Snapshots: May/June 2019

Principal, May/June 2019. Volume 98, Number 5.

A Turning Point on SEL

The Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development recently released its findings on social-emotional learning (SEL) in the report “From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope.” What did the report show? That the country is at a turning point when it comes to SEL, and that social, emotional, and cognitive development underpin children’s academic learning. The report reinforces a growing movement nationwide to educate children as whole people, with social and emotional as well as academic needs.

“A Nation at Hope” emphasizes that translating knowledge about how people learn into practice and helping students develop skills such as collaboration, empathy, and perseverance requires systemic change. It offers specific actions in research, practice, and policy to fundamentally shift how we teach children, with the understanding that the social, emotional, and cognitive dimensions of learning are mutually reinforcing rather than distinct.

A Whole New World

The report looks at what we know about learning now that we didn’t know just 25 years ago. Here’s what researchers found:

  • Learning has many dimensions, and they are inextricably linked. This includes attitudes, beliefs, and mindsets such as self-​knowledge, identity, and motivation. It also includes character and values such as integrity, compassion, and responsibility. Further, the report links these attributes with emotional skills, cognitive skills, and social/interpersonal skills and their competencies, all of which work together to create rigorous academic content and learning experiences.
  • Integrating the multiple dimensions of learning benefits all children. The whole-child approach means students earn better grades and higher test scores, show determination in completing tough tasks, get along with other students, and believe in themselves and their ability to learn.
  • These skills can grow. According to science, we aren’t born with social-emotional skills, so as we grow, we continue to learn how these skills can meet unique needs based on the stage of life we’re in.
  • Social, emotional, and cognitive skills can be taught. Regardless of race or income, lessons in these skill sets have been shown to benefit students in grades K–12.
  • Learning happens in relationships. Positive and supportive relationships offer children an optimal environment to learn and retain social, emotional, and cognitive skills.
  • Social, emotional, and cognitive development offsets the effects of stress and trauma. Any child can experience trauma and stress, but the report notes that children from low-income families and students of color are more likely to be exposed to traumatic experiences. Tailoring a learning environment to each child’s needs, resources, culture, and state of development can help students better cope with trauma and stressful situations.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Drawing on input from more than 200 scientists, youth and parent groups, educators, and policymakers, the report is intended to help local communities accelerate and strengthen their SEL efforts. The report highlights these six “big bucket” recommendations:

  1. Set a clear vision that broadens the definition of student success. This begins by articulating the social, emotional, and academic knowledge and skills that high school graduates need to be prepared for success in school, the workforce, and life.
  2. Transform learning settings so they are safe and supportive for all young people. Build settings that are physically and emotionally safe and foster strong bonds among children and adults.
  3. Change instruction to teach students social, emotional, and cognitive skills, and embed these skills in academics and schoolwide practices. Intentionally teach specific skills and competencies, and infuse them in academic content and in all aspects of the school setting (recess, lunchroom, hallways, extracurricular activities)—not just in stand-alone programs or lessons.
  4. Build adult expertise in child development. This will require major changes in educator preparation and in ongoing professional support for the social and emotional learning of teachers and all other adults who work with young people.
  5. Align resources and leverage partners in the community to address the whole child. Build partnerships among schools, families, and community organizations to support healthy learning and development in and out of school. Blend and braid resources to achieve this goal.
  6. Bridge the divide between scholarly research and what’s actionable in schools and classrooms. Build new structures—and new support—for researchers and educators to work collaboratively and bidirectionally on pressing local problems that have broader implications for the field.

NAESP is proud to have been a partner on this initiative, and as such, we remain committed to advancing social, emotional, and academic development. Read the full report on A Nation at Hope’s website,

Achieving Digital Literacy

How do school systems stay relevant when technology is rapidly changing? That’s what the Consortium for School Networking is exploring in a new initiative, Driving K–12 Innovation. The results are being released in three separate publications, focused on one of three categories: hurdles, accelerators, and tech enablers. First up: hurdles.

The report outlines the top five hurdles schools face to become innovative in technology. They are:

  • Scaling and sustaining innovation;
  • Digital equity;
  • The gap between technology and pedagogy;
  • Ongoing professional development; and
  • Technology and the future of work.

The report also looks at the degree of difficulty in overcoming each hurdle and offers a resource section and questions you can ask to turn your school’s hurdles into opportunities. To read the full report, visit

My Two Cents

How do you carry SEL instruction into out-of-school settings?

Mike Erwin (@ErwinRWB): This is a very important question and one that the @PosProject is working on now. Very limited out-of-school #SEL resources exist today, so we are working with Dallas After School to develop resources for afterschool leaders to use when doing SEL development with students.

Denise Faidley (@DeniseFaidley): [Through] programs to inform and educate families, but [students] who make those changes that carry over are the most influential.

Julie Bloss (@BlossJulie): In our early childhood setting, we teach self-regulation and character skills such as being responsible, showing self-control, and responsibility. It’s our hope that these spill over to outside the school and become lifelong traits.

Chris Wooleyhand (@principal64): That is challenging. It requires schools to reach out, educate, and inform parents [and] community groups about your efforts.

Want to connect with your peers? Contribute to the converation by following @NAESP on Twitter.

Copyright © National Association of Elementary School Principals. No part of the articles in NAESP magazines, newsletters, or website may be reproduced in any medium without the permission of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. For more information, view NAESP's reprint policy.