New York State School Boards Association

Emphasis on social-emotional learning seen as 'paradigm

by Cathy Woodruff

On Board Online • May 28, 2018

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

At its May meeting, the Board of Regents advanced several initiatives to support local educators working to build school environments that are more attentive to the social, emotional and mental health needs of students.

That includes providing new resources to help school leaders set benchmarks and policies for promoting social-emotional learning. It also includes a plan for the State Education Department (SED) to release guidance for implementing mental health instruction, which state law requires to be part of the health curriculum as of July 1.

"This isn't just a program. This is a philosophy. It's a paradigm change," said Carri Manchester of the SED's Office of Student Support Services.

SED expects to post the social-emotional learning resources for educators on the department's website and distribute them to local districts by June 30. The resources are to include a two-page overview, a briefing paper and a tutorial-style document on setting age-appropriate benchmarks (standards) for three core goals:

  • Developing self-awareness and self-management skills essential to success in school and life.
  • Using social awareness and interpersonal skills to establish and maintain positive relationships.
  • Demonstrating ethical decision-making skills and responsible behaviors in personal, school and community contexts.

Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa and Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia stressed the value of incorporating those ideas throughout academic programs to improve school climate.

"Studies show high-quality, evidence-based social emotional learning programs can help children reduce emotional distress, decrease disruptive behavior, increase commitment to school and bolster academic achievement," Elia said. "We hope schools will use these resources to expand student learning to interpersonal skills and well-being."

Rosa said the Regents believe in "educating the whole child." She added: "To be successful in today's society, children's learning needs go beyond academics."

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), a national foundation-supported research and policy organization, defines social-emotional learning as the process by which people gain the ability to:

  • Understand and manage emotions.
  • Set and achieve positive goals.
  • Feel and show empathy for others.
  • Establish and maintain positive relationships.
  • Make responsible decisions.

Items that place a priority on building such skills are woven throughout New York's federal accountability plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The Regents have cited research showing social-emotional learning to be an important element in fostering academic success and educational equity.

New York's Safe Schools Task Force has promoted an enhanced focus on social-emotional learning, as well as improving school climate, to help make schools safer, Associate Commissioner Renee Rider noted in a presentation to the board.

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