The Importance of Social and Emotional Learning for Today’s Students

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of schooling and whether students today are adequately prepared to successfully enter the adult workforce. My youngest child is a senior this year and I’ve been observing her to discern whether she is truly ready to leave the safety of my ‘nest’ and enter the world prepared to achieve her goals. Maybe it’s because she’s the last child left at home or the fact that I’m older and wiser as a parent, but these considerations seem deeper and more intentional on my part.

Regardless, a significant, defining feature in helping to build her person has been the multitude of teachers and educators who have touched her life over the last 13 years of her school experience. These people have all helped to create a strong and capable young woman who knows herself and is ready to move into the adult world. These people have taught her lessons in math and science, have studied great books with her, and have instructed her in all the hard skills she will need to be academically successful in college and as she enters her professional arena to build her career.

 These same people have also guided her through wins and losses, challenges and successes; they have modeled emotional restraint and highlighted mature responses to funny and inappropriate situations. They have helped her to find her voice, know her heart, and express her mind through daily practice in living out a wide range of emotions. Their wisdom and guidance have contributed greatly to the awesome person she is, and they deserve more than just my appreciation.

Currently, there is a trend in education that debates the need to teach the ‘whole’ child–that education is about more than reading and math. It’s the idea that schools are responsible for educating students in areas beyond academics; that teachers are responsible for teaching students how to regulate emotions, navigate social settings and experiences, and be mindful of their own feelings as well as those around them. This concept, that students need instruction in both the ‘hard’ or academic skills and the ‘soft’ skills, or social and emotional knowledge, is where intentional learning opportunities need to be fostered to best prepare today’s students to move into an increasingly tech-centered world. Good educators know this and meet these needs in a myriad of ways every single day.

The nature of social and emotional expectations for today’s student lies in their connectedness to the world beyond the classroom. Because of advancements in technology, kids today are consistently being overwhelmed with social engagement demands that require emotional responses. The amount of information that today’s students are being inundated with each day is unprecedented in history. Because of the internet and technology, along with the many social media platforms that kids view, today’s students are being constantly pressed to navigate tons of information for meaning and insight without any clear boundaries or understanding of how to master it all and use it to their benefit. As a result, the concept of connected learning where academics are blended with technology and social/emotional interactions within the classroom is quickly becoming the new norm in schools; this type of instructional design is the best opportunity to truly teach the ‘whole’ child in today’s world.

Schools, and more specifically teachers, have a responsibility to create intentional learning opportunities for today’s students to make an increasingly clear sense of the relationship they have with tech and social media, in order to best prepare our students. When teachers create lessons that address all areas of the student learning spectrum, then the ‘whole’ child is being considered. When students can make meaning out of the learning and interact with their social and emotional community of peers, the experience becomes holistic in nature.

Luckily, every educator I know is more than aware of what their students need–academically, socially, and emotionally. We work tirelessly to stay present. Teachers today are highly educated, trained, and connected to the world we live in, and the students we serve. As my daughter approaches graduation, I am confident in the fact that she has been provided all that she needs to enter the ‘real’ world equipped to create a full life of learning, connecting, and experiencing all that this world has to offer.

Dawn Bilbrey teaches English at Texico High School in Texico, NM, where she has been teaching for 19 years. She attended Eastern New Mexico University and obtained her bachelor’s degree in Education in 2000. Dawn then went on to gain her master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from ENMU in 2010.