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Integrating Social, Emotional, and Academic Development for Student Success

July 30, 2019|By Doug Sovde

I opened the newspaper yesterday (yes, I still read it in physical form) and out fell advertisements for back-to-school sales. Ah yes! It’s that time of year again!

While most teachers are enjoying the final days of their well-deserved break, many principals are already back at school planning their professional learning days before the academic year begins.

They’re looking at test scores, both interim and summative. They’re considering last year’s school improvement plan and what this year’s should look like. And, of course, they’re figuring out the drop-off and pick-up traffic.

For nearly 20 years, academic content has been king of professional learning, leadership planning, and teaching and learning. In the last five years, though, education leaders have returned with new vigor to a lesson we’ve learned from experience but have perhaps set aside for too long.

That is, content knowledge is critical but not sufficient for educating children to be successful citizens and contributors to our dynamic, STEM-heavy future. Necessary, too, is thoughtful attention to students’ social and emotional well-being.

Moving from Planning to Integration

Literature and practice have pulled back the veil on why social and emotional learning matters: When people feel emotionally safe, they are far more likely to learn. Schools have taken important steps to address this reality through curricula and strategies about social and emotional learning (SEL).

As the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development has noted, though, stand-alone SEL curricula alone cannot yield the results leaders seek. Rather, it’s key that our students experience social, emotional, and academic development (SEAD) integrated throughout their learning experiences.

The Aspen Institute, in collaboration with the Dana Center and others, has created a school leader’s action guide to accomplish this challenging, yet important, task. Through the guide, leadership teams can explore how to develop a vision for student success grounded in SEAD.

The action guide also includes steps school leaders can take to address adult learning in support of student success. Recommended high-impact actions include

  • adapting “lesson-planning templates and other artifacts that guide instruction and pedagogical decisions,” and
  • providing and guiding “dedicated time” for teachers to look at “student work, identifying priorities for students’ social, emotional, and academic development.”

The tool is grounded in the research literature and outlines the research’s implications for equity. The resource also offers guiding questions to support leaders’ work with their teams.

When I shared this action guide with Eric, my oldest friend and a practicing principal who worries constantly about his high school students’ well-being, the first words out of his mouth were, “Finally. We’ve needed this for a very long time. I’m glad everyone else is starting to get it.”

So, before you finalize your staff professional development plans, take a look at the guide and see how you might make use of it. Let me know how it goes—contact me on Twitter or at the email at the bottom of this page.

Download Integrating Social, Emotional, and Academic Development: An Action Guide for School Leadership Teams

Questions about SEAD or this guide? Email Doug.

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About the Author

Doug Sovde

My career has been guided by the strong belief that each child—no matter his or her background—should have access to high-quality mathematics curriculum and instruction and should benefit from the educational materials, professional learning, leadership, and policies necessary to succeed in postsecondary study. As director of K–12 education strategy, policy, and services at the Center, I lead and support our K–12 services, online course programs, and digital platform services teams.