We have known for decades that social emotional learning (SEL) is important in youth development - even before the term "social emotional learning" was created. But in this country, common sense is not fully accepted until it's scientifically proven.
In 2007, researchers Joseph Durlak and Roger Weissberg published two meta analyses on the importance of social emotional learning within schools and after school programs.
"After-school programs [those programs that promoted SEL skills using research-based methods] succeeded in improving youths’ feelings of self-confidence and self-esteem, school bonding (positive feelings and attitudes toward school), positive social behaviors, school grades and achievement test scores." (1)
But are we sure that promoting SEL skills pays off in terms of the the almighty dollar? Until
recently, "few think that developing healthy emotions and social connectivity is really a good return on investment." (2)
Now, Columbia University (Center for Benefit-Cost Studies in Education Teachers College) has answered that question. This new study examines the economic value of social and emotional learning.
The researchers from Columbia University "examined the economic returns from investments in six prominent social and emotional interventions—from learning and literacy programs to combat aggression and violence; to efforts to promote positive thinking, actions, and self-concepts; to practices that improve problem-solving abilities, capacities to manage emotions, and the very skills that lead to greater student motivation and engagement in their learning.
Their findings are striking: Each of the socially and emotionally focused programs—4R’s, Positive Action, Life Skills Training, Second Step, Responsive Classroom, and Social and Emotional Training (Sweden)—showed significant benefits that exceeded costs. In fact, the average among the six interventions showed that for every dollar invested, there is a return of more than 11 dollars. The lead researcher told us, 'These are unprecedented returns, particularly given that, while the estimates of the costs are clear, only a portion of the possible benefits are captured.' Benefits include reductions in child aggression, substance abuse, delinquency, and violence; lower levels of depression and anxiety; and increased grades, attendance, and performance in core academic subjects." (2)
Eleven dollars return for every one dollar investment - that's not bad. Now that we know that promoting social emotional skills improve youth outcomes and can be quantified in dollars and cents, let's get to the work of reshaping our practices in classrooms and informal settings.
(1) Durlak, J. and Weissberg, R.; "The Impact of After-School Programs That Promote Personal and
SocialSkills"; CASEL, 2007; [http://static1.squarespace.com/static/513f79f9e4b05ce7b70e9673/t/526a2547e4b0dda0159b1acb/1382688071013/the-impact-of-after-school-programs-that-promote-personal-and-social-skills.pdf]
(2) Shriver, T. and Bridgeland, J.; "Social-Emotional Learning Pays Off"; Education Week Commentary, 2015; [http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/02/26/social-emotional-learning-pays-off.html]
The Greater Good Science Center, based at UC Berkeley, studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society. They are an excellent resource for research and advocacy of mindfulness, social emotional learning, and character building. They were kind enough to allow us to take the excerpt below, which is part of a larger paper entitled, Top Ten Scientific Insights of 2015. While many of us strongly believe that these things are important, it is helpful to have research that will speak to our other partners.
"Skills like kindness and empathy are sometimes dismissed as a luxury in education, not nearly as practical or important as teaching math and reading. But a study published in November by the American Journal of Public Health suggests that those social-emotional skills are a key to doing well in school and avoiding some major problems later in life. In fact, the study even suggests that neglecting these skills could pose a threat to public health and safety.
Researchers from Penn State and Duke University analyzed a wealth of data from a long-term project that tracked 753 low-income students in four states from the time they were in kindergarten until they turned 25. They found that if a student’s kindergarten teacher rated him or her as being high in 'pro-social' skills—such as cooperating with peers or understanding others’ feelings—that student was significantly more likely to finish high school and college, and to hold down a steady job; he or she was also significantly less likely to receive public assistance, have run-ins with the law, abuse alcohol or drugs, or go on medication for mental health problems. That held true regardless of the student’s gender, race, socioeconomic status, the quality of their neighborhood, or several other factors.
The results echo other recent findings that point to the profound and varied benefits of nurturing students’ social-emotional skills. One study, for instance, found that feeling socially connected as a kid is more strongly associated with happiness in adulthood than academic achievement is; another found that children who participate in social-emotional learning (SEL) programs do better academically.
Indeed, the researchers say their results make a convincing case for investing more in students’ social-emotional skills—which, according to prior research, are malleable and can be improved, with lasting and meaningful results. 'Enhancing these skills can have an impact in multiple areas,' they write, 'and therefore has potential for positively affecting individuals as well as community public health substantially.'”
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.