improve their self-motivation, engagement and educational achievement, as well as their physical and mental health.

For teachers, programs that promote well-being and self-control can improve mood, motivation and reduce rates of burnout, studies show.

According to the national state boards of education association, this is especially true among teachers working in schools with large numbers of students who have experienced trauma, who are themselves more likely to experience “vicarious trauma”–a secondary type of trauma that develops in response to continued exposure to the pain of others.

There are a handful of states already working to address the social-emotional state of teachers as part of their overall social-emotional programming targeting students, Long wrote.

Illinois, the first state to develop and adopt K-12 social-emotional learning standards, designed principal preparation programs to include leadership coaching and a mentoring model that focuses on improving instruction in part by helping teachers integrate social-emotional learning in the classroom.

In Massachusetts, state professional development standards require learning experiences to be culturally proficient and grounded in strong social-emotional practices. And the state’s Trauma Sensitive Schools program, which advocates for a “whole-school” approach, promotes teachers’ well-being by prioritizing school culture and infrastructure, staff training and links to mental health professionals.

Washington’s Compassionate Schools Initiative seeks to improve student outcomes by focusing on student physical and mental well-being. The program prioritizes educator training on equity, cultural relevance, trauma-induced stress, and adult social-emotional learning, while emphasizing school leader development in supporting teacher self-care and well-being. 

And California’s statewide initiative encourages school leaders to build social-emotional learning capacity for adults through “an intentional focus on relationship-centered learning environments,” according to Long.

Long said state boards of education can further support social-emotional learning for teachers by embedding it within school leadership policies tied to standards, licensure, accreditation and evaluation.

Board members should also support strategies for addressing school stress and anxiety, and emphasize the core competencies of social-emotional learning in principal preparation programs and professional development.

Fully implementing such recommendations would require long-term effort from policymakers and the public, according to Long, but principals and superintendents are in a position to make smaller changes now.

“School leaders can act more immediately,” Long wrote. “Based on their districts’ strengths, resources, and context, they can promote teachers’ well-being and help them advance toward greater mastery, impact, and leadership by enabling them to cultivate their own SEL competencies.”

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