SEL & Academic Success

Gary Nickol
Gary Nickol

Gary Nickol is our COO and has been with PSS for the past 4 years helping to serve our educators to create meaningful & effective learning experiences. When not serving the education market, Gary can be found spending time with his wife, kids or hacking at golf balls.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is more important for whole child development than ever in today’s climate.

With the challenges students face in uncertainty and an ever-changing world, having the right framework to be successful is crucial. While much has been shared on what I will call, for a lack of better term, the “soft” benefits, little has been shared on the direct correlation between SEL and academic success. For better or worse, in order to fully implement SEL and receive buy in from the top-down, tying back directly to academic success is crucial to gain traction.

According to the CASEL report, “Ready to Lead”, 97% of principals believe teaching SEL skills in school will improve student behavior as well as help with learning and development. The challenge is, only 35% have developed a plan for teaching students SEL skills and furthermore, currently only 40% of principals believe it will improve academic performance.

SEL = Student Engagement = Academic Success

For the past 12 years, Gallup and been surveying students through the Gallup Student Poll to research and fine-tune an SEL-based solution with proven impacts and outcomes. Statistically linked to a majority of the mandated ESSA accountability measures, the outcome of Gallup's research is two indexes that measure students' engagement.

 graph student achievement selA recent Gallup study including 128 schools and more than 110,000 students found that student engagement and hope were significantly positively related to student academic achievement process (growth) in math, reading, and all subjects combined, along with post-secondary readiness in math and writing. The study found that schools in the top quartile of student engagement had significantly more students exceeding and meeting proficiency requirements than schools int he bottom quartile of engagement. 

Here lies the problem with implementation.

Historically, students have been evaluated mainly based on test scores and subject matter mastery. To truly ingrain SEL, we must work with town hall, not fight against it. If the message of how SEL ties directly back to academic success is not at the forefront, it will always be a nice to have instead of a need to have.

Panorama Education, a Boston based education data and analytics company, conducted a Social-Emotional Learning Survey including more than 100,000 students at nearly 200 schools across the country. The findings from the study show that SEL does not only improve how students think about themselves, each other, and learning being the core of success in college, career and life, it also resulted in a 13% advantage in academic performance over students not involved with SEL programming.  This tied back to attendance, behavior, and course performance. In addition, comparing students with higher SEL skills to ones who scored lower on SEL skills, higher SEL skilled students were more than twice as likely to have above-average grades.

Another encouraging find from the study shows that academic success tied to Social and Emotional Learning skills DOES NOT vary across demographic variables. This means, the relationship between SEL and academic success is the same regardless of the student’s race, ethnicity, gender, and whether they were an English-language learner, qualified for free- or reduced-price lunch, or received special education. SEL helps everyone equally.

Sometimes we need the cold hard facts to move forward with important initiatives and the facts do not lie. SEL programs have a positive impact on academic success and is fundamental to whole child development.

Topics: Classroom Management, SEL