Why Social and Emotional Learning Is Essential to Schools and Students

Our sincere thanks to Jonathan Raymond, former superintendent of the Sacramento City Unified School District, for his permission to reprint a letter he contributed recently to Education Week. The Sacramento district is one of eight districts participating in CASEL's Collaborating Districts Initiative. Raymond was the superintendent from 2009 to 2013.

Published online: February 18, 2014; published in print: February 19, 2014.

To the Editor:

At a recent forum in Los Angeles, President Freeman A. Hrabowski III of the University of Maryland Baltimore County shared a chilling statistic from a 2010 issue of the publication Postsecondary Education Opportunity: the probability that low-income students will graduate from college is less than 10 percent.

This should be a wake-up call for America's public education system. Changing this reality requires us to look beyond simply teaching academic skills and finally acknowledging the importance of social and emotional skills to student success.

A movement to teach these skills is taking hold across the country ("Social-Emotional Programs Target Students' Long-Term Behavior," Education Week Teacher, Oct. 14, 2013).

Last fall, eight urban districts that participate in an initiative supported by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, or CASEL, met in Nashville, Tenn., to share lessons on the effort to bring social and emotional learning to classrooms. District teams observed effective practices such as morning and closing meetings, one strategy that has been shown to build a positive learning environment.

These types of practices give teachers tools to make their classrooms safe, supportive, and engaging places to learn, enabling children to see their successes, establish goals, and manage their emotions.

Fortunately, others are following suit, including eight California districts that received a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act and will pilot social- and emotional-learning indicators to tell a more complete story about progress in our schools. This work, in places like my former district in Sacramento, will create a lasting transformation in public education.

Gone are the days when we can fool ourselves into thinking we are preparing children for college, careers, and life by just focusing on academics. We must teach, model, and practice the very skills that the world demands students master: Confidence, perseverance, recognizing and controlling emotions, goal-setting, empathy, civility, building and nurturing relationships, and making good decisions are essential skills for us and our children. Social and emotional learning is a powerful tool to make this happen.

Jonathan Raymond, Managing Director
Public Consulting Group, Boston, Mass.