It’s hard to believe that back when I chose education technology as my career path, social and emotional learning (SEL) was relatively new. Many schools were only just beginning to teach students these important skills in a formalized way.

Fast forward 12 years, and we’ve seen dramatic changes in how schools are prioritizing SEL. In many schools, districts, and states, SEL has become embedded in core instruction and is considered a top priority.

Attending CASEL’s 2019 Social and Emotional Learning Exchange helped me reflect on how schools are incorporating SEL, common challenges for implementation, and areas where SEL continues to expand.

Here are six of the biggest themes I took away from this year’s conference.

  1. SEL can be taught in any educational setting. SEL has permeated nearly all areas of K-12 education. In past years, schools weren’t always sure how or where to fit SEL in. Many chose to teach it during elective classes or homeroom, but it was often treated as a standalone course.
    Today, SEL is being taught in nearly every type of class, and schools are implementing SEL in creative ways. SEL may be a school-wide theme where SEL instruction is embedded into core curriculum classes like language arts and social studies. Schools also are incorporating SEL into classes such as art, music and even math, and it’s becoming a big focus in afterschool and out-of-school programs, too.
  2. The perception shift from “one more thing on my plate.” Ten years ago, one of the biggest challenges in gaining teachers’ buy-in for SEL was that many viewed it as just one more thing on their very full plates. While some may still need convincing, educators are generally embracing SEL in schools where it’s a priority, and they understand that it can help improve their teaching and students’ learning.
  3. SEL assessments are important, but educators need guidance. SEL data can guide instruction and identify areas of needed improvement. A persistent hurdle is ensuring educators know how to select the right tools to meet their objectives and improve student outcomes. Options for assessing students’ social and emotional competence and environmental supports for SEL are increasing, but not all tools are made equally. Several organizations are committed to helping the field understand not only how to select, but also how to appropriately use SEL measurement tools.
  4. SEL is increasing educational equity. Several sessions of the 2019 Social and Emotional Learning Exchange focused on how SEL can support educational equity. This thinking appears to be gaining momentum, and I’m excited to see how SEL can continue to promote fair and effective learning for all students. I’m particularly interested in continuing to explore the role of assessment for ensuring equitable access to SEL.
  5. SEL is not just for the kids. Adults need SEL, too. From reducing stress to improving classroom management, there appear to be plenty of reasons to help educators improve their own social and emotional skills. A handful of sessions, posters, and vendors addressed the need to focus on adult SEL and many offered promising practices for promoting adult social and emotional competence.
  6. SEL has gone global. Prioritizing SEL in schools isn’t just a U.S. phenomenon. Interest in developing students’ social and emotional skills and “whole-child” instruction is spreading around the world, from Australia to Norway to Japan.

I’m excited at the progress schools have made in recent years to prioritize SEL instruction and solve common implementation challenges. Maybe the biggest takeaway I had from CASEL’s conference is that SEL is not just another passing educational fad — it’s here to stay.

Interested in learning how to create an effective SEL program in your school or district? Contact Aperture Education’s experts, and let’s have a conversation today.