Channing Bete Company(R) PATHS(R)

Dr. Mark Greenberg, developer of the PATHS® program,
introduces social and emotional learning

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How SEL Improves School Climate and Achievement

The challenges schools face today

These are exciting and challenging times for schools and school staff. Schools are charged with helping students master academic content and become committed and effective citizens, able to succeed in an increasingly complex world. Yet, many students lack the social and emotional skills they need to learn and grow, or they possess them but require ongoing reinforcement to reach their full potential.

As an educator, you know that teaching students effectively is impossible when pupils are unable to properly engage in the learning process. There are many reasons why a student may fail to engage, but here are a few examples:

  • If a student cannot manage emotions properly, it is difficult for him or her to focus on learning.
  • If a student does not empathize with others, he or she may act out in unhealthy and potentially harmful ways.
  • If a student is unable to follow rules, he or she may detract from the healthy functioning of a classroom and/or school environment.
  • If a student is unable to solve problems cooperatively, he or she may create conflict in the classroom, playground, or anywhere students congregate.
  • If a student is unable to work well with others, this can create disharmony and undermine the collective learning environment.
  • If a student is unable to act responsibly or respectfully, he or she may not build the healthy relationships necessary for school -- and life -- success.
Students doing an activity of the PATHS(R) program -- Product displayed: Our Feelings Chart (502019)

Imagine the impact on a classroom with just one student exhibiting these types of behaviors. Now imagine several students or worse, the majority of the classroom exhibiting problem behaviors. Instead of teaching, teachers may spend a significant portion of their day trying to manage the classroom. The result? Critical teaching time is sacrificed, which can have a direct impact on student learning.

How social and emotional learning fits in

The research is clear: social and emotional learning (SEL) is a critical component of the educational experience. In order for students to reach their full potential in school and in life, schools must provide instruction on academics and social and emotional skills. In short, they must teach the whole student if they want to see healthier school climates and improved academic results. And thanks to clinical research, we now have the evidence that SEL really works!

Scientific studies of high-quality SEL programs have revealed the positive impact these curriculums can have on school success. Data from more than 270,000 students was collected for a large-scale study of universal, school-based SEL programs, including the PATHS® program. In that study, SEL students showed an 11% gain in academic achievement -- a significant improvement!

Students doing an activity of the PATHS(R) program

In addition, studies show:

  • SEL program students were more likely to attend school, were less likely to have conduct problems, and received better grades.
  • SEL programs effectively reduced student high-risk behaviors such as delinquency, substance abuse, and school dropout.
  • SEL students feel more connected and attached to their schools.
  • SEL programming can significantly improve students' skills, attitudes, and behaviors.

Note: These are general results of SEL programs. In order to make a wise investment of funding, time, and energy, it's critical to evaluate an SEL program individually. Knowing if SEL programming has been examined and proven to work in a highly controlled, well-designed study can help you choose the right program for your school. When you look into SEL materials and practices, you want programs that are evidence-based and proven effective. This means that when the program is taught in the manner intended, the stated outcomes can be expected.

An investment in social and emotional learning can have long-term benefits!

According to a study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and published in the American Journal of Public Health, children's early social and emotional skills may predict their well-being in early adulthood. The 20-year study linked early skills shown in kindergartners to future outcomes in education, employment, and criminal justice.

Kindergarten teachers assessed students' social and emotional abilities using a 9-item, 5-point scale. Researchers then examined these students 13 to 19 years later and found that for every 1-point increase in a child's social competence score in kindergarten, he or she was:

  • twice as likely to attain a college degree in early adulthood
  • 54% more likely to earn a high school diploma
  • 46% more likely to have a full-time job at the age of 25.

For every 1-point decrease in a child's social competence score in kindergarten, he or she had a:

  • 64% higher chance of having spent time in juvenile detention
  • 67% higher chance of having been arrested by early adulthood
  • 52% higher rate of recent binge drinking
  • 82% higher rate of recent marijuana use.

This research shows the importance of focusing early learning efforts on the development of social and emotional skills.

The ABCs of SEL

SEL has three main domains: Affect, Behavior, and Cognition.

A is for Affect.
Children who learn about affect, or emotional response, learn how to recognize feelings in themselves and in others, and to communicate about those feelings. Students also learn how to regulate their emotions, which can help in class -- emotions make a difference to what is learned and how.

B is for Behavior.
SEL also teaches and reinforces positive behavior, such as self-control strategies and relationship skills. Students learn that they are in charge of their behavior and can stop and calm down instead of acting out. This is great for students and for classroom management.

C is for Cognition.
Cognitive or thinking skills are necessary for recognizing problems, taking another's perspective, and coming up with multiple solutions. SEL teaches students about the importance of planning, goal setting, problem solving, and thoughtfully resolving conflict.

How students receive SEL

Students typically receive SEL through a specific SEL program delivered at school. Although programs vary in scope, in general, they aim to teach students how to:

  • handle emotions well
  • relax and focus on learning
  • avoid negative behaviors
  • make positive decisions
  • solve problems cooperatively
  • understand others
  • practice empathy and caring.

In summary, SEL programs help students develop strong, positive relationships with both peers and adults. And since children learn more effectively from people they care about, SEL can have a direct impact on academic engagement.

If you already like what you see, don't delay!

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