School-Wide Benefits of SEL

This article is part of a 3-part series focused on how quality SEL programs benefit students in the short and long term, and how it improves school-wide climate and culture. Read about the short-term benefits and the long-term benefits of SEL.

SEL Promotes Positive and Inclusive Learning Environments

School climate and culture is key to students’ ability to thrive and succeed in school. A positive school culture can help students, parents, and staff feel valued, safe, and invested. It promotes a sense of connectedness within the school, increases engagement, and improves students’ academic performance.

There are many ways social and emotional learning (SEL) fosters a positive culture and inclusive learning environment within a school, which in turn facilitates school engagement and success of students and adults. 

We’ve outlined five school-wide benefits of quality SEL programs below.

Safe and Supportive Learning Environments

The primary responsibility of every district, school, and educator is to ensure students are able to learn in safe and caring environments. SEL creates safe and supportive schools because it promotes empathy and kindness, fosters positive learning environments, strengthens teacher and peer relationships, and increases feelings of belongingness and connectedness. It also can promote positive behavior and reduce bullying.

Improved Teacher-Student Relationships

Most of us remember a teacher who went above and beyond to engage us in learning. That teacher likely connected with us and made us excited to learn. SEL promotes relationships that support and encourage students, which in turn encourages students to take ownership of their learning, work hard, and cooperate. It also decreases disruptive behavior and can influence a student’s decision to stay in school.

Reduced Incidents of Bullying

SEL can help prevent bullying. It teaches empathy, acceptance of different perspectives, and the skills needed to form healthy relationships with others. It can also help students feel seen and that like they matter. For students who bully others, SEL can decrease aggressive and controlling behaviors and increase their ability to be respectful and kind. For victims of bullying, SEL can improve confidence and self-worth and reduce social withdrawal. 

SEL also improves school-family partnerships, and it helps teachers build stronger classroom management skills and create safe and supportive learning environments. These dynamics can improve student cooperation and increase their willingness to accept and get along with others. 

Higher Acceptance 

SEL teaches students that they have the power to spread kindness. It also teaches students how to empathize with others. When students learn how to identify and understand others’ feelings, they are more likely to show kindness and compassion. Increased empathy can help students form positive peer relationships and demonstrate greater cooperation and collaboration. 

Increased Equity

SEL can play a role in increasing equity within a school. SEL helps educators treat students with fairness and better understand where students are coming from. SEL also helps school staff identify and provide extra resources to students who need them and promotes culturally responsive teaching so that every student is treated fairly.

Increased Sense of Citizenship 

Quality SEL programs can create a positive learning environment and foster students’ sense of belonging within their school. A strong sense of citizenship can motivate students to learn, increase cooperation, and become active agents in building positive and equitable environments inside and outside of school.

The school-wide benefits of a quality SEL program are far-reaching. SEL promotes positive learning environments and creates a culture where staff and students feel connected, supported, and involved in ensuring every student’s learning needs are met.

Success Story: North Star Elementary

North Star Elementary in Anchorage, AK, is making remarkable strides in helping its students build social and emotional skills, overcome trauma, and develop a path toward success early in their academic careers. A large portion of the school’s student body was  dealing with adverse childhood effects caused by parents who had been incarcerated, suffering from alcoholism, or struggling with mental health issues. Principal Marcus Wilson implemented a trauma program to address the unique needs of his students and also led a SEL program that became a main focus of the school. The school-wide approach has led to high fidelity of the program and is having a positive impact on student behavior and success. 

“We learned that our students’ behavior could be turned around through repetition and practicing every day. By understanding how their brains are wired and where they are coming from, we were able to address their unique needs and provide the necessary supports.” Marcus Wilson, North Star Elementary

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