Skip to content

ACT Newsroom & Blog

Hide All News & Blogs View All News & Blogs

Celebrating the Importance of Social and Emotional Learning on #SELDay

 Celebrate # SEL Day

By: Dana Murano and Nola Daley, research scientists; and Jeremy Burrus, senior director, ACT's Center for Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning

Today is the fourth annual International SEL Day. Once a year, the field celebrates social and emotional learning (SEL) and recognizes its value to students, schools, and communities. Today, we join in this celebration by sharing some of the lessons learned from ACT’s recent research on social and emotional learning: that students and caregivers overwhelmingly think social and emotional skills are important for success in school, how these skills predict college enrollment, and more.

What Skills Do Students and Caregivers Think Are Most Important for Success in School?

Social and emotional skills are interpersonal, self-regulatory, and task-related behaviors that are important for adaption to and successful performance in education and workplace settings. While there is a great deal of evidence showing social and emotional learning’s association with success in school, we wanted to hear from high school students and families themselves about their own perspectives on social and emotional skills. To do this, we asked them to list the five skills they thought were most important for student success. We asked this question at the very beginning of a survey, in an open-ended format, before making any mention of social and emotional learning, so as not to influence the responses.

The results were striking: 89% of students and 77% of caregivers included at least one social and emotional skill – such as work ethic, time management, or communication – in their response.

We also organized all responses into broad categories based on ACT’s Holistic Framework for education and workforce readiness, including core academic skills, cross-cutting capabilities, education and career navigation factors, and social and emotional skills. Both students and caregivers listed skills that fell into the social and emotional skills category more than any other skill category. Half of all skills that students listed were SE skills, and 36% of all skills listed by caregivers were social and emotional skills.

We then looked at how often individual skills were listed. As shown in the table below, many of the most frequently listed skills were social and emotional skills, which are bolded with an asterisk.

This study shows that both students and caregivers truly value social and emotional skills and believe they are the skills necessary for students to thrive.

What Else Have We Learned About the Importance of Social and Emotional Learning?

Other recent ACT research this year has underscored the importance of social and emotional learning for success in school, postsecondary education, and the workforce:
  • Students’ academic success: Students with stronger social and emotional skills also had higher ACT scores. The difference between the bottom quartile and the top quartile for the skill of sustaining effort is associated with a difference of 4.12 points on the ACT Composite score, which is comparable to the effect of more than one-and-a-half years of schooling.
  • College and career readiness: In a recent study, social and emotional skills predicted college enrollment, even when controlling for parent income, high school GPA, and ACT scores. Students with higher social and emotional skill scores had a 19% greater chance of enrolling in college.
  • Teachers: We found that the skills of maintaining composure and getting along with others, as well as two dimensions of school climate – relationships with school personnel, and school safety – were all associated with teacher burnout. Teacher social and emotional learning programming in these areas could improve retention.
These are just a handful of findings. Countless studies from ACT and from organizations focused on social and emotional learning have found consistent, positive support for the teaching of these skills in the classroom. As Dr. Aliyah Samuel, president and CEO of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, said in a recent webinar on the state of the field:

“Data point after data point after data point talks about how there is a unity and overall support for SEL. We need to continue to operate from that place of strength.”

These data points, coupled with the voices of students and their families, show that social and emotional learning is incredibly important. On SEL Day and every day, we celebrate the opportunities afforded to students through social and emotional learning programming and continue to engage in new research that highlights its full potential.