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Thought Leader Panel Tackles the Indispensable Place of Social Emotional Learning in K-12 Schooling Today

Social and emotional learning, or SEL, isn’t just for students. It’s for everybody involved in the education of young people.

SEL is a practice used to teach emotional skills to students and support them, their families and their educators.

During a Thought Leader panel at AASA’s National Conference on Education Thursday afternoon, superintendents and researchers from Harvard University, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and the Yonkers School District in New York shared how they implement SEL in their schools.

Stephanie Jones, Harvard professor and lead author of the recently revised study “Navigating SEL from the Inside Out,shared her insight on the topic over a previously recorded video due to being absent with an illness. She broke down the data covered in the report, why SEL is important and how it connects to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report focuses on pre-K and elementary education, but Jones said the team’s study on SEL in middle school and high school will be published this spring.

An excerpt of the study was given to panel attendees, but the full version is available online.

The full version contains a list of 33 SEL programs that superintendents can implement in their districts, and the two in-person panelists shared what has been working in their states.

Catherine Edmonds, deputy state superintendent in North Carolina’s Office of Educational Equality, said the core of her agency’s SEL plan is “immersed in supportive systems.” The state board of education in North Carolina has made SEL a priority.

In North Carolina, superintendents are working to support not just the students, but everybody within their community. Edmonds shared the story of a principal who was working extremely long hours and set a goal to stop working at 6 p.m. every day to spend time with his family.

Yonkers Superintendent Edwin Quezada agreed with Edmonds, saying SEL isn’t possible without equity.

“When we do social and emotional learning, we must also do equity and inclusion,” he said.

Yonkers is the third largest city in New York by population and he has seen how important SEL is for everybody in education.

“The health of our students depends on the health of the parents,” he said.

Quezada presented a survey to the audience that is used to gauge compassion fatigue, which happens due to exhaustion from caring for one another.

This has been a constant theme throughout the pandemic and is one of the reasons that schools in Yonkers begin the day with a “mindfulness minute.” He said it helps teachers gauge how their students are feeling at the start of each day.

“SEL has to be part of all the daily lessons,” he said.

(Sarah Maninger is an intern reporter with AASA’s Conference Daily Online and a senior journalism major and sports administration minor at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.)

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