7 Reasons Why Social-Emotional Learning is Important for Teacher Wellbeing
By Lisa Currie, Founder and Program Manager, Ripple Kindness Project
I’m a huge advocate for social-emotional learning (SEL) for many reasons and to me, it’s the most exciting and important discovery in education. A focus on social, emotional, and mental wellbeing is long overdue as it plays a critical role in student success at school and life.
Building emotional intelligence in kids is the most obvious reason for using SEL but the benefits of Social-Emotional Learning for teachers should also be taken very seriously.
Research shows that teaching educational material to others can help “develop a deeper and longer-lasting understanding”. It stands to reason that when teachers are immersed in SEL-rich content it prompts them to reflect on and improve their own social-emotional competencies. This can have a significant positive effect on the way they think, feel, and behave and a profound impact on their wellbeing both in and out of the classroom.
How does SEL improve teacher wellbeing?
It’s an alarming fact that between 40–50% of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years of teaching. Many say they lose their passion for teaching because they feel undervalued, overworked, and underpaid. The pressure of having to boost test results to meet achievement benchmarks and feeling unsupported as they do so creates unbearable stress that can have a devastating impact on their mental health and wellbeing.
“The five most-mentioned feelings among all teachers were anxious, fearful, worried, overwhelmed, and sad. Anxiety, by far, was the most frequently mentioned emotion.”
– Greater Good Berkeley
That’s a pretty gloomy picture of the teaching profession but things are changing and this is where SEL is beneficial not just for students but educators as well.
As teachers deliver SEL lessons, they are witnessing change as countless positive outcomes are experienced by their students. These lessons teach students skills and competencies that help them to effectively manage their behavior and emotions, build resilience, and improve their relationships. This can result in serious personal and academic growth for students AND the teachers who are also learning these skills as they teach them!
SEL helps teachers manage stress and burnout
SEL gives teachers tools that help them to manage stress before it takes hold. Practicing self-awareness (one of the 5 competencies of SEL), they are more in tune with their emotions and aware of the things that cause them stress. Knowing the triggers enables them to use coping strategies to reduce the risk of becoming overwhelmed.
Another way SEL can reduce stress is by easing the pressure of meeting academic benchmarks. Students who participate in SEL programs are proven to increase their academic performance by 11 percentile points.
SEL improves teacher self-care
Most teachers would attest to neglecting their self-care by putting their students ahead of their own needs more times than they should have. Teaching SEL creates self-awareness to help teachers prioritize, make positive choices, and recognize when they’re reaching their limits. They understand that there must be a happy work-life balance and appreciate that taking time out to rest and rejuvenate or to connect with a friend or loved one is a healthy choice.
“85% of teachers reported that work-life imbalance is affecting their ability to teach the way they would like to teach — 35% indicated that it was having a significant impact.”
– Canadian Teachers Federation
SEL improves decision making
When teachers are feeling overwhelmed, their ability to make informed and responsible decisions is impaired because stress changes how they assess risk and reward. A study showed that chronic stress directs responsible decision-making strategies towards habits rather than goals which can also impede their ability to adapt to change. When teachers can use self-management skills learned through teaching SEL to reduce their stress, their brain is in a position to make more considered and less biased decisions.
SEL enhances teacher-student relationships
Teachers who are more aware of their own and others’ emotions are better equipped to build and sustain positive relationships. Greater emotional intelligence improves relationship skills and promotes positive character traits such as kindness and empathy which are crucial for warm and engaging student and peer relationships.
SEL creates supportive environments
It’s well documented that relationships are important for good mental health. SEL builds social awareness and strong relationship skills which increases the willingness to socialize and participate in activities that help teachers bond with their peers. Having strong connections with the people they work with creates a caring environment where teachers are more likely to offer and receive support.
SEL makes teachers more effective
When educators were asked what happened when they began using SEL in their classroom, it was clear it was having an impact on the way they taught. Those who cultivated social-emotional skills within themselves were able to model them in the classroom which had a huge impact on their student’s success both emotionally and academically.
“I’m calmer, more patient, kinder, and far less controlling. I’m more focused and able to let little things go that before would’ve made me crazy. I’m also more willing to look for the reasons behind things that happen. And I’ve become more optimistic, so when anything terrible happens, I try to see what good might come out of it.”
– Patricia Morris, Elementary Teacher
SEL makes teachers want to teach
It’s highly rewarding for teachers when they witness positive changes in their students and their classrooms become calmer and more productive. This sense of achievement along with their own feelings of improved wellbeing gives them feelings of hope which can renew their love of teaching.
“Before I started working with SEL, sometimes I got so stressed that I lost contact with my original intention for becoming a teacher. SEL has rekindled that light inside of me. It’s the light of why I became an educator in the first place — to help students connect with their dreams and aspirations and become better people who contribute to the world in a positive way. That’s the power of the SEL lens; it fosters purpose and meaning and deep connection.”
– Meena Srinivasan, Program Manager
Teacher wellbeing plays a huge part in student success but it’s often at the bottom of the to-do list. At schools where staff wellbeing isn’t a priority, students can be adversely affected. It’s shown that “emotionally exhausted teachers may use reactive and punitive responses that contribute to negative classroom climates and student-teacher relationships.” Bad experiences at school can lead to poor attendance, results, and mental health outcomes for students.
Introducing Social-Emotional Learning is a way to improve teacher wellbeing even without specific interventions. Given the numerous benefits of SEL for everyone involved, I can only hope that it becomes a part of every school’s curriculum.
Lisa Currie is passionate about contributing to a happier world by building emotional intelligence in kids through fun and engaging social-emotional learning resources. Her core value is kindness as she believes it to be the “mother” of all character traits. She started Ripple Kindness Project to spread kindness in schools and communities. She is also the founder and director of an outreach program that supports disadvantaged families. Follow the Ripple Kindness Project on Twitter at @RippleKindness.
To be reminded why your work is so very important and for more stories and advice, visit our collection of teacher perspectives at The Art of Teaching.