May 20, 2014

Education Week

by Barbara Cervone and Kathleen Cushman

“At this school, they go all out around the student’s emotions,” Jameisha, a 12th grader, told us. “They ask, they listen. I don’t wake up and think, ‘Oh I hope this don’t happen.’ I think, ‘I’m OK. I’m fine. I’m ready to learn.'”

At Jameisha’s South Side Chicago high school, a full-on commitment to social and emotional learning, or SEL, has transformed the environment from a nightmare of urban violence to a place where students dream of college. And although the circumstances and challenges may differ at other public secondary schools, around the nation we are seeing a new recognition that social and emotional factors markedly affect academic engagement, achievement, and educational attainment in the adolescent years.

What would it take to weave social and emotional learning into the daily fabric of our nation’s high schools? What distinct practices, programs, and structures help schools embed SEL into ongoing teaching and learning? How does this effort vary from school to school, in response to the conditions that make a school unique and shape its climate?

From 2013 through early 2014, we asked these and other questions as part of an in-depth investigation of social-emotional learning in five diverse high schools located in communities across the United States. Most SEL efforts take place in the elementary grades, and most of the research to date has focused on discrete programs within schools. We know far less about secondary schools that make social-emotional learning central to their mission, linking it inextricably to academic development.

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