Can a new K-12 coalition win the battle over SEL misinformation?

As behavior problems continue to increase at so many schools, educators are prioritizing social-emotional learning.

Fighting the politicization of social-emotional learning is the sole mission of Leading with SEL, a new coalition of highly influential education organizations. Critics, mainly conservative activists, have called SEL a form of “indoctrination” and lumped it into their campaigns against critical race theory, the teaching of LGBTQ issues, sex education and diversity, equity and inclusion.

Education leaders have put more urgency behind SEL with many teachers and administrators reporting a sharp increase in behavioral problems since students returned to in-person learning. Bad behavior is also one of the top reasons that teachers are now leaving the profession, research has found.

“Social, emotional, and behavioral learning supports students’ ability to self-regulate, show empathy, positively engage with peers, problem-solve, and seek help when necessary,” said Kathleen Minke, executive director of the National Association of School Psychologists, a member of the coalition. “Not only are these life skills critical to adulthood, they are all essential building blocks of mental wellness and provide the foundation for safe and effective learning environments.”

AASA, The School Superintendents Association, Education Trust, National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National PTA are among the 20 members of Leading with SEL, which organizers say will combat the misinformation that has created challenges for some educators trying to embed social-emotional learning into instruction. The coalition intends to promote research that shows SEL helps students develop life skills and get into the right mindset for learning.

Various polls have found strong, bipartisan support for SEL in schools. A whopping 75% of parents said they supported SEL because it fosters a positive classroom environment, according to surveys done by the Committee for Children, another member of the coalition. The same poll found that 81% of Republicans and 79% of Democrats whose child’s school provides social-emotional learning say educators should do more or are doing the proper amount of SEL instruction.

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A recent survey commissioned by National PTA found that 76% of parents support schools teaching social and emotional learning.

“Federal and state policymakers, school district leaders, and schools are facing a critical school year as they work to address the urgent needs that have compounded over the course of the pandemic,” said Aaliyah A. Samuel, CEO and president of the coalition’s facilitator, CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. “Now, more than ever, we must all be focused on ensuring the next generation of adults have the social, emotional, and academic skills to thrive.”

The other members of the Leading with SEL coalition are:

  • The American Institutes for Research
  • American School Counselor Association
  • Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
  • Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning
  • Communities In Schools
  • Confident Parents, Confident Kids
  • Education Development Center
  • Educators for Excellence
  • Highlights for Children
  • Learning Heroes
  • Parents as Teachers
  • Pure Edge, Inc.
  • SEL4US
  • SEL Providers Association

“Social and emotional learning is essential to a student’s success, as it helps to meet the needs of the whole child and ensure every child has the opportunity to reach their full potential,” said Anna King, president of National PTA. “There could not be a more urgent time to support our students both academically and socially and emotionally—and also promote learning environments where all students feel safe, supported and ready to learn.”

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Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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