On September 20, 2022, I was invited to testify before the U.S. House of Representatives Education and Labor subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education. The focus of the hearing was “Back to School: Meeting Students’ Academic, Social, and Emotional Needs.” This conversation made clear that we cannot talk about academic recovery without also talking about the critical role of social and emotional learning (SEL).
As I testified, “Social and emotional learning creates the conditions necessary for learning, and decades of research show that it improves academic achievement, mental wellness, school safety, and healthy behaviors … The bottom line: there is strong evidence and demand for social and emotional learning.”
- You can watch my oral testimony here. (4:47)
- Video of the full congressional hearing can be found here. (2:17:35)
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Here are some of the key takeaways from the hearing:
- There is broad, bipartisan recognition of the urgency around supporting children’s mental wellness and academics. On both sides of the aisle, legislators spoke about the impact of the pandemic on students’ academic achievement and overall well-being, as well as the need to address the disproportionate impact on students of color and economically disadvantaged students.
- Districts across the country are investing in SEL as a critical part of recovery efforts. Across both red and blue states, nearly one-third of districts have earmarked COVID-relief dollars toward SEL, and a survey of district leaders found that SEL is their top priority for the 2022-2023 school year.
- SEL goes hand-in-hand with academic learning. Legislators and state education leaders shared how SEL is bolstering academic recovery efforts in their communities. For example, Rep. Jahana Hayes, a former National Teacher of the Year, shared how Connecticut’s focus on SEL has helped drive academic growth: “Too often social and emotional learning is seen as separate from academics. However, building strong relationships with students and creating opportunities to develop cognitive skills [are] critical to learning. That’s how kids learn.”
- Family-school partnerships are central to quality education and recovery. Legislators and witnesses from both sides of the aisle discussed the important role of parents in education and highlighted bipartisan efforts around family engagement centers. As I stated, “Parents are children’s first teachers and so they absolutely must be involved when it comes to all aspects of their children’s education … So as 80 percent of parents, across party lines, have said they want schools to continue or expand SEL, we have to continue to listen to parents.”
- SEL champions must continue operationalizing what SEL actually looks like in schools. SEL is not a one-size-fits-all approach but is really tailored to each community. As SEL champions, it’s helpful to talk concretely about evidence-based strategies, including relationship-building, explicit SEL instruction, and integrating SEL practice into academic lessons. Here’s one example I gave on how SEL might look when integrated into an algebra class:
- Self-awareness and self-management: The teacher invites students first to reflect independently on the problem and how they would approach it, including strategies to work through challenging material.
- Social awareness and relationship skills: Small groups work together to discuss different approaches while listening to others’ perspectives and communicating their own ideas.
- Responsible decision-making: Students analyze the different approaches to decide on which strategy to take and collaborate on a solution.
What are some of your key takeaways as you think about supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic needs?