Bridging Research and Practice in Social and Emotional Learning

McGraw-Hill
May 8 · 4 min read

By Dr. Anne Snyder, Sr. Learning Scientist

This article was originally published at mdreducation.com

Attention to social and emotional learning — among researchers, district leaders, classroom teachers, and content providers — has perhaps never been greater. With the recent release of large research projects, such as the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development’s A Nation At Hope, as well as a rising concern about youth mental health (see: Stress in America: Generation Z from the APA), the focus on Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is both timely and urgent.

From this growing body of research and work in SEL, we’ve learned a great deal about the elements that contribute to strong, effective social and emotional instruction. Perhaps one of the most widely referenced recommendations regarding SEL instruction is related to the comprehensive integration of social and emotional learning into the school day — into academic instruction, related to lesson content when possible, and woven into daily activities, interactions, and environmental supports. Research strongly suggests that SEL shouldn’t be treated as an add-on, or a box to be checked. But this level of integration requires a fundamental structural shift at all levels of a school system, from leadership to classroom teachers.

As an applied learning scientist, my primary role is to bridge research and practice. The plethora of research surrounding SEL integration into academics, and the emerging supporting research on the various ways this can be done, amount to a great deal of information for educators to review and interpret. That’s where the initial need for an SEL research synthesis and corresponding instructional strategy resource initially arose. A few years ago, even before the release of the major reports referenced above, we crafted a document drawing upon existing research in social and emotional learning and translating it to concrete guiding principles of SEL teaching and learning: create, integrate, instruct, communicate, and empower.

Since we created those guiding principles, the research surrounding SEL has expanded even further, and we identified a gap in our principles surrounding the role of culture and equity in social and emotional learning. Any approach to SEL that fails to take into account cultural variances among students cannot be fully effective, and any approach to SEL that does not directly serve educational equity is missing a vital piece of the SEL puzzle.

To incorporate new SEL research trends and provide educators with additional SEL instructional strategies surrounding culture and equity, the second edition of The Guiding Principles of Social and Emotional Learning now contains two additional principles: reflect and respect. As a resource designed to support a rapidly evolving space, we anticipate that the guiding principles will continue to be adapted as new research emerges, to ensure that we continue to reflect evidence-based best practices in SEL.

You can find the full principles document here. For a quick look at the additional principles, continue on:

New Principle: Reflect

We added the reflect principle to emphasize the importance of the social and cultural contexts that are inherently embedded into SEL. Ideally, SEL supports should not look the same for every child, because every child comes to school with a unique cultural experience.

To provide all students with SEL supports that address their specific needs, the reflect principle encourages educators to engage in continuous reflection, both through social and cultural reflection in SEL instruction, as well as self-reflection as practitioners.

When engaging in social and cultural reflection, educators should strive to understand a student’s home culture and social and cultural norms and learn more about how those might translate to the classroom. Reflective SEL allows students to feel that their cultures are reflected in instruction, not isolated from it, and that SEL instruction is relevant to their lives. Students should be able to see themselves in the content they learn. To achieve this, teachers must be very mindful of how social and cultural influences might impact a student’s relationship with school and home.

Self-reflection is also important for SEL instruction. This aspect of the reflect principle is intended to encourage educators to consider how their own beliefs, behaviors, expectations, and norms might impact the classroom environment. By continually engaging in self-reflection, teachers can identify barriers and spaces for growth.

New Principle: Respect

The second addition to the guiding principles of social and emotional learning focuses on teaching and modeling respect for others. Respect — received and given — is a strong component of SEL, one that strongly impacts students’ social and emotional well-being throughout their lifespans. In the context of SEL, students should be taught to respect the needs and beliefs of others and should likewise always feel respected themselves while in the learning space.

Respect can be integrated into SEL instruction by emphasizing the importance of caring for and assisting others. Cultural nuances should be taken into account during discussions of respect because what is deemed respectful in one culture may not reflect what is considered respectful in another culture. Acknowledging and respecting these differences will require all SEL stakeholders to be flexible, empathetic, and collaborative.

Learn more about the way we approach social and emotional learning, and read about the 7 Guiding Principles to Social and Emotional Learning.

You can also learn more about how to support schools and teachers as they implement SEL programs in the webinar recording: Social Emotional Learning in K-12 Schools.


Dr. Anne Snyder is a Senior Learning Scientist within the Applied Learning Sciences team at McGraw-Hill Education. She holds a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from Columbia University.

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