What is it?
Interventions which target social and emotional learning (SEL) seek to improve achievement by improving the social and emotional dimensions of learning, as opposed to focusing directly on the academic or cognitive elements of learning. SEL interventions might focus on the ways in which students work with (and alongside) their peers, teachers, family or community. Three broad categories of SEL interventions can be identified: 1. Universal programs which generally take place in the classroom; 2. More specialised programs which are targeted at students with particular social or emotional problems; 3. School-level approaches to developing a positive school ethos which also aim to support greater engagement in learning.
How effective is it?
On average, SEL interventions have an identifiable and significant impact on attitudes to learning, social relationships in school, and achievement itself (four months' additional progress on average).
Although SEL interventions almost always improve emotional or attitudinal outcomes, not all interventions are equally effective at raising achievement. Improvements appear more likely when approaches are embedded into routine educational practices, and supported by professional development and training for staff. In addition, the implementation of the program and the degree to which teachers are committed to the approach appear to be important.
SEL programs appear to benefit disadvantaged or low-attaining students more than other students, though all students benefit on average. Approaches have been found to be effective from kindergarten to secondary school.
Australian schools appear to be taking on more responsibility for fostering student wellbeing and responding to mental health issues. Nonetheless, there seems to be some confusion amongst educators as to how best to integrate SEL within classrooms. Australasian-based research has found that SEL is an important aspect of students’ school experience and overall wellbeing. However, while SEL interventions have repeatedly been shown to improve student’s social skills and emotional awareness, their potential to facilitate academic gains has not been examined in depth in Australian schools.
One approach repeatedly mentioned in the Australian literature is ‘circle time’, which educators believed to be effective. However, the effectiveness of circle time requires further assessment beyond the use of teachers’ impressions and observations.
How secure is the evidence?
There is extensive research in this area and a number of meta-analyses, though more research has been undertaken with younger children in primary, than in secondary schools, and more studies have evaluated the impact on disadvantaged or low attaining students.
What are the costs?
Social and emotional interventions targeted at individuals are the most expensive (see also Behaviour interventions). Estimates from the US suggest targeted programs cost about $5,000 per student per year and involve professional counselling services. However, the costs of training school staff and implementing and evaluating the impact are estimated at $1,800 per teacher for professional development and in-school support. Overall, the costs per student are therefore estimated as very low at about $70 per student per year, assuming a school-based, whole class approach.
What should I consider?
Skills should be taught purposefully and explicitly linked to direct learning in schools, encouraging students to apply the skills they learn.
Teachers and other school staff can effectively support these approaches, particularly with appropriate professional development
How will you ensure that staff commit to supporting the program and consistently apply the skills more widely in school?
Sensitive and targeted intervention may benefit at risk or more vulnerable students.
The impact on achievement of social and emotional aspects of learning is not found consistently, so it is important to evaluate the impact of any initiative. Have you considered how you will evaluate the impact of these approaches?