Creating healthy learning environments has always been a priority for educators. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, doing this has become increasingly difficult for teachers as they work in virtual and hybrid classrooms where they are unable to support their students like they used to during classroom time.
Great teachers understand that learning isn’t limited to the classroom—many aspects of life outside of school influence the ability of any student to learn effectively, and high-quality social and emotional learning (SEL) helps support a healthy schooling experience. In fact, supporting your students’ emotional development produces an 11-percentage-point gain in grades and test scores, so there are distinct advantages to offering both healthy learning environments and SEL.
When students feel safe and comfortable in their learning environment, they are more able to learn, ask questions, and explore the limits of their understanding. But that healthy learning environment doesn’t appear overnight. It takes time and effort, on behalf of educators, to create it.
The Need for Healthy Learning Environments and SEL
Did you know that 8 in 10 employers say social and emotional skills are the most important for success yet are also the hardest skills to find? These skills have become increasingly vital to personal and professional success, but students often have to learn them on their own.
High-achieving students can be overlooked, carrying the burden of managing their stress all by themselves. Students in need of intervention may be dealing with low self-esteem while not getting the full support they need to catch up and excel. Other students may use the classroom to release their emotions because nobody taught them to recognize what they are feeling. The list goes on.
Many teachers know that when helping these struggling students, reactive measures and punitive solutions often do as much harm as good. But a strong foundation centered on a caring, proactive teacher with powerful tools and a strong support structure both within and outside of the classroom (virtual or otherwise) is the surest way to help students through these important years.
Educators also know that healthy learning environments and SEL can help give students the resources they need to properly channel their emotions before they drop out or even graduate and move, unprepared, to college or the workforce. Proactively offering students social and emotional tools, resources, and language aids can help them find their purpose, passion, and skills, which will help them be more successful after school.
Using SEL to Build Healthy Learning Environments
SEL helps form the foundation of a healthy learning environment. And when we say “foundation,” we really mean it, because this foundation for learning continues to benefit students for up to 18 years after they leave school! This includes better performance in secondary academics, reduced conduct problems, improved emotional stability, and lower rates of drug use.
Students with access to healthy learning environments and SEL options in kindergarten have a significantly reduced chance of waiting for public housing, needing public assistance, having any involvement with law enforcement, or going to prison later on in life. Not facing challenges and problems like these gives students more space and opportunity to pursue the career path of their choosing, as well as more education.
Additional research—and the experience of many teachers over the past several months—supports what educators have known for years: healthy learning environments and SEL are necessary for a complete education. It isn’t just an additional assignment or class students need to take, but a powerful tool that unlocks their potential to learn and understand concepts in all aspects of their lives. It also reduces the burden on teachers who have had to identify and address social and emotional issues on their own.
Where to Begin
Healthy learning environments and SEL have become more important than ever as vulnerable students become increasingly exposed to international, national, and local issues. From the global pandemic to politics and environmental activism, our students are more exposed to the world and its problems than in the past.
Proactive teachers are already looking for resources that can help students learn about these issues, recognize their emotions surrounding them, and understand their options for reacting. And good SEL options include guidance for having discussion about these and other topics, including personal development, mental health and wellness, college and career prep, and even character development.
Edgenuity’s own SEL program is introducing three new courses in an effort to help educators in the classroom (whether virtual or physical): Climate and Culture Transformation, Restorative Practices and Principles, and Trauma-Informed Living. These courses are designed to help educators meet students in this moment in time so they can learn more about what’s happening around them and process it in a healthy, productive way.
The need for social and emotional education will never go away. In fact, the need for healthy learning environments and SEL will only increase. Empowering educators with useful tools and options, and equipping students with the support and guidance they need to grow both academically and emotionally benefits everyone. When that support and guidance is available for both students of all ages and educators, and is both current and responsive to emerging needs, everyone in your school community wins.
Budzinski, D. (2020, August 27). Building a culture of SEL: transforming your school, students, and community. Where Learning Clicks. https://blog.edgenuity.com/building-a-culture-of-sel/
Jones, D. E., Greenberg, M., & Crowley, M. Early social-emotional functioning and public health: the relationship between kindergarten social competence and future wellness. American Journal of Public Health 105, 2283–2290. https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/full/10.2105/AJPH.2015.302630
Taylor, R. D., Oberle, E., Durlak, J. A., & Weissberg, R. P. (2017). Promoting positive youth development through school‐based social and emotional learning interventions: a meta‐analysis of follow‐up effects. Child Development, 88(4), 1156–1171. https://srcd.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/cdev.12864