Studies have shown that the brain does not retain as much information when under stress. Thus, teaching our youth how to manage their emotions can very well be the key to getting students back on track with their learning objectives.

Anyone who has had their finger on the pulse of the K-12 world over the past few years knows that times are certainly far from ideal. From navigating online classrooms to a national emergency regarding youth mental health, the jobs of teachers and administrators have become increasingly difficult. In this current dynamic, social emotional learning provides an important tool for delivering much needed interventions.

The Traditional Approach Doesn’t Work

The traditional approach to education has been quite simple. School is largely seen as a place where students go to learn information and skills like problem solving, informational literacy, and career skills. While subject matter material is certainly important, reports from schools are increasingly showing declines in performance and increases in concerning situations.

Recent surveys found that nearly half of teachers admitted that more than half of their students ended the recent school year behind. This trend was seen even for the youngest of students. Struggles with online classroom have had an ongoing impact. Research has shown that students are an average of five months behind in mathematics and four months behind in reading. When paired with things like decreased funding and increased numbers of students per classroom, academic performance continues to suffer.

The educational environment is increasingly having negative impacts on not only students but also teachers and leadership. Many teachers find themselves exhausted from dealing with student behavioral issues, which have spiked in a post-pandemic world. Teachers increasingly feel overworked, underappreciated, and are deciding to retire earlier than initially planned.

A Symptom of a Greater Problem

It is normal for teachers to be frustrated with student behavioral issues. However, viewing these issues as the problem is short-sighted. In reality, student behavioral issues are not the problem but rather a symptom of the underlying problem.

When you think about it, it is perfectly reasonable to expect that students are experiencing issues. Over the past few years, the routines of students have been incredibly disrupted and constantly shifted. They have lacked the stability typical in society. Many have lost someone close to them due to COVID-19. Others have parents who are suffering from financial stressors due to economic instability.

Young people have lost their sense of stability due to the pandemic and online learning. This led to increased learning loss in the transitions, and reduced memory capacity due to the ongoing stress.

Fear, stress, and grief are normal reactions to this, and these things tend to manifest themselves into problems like outbursts, fighting, and bullying when students do not have the appropriate SEL skills. The emotions that we experience cannot – and should not – be compartmentalized. Thus, the impact on student behavior and student academic performance by the stress of the past few years makes sense.

Our brains are wired in a manner that causes our emotions to either help or hinder our learning. According to Dr. Norris Haynes, one of the core founding members of CASEL, “…When the brain’s centers for distress are activated, they impair the functioning of the areas involved in memory, attention, and learning.” Thus, improving learning involves improving youth wellness.

“Davidson and Begley (2012) pointed to data showing that when the brain’s centers for distress are activated, they impair the functioning of the areas involved in memory, attention, and learning. In other words, because of the way our brains are wired, emotions can either enhance or inhibit the ability to learn. ” — Dr. Norris Haynes

Viewing Social Emotional Learning as a Solution

Teaching students appropriate SEL skills helps them to build resilience, a key skill both for the current environment and their life in general. In fact, teaching resilience enables students to process their emotions and problem solve concerns through relationships with others. Social emotional learning is both intertwined with general academic success as well as an important skill in its own right.

Students who enhance their SEL skills strengthen core CASEL competencies of self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, social awareness, and relationship skills. Talk to nearly any teacher, and they will tell you that their students can

Research is increasingly showing that investment in social emotional learning results in positive holistic outcomes for students. An analysis of 213 studies revealed the SEL yields improved behavior, attitudes, grade point averages, and standardized test performance. This included the revelation that students in SEL programs scored 11 percentage points higher than their peers on achievement tests.

By helping students develop in the core CASEL competencies, schools can promote positive youth wellness, mental health, and resilience, leading to positive academic and behavioral outcomes. This is exactly what students and teacher alike need in the face of the disruption caused by the pandemic.

By incorporating social-emotional learning we can close the learning gap by giving youth the tools needed to self regulate their emotions.

When looking for school solutions for SEL skills, Clymb provides an excellent and easy-to-implement tool. Our personalized youth wellness tool is based on the CASEL competencies and provides students with daily activities based upon the results of an in-the-moment assessments. This means students get the material they currently need, helping them continuously strengthen their SEL skills. With Clymb and SEL learning, schools can successfully navigate the current environment while students see improved performance overall.

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