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Social and Emotional Learning Isn’t Just for Kids - SEL Begins with Educator Modeling

While watching sailboats race across Baltimore’s inner harbor last month, educators from across the US and abroad spent three days grappling with challenging issues in social and emotional learning. Gathered for the third annual Center for Promotion of Social and Emotional Learning (CPSEL) Conference, these energetic folks, passionate about holistic learning, didn’t let end-of-the-school-year fatigue slow them down.

Several themes competed for this year’s hottest topic, including familiar ones such as integrating SEL into academic instruction, as well as more recent concerns such as trauma-informed SEL practices and the importance of viewing equity and SEL as intertwined and interdependent.

However, what generated the most buzz was the critically important issue of ensuring that our educators themselves develop, demonstrate, and model strong social and emotional skills. In other words: SEL isn’t just for kids anymore.

Of course, this might seem like a “well-duh” moment, just simple common sense. Teachers can’t teach what they don’t know and do. This is a longstanding truism. And yet, until recently, the importance of starting with the adults has been often overlooked or minimized.

It is easy to jump quickly to the curriculum we are going to implement, the discipline policies and practices are were going to change, the measurements we are making and metrics we are collecting, the time we are going to carve out, or the lessons we are going to integrate. In doing so, we leapfrog the question: what will we do to assist and ensure those who deliver this learning are ready and able to do so?

Penny Willis, who directs program development for the Lions Club International, addressed adult SEL in a standing room only session at the conference.

Speaking from personal experience, Penny explained that this is the most important, and in some ways, the toughest task in genuinely enhancing social and emotional learning in schools. She came equipped with evidence. She shared a 2008 study that found that “Teachers’ SEL abilities likely influence their classroom organization and management. As every teacher knows, maintaining a calm, organized, and well-regulated environment is essential.”

Conference keynoter and longtime SEL expert Maurice Elias, a psychology professor at Rutgers, also emphasized the importance of supporting adults in their own development and demonstration of these competencies.

Recent publications reinforce this message:

CASEL Guide to Schoolwide Social and Emotional Learning The guide dedicates Focus Area 2 to strengthening adult SEL. As it states, “To promote students’ social and emotional competence, it’s important for schools to simultaneously foster a supportive staff environment that cultivates the social and emotional competence and capacity of the adults in the building.”

Preparing Teachers to Support Social and Emotional Learning This new report from the Learning Policy Institute highlights the development of social and emotional competencies in both pre-service and in-service educators as a key strategy for strengthening student success.

So if we know that supporting adults in their own SEL development is important, what tools are available to do so? ACT is committed to supporting adult SEL in several ways, such as:

  1. The ACT® Holistic Framework™: The ACT Holistic Framework spans person’s lifetime and includes the continuous development of behavioral skills, like Sustaining Effort, Maintaining Composure, and Getting Along with Others, as a key component for school and career success for children and adult alike.
  2. ACT® Tessera Workforce™: This program provides both assessments and developmental strategies for adults in a wide variety of workplaces, focusing on supporting and developing essential skills like Work Ethic, Collaboration, and Resilience. 
  3. ACT® Professional Learning: In our workshops, educators are asked to consider the way they use their own social and emotional competency in their work and are provided a comprehensive self-assessment tool aligned to ACT® Tessera™ to gauge their current skill-set. We assist them in making self-improvement plans and guide them in identifying resources and tactics for their growth and in considering ways to demonstrate model their skills for their students.
Read more about ACT and social and emotional learning on our blog here. If you are interested in more information on how we can assist your school or organization in supporting the development and demonstration of these critically importance competencies, contact us here.



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ACT is a mission-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people achieve education and workplace success. Headquartered in Iowa City, Iowa, ACT is trusted as a leader in college and career readiness, providing high-quality assessments grounded in nearly 60 years of research. ACT offers a uniquely integrated set of solutions designed to provide personalized insights that help individuals succeed from elementary school through career.


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