Social-Emotional Learning and its Transformative Impact on Students

At New Dawn Charter Schools, we believe in "nurturing minds and fostering futures" and part of that is encouraging social-emotional learning in all aspects of education. In this article, we'll take a closer look at this kind of integrative learning and the positive outcomes it provides for students.

The Modern High Schooler

If you've spent any time with a high schooler, or if you remember being a teen, you know just how tough it is to navigate the ins and outs of transitioning from childhood to adulthood. It's a stage of life characterized by rapid developmental changes, intense emotions, and increased social pressures.

Not only that, the modern high schooler is burdened with the extreme proliferation of technology and the ramifications of a global pandemic. According to comprehensive reviews of studies, social and emotional isolation are strongly connected to depression and anxiety in adolescents today. As a result, mental health is one of the biggest (and most important) conversations surrounding young people. We're joining that conversation and exploring the ways that social-emotional learning impacts students not just as a psychological theory, but as a real-world methodology applied to education.

What is Social-Emotional Learning?

Let's start with the concept of social-emotional intelligence. This involves the ability to understand and manage one's own emotions, as well as to empathize and interact effectively with others. As a conflict arises, social-emotional intelligence is what prompts you to think "maybe there's been a misunderstanding" instead of flying off the handle. It allows you to consider the feelings, emotions, and motives of others before making assumptions or lashing out. It's one of our greatest coping skills that makes us healthy, kind, functional humans.

The integration and cultivation of social-emotional intelligence within learning methodology is the basis for "social-emotional learning."

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is an all-encompassing approach that includes a wide range of skills, attitudes, and values essential for achieving success both academically and in life. It involves:

  • Mastering emotional management
  • Goal-setting
  • Resilience in the face of challenges
  • Effective teamwork

SEL also recognizes the crucial role of mindset and the inherently relational nature of education, where knowledge is cultivated through trusted interpersonal relationships among teachers, students, and their peers.

Furthermore, SEL serves as a vital tool for promoting educational equity. It helps with the holistic development of all students, especially those facing learning challenges, economic hardships, or other adversities. But you don't just have to take our word for it, let's look at the research.

What the Research Says About SEL

Academic researchers and experts have been looking into the impact of social-emotional learning for a while. Its integration into educational methodology has proved to be incredibly valuable. One of the most influential papers on the subject based on lab research was published in 2011. Then, an updated meta-analysis was published in 2023 that shows how impactful social-emotional learning integration has been in real school settings.

In this study, various aspects of "social emotional learning" methods were stirred together into a big educational melting pot and the researchers calculated that, on average, students who received them were generally better off than students who didn’t get the training. They measured improved social skills, attitudes, behaviors, relationships and academic achievement. In the longer-term, it yielded a strong list of positives, including a decrease in bullying, stress, suicides and depression.

Where did researchers find the greatest improvement? School climate. Students who had participated in SEL programs believed that their schools were safer and students were more respected. For some studies, there was longer term follow-up data. Even six months after a program ended, students were still benefiting from their SEL-integrative lessons.

How Does Social-Emotional Learning Impact Students in the Long-Term?

Now that we've looked at the research, let's take a closer look at how social-emotional learning impacts the mental health, emotional regulation, and academic success of students, and what kind of social-emotional learning we encourage at New Dawn.

Fostering Resilience

SEL helps empower students to navigate the myriad challenges, setbacks, and uncertainties they encounter, especially during their formative academic years. This holistic approach to education focuses on developing key emotional and social skills that are essential for resilience. Through SEL, students learn to:

  • Identify and manage their complex emotions.
  • Practice healthy stress management.
  • Set and achieve positive goals.
  • Maintain positive relationships.
  • Practice productive conflict resolution.
  • Engage in responsible decision-making.

These competencies are crucial for building mental fortitude and mindfulness, enabling students to face adversities with a balanced perspective and an adaptive mindset. SEL helps students understand that setbacks and challenges aren't insurmountable obstacles, but rather opportunities for personal growth and learning.

This understanding fosters resilience, allowing students to rebound from difficulties with increased strength and confidence. In turn, this resilience contributes not only to their emotional well-being but also enhances their academic performance. They become more adept at handling the stresses and demands of their education. They become masters of self-management not just in their academic journey, but in their social lives, professional situations, and overall life experiences.

Cultivating empathy

Empathy, the ability to be aware of and share the feelings of another, is one of our superpowers as humans. SEL plays a pivotal role in fostering empathy among students. It lays the foundation for a compassionate and inclusive school culture. Through SEL, students are taught to recognize and understand their own emotions through self-awareness. But equally as important, they learn to understand and respect the emotions of others, a key aspect of empathy.

This understanding is deepened through activities and discussions that encourage students to put themselves in others' shoes. These exercises promote a genuine understanding of diverse perspectives and experiences. By nurturing empathy, SEL helps students appreciate the richness of diversity, leading to a more respectful, inclusive, and supportive environment of community and belonging.

The benefits of an empathetic approach extend beyond the classroom. It can influence how students interact with each other in all aspects of school life. In a culture where empathy is valued and practiced, students are more likely to engage in supportive, cooperative behaviors. And subsequently, they're less likely to engage in bullying or exclusion.

Effective Communication

For students (and anyone) effective communication skills are critical for collaboration, leadership, and success in many aspects of life. SEL focuses on teaching students how to express themselves clearly and assertively.

SEL encourages students to build on their social intelligence by:

  • Recognizing and responding appropriately to non-verbal cues like body language.
  • Understanding how to respond to different tones of voice and use different tones of voice.
  • Learning how to articulate their thoughts and feelings in a constructive manner.

They also learn the value of active and empathetic listening, which involves not just hearing words, but understanding the underlying emotions and perspectives. This dual focus on expressive and receptive communication skills can equip students with the ability to engage in open, honest, and respectful dialogues. As a result, they are better prepared for teamwork and collaboration, essential in both academic and professional settings.

Furthermore, these essential communication skills come in handy for leadership roles. Adept communication allows students to inspire and motivate others, resolve conflicts, and build strong relationships.

It's Time to Use Social-Emotional Learning to Make a Difference

At New Dawn Charter School we believe in the power of social-emotional learning to empower student achievement and wellbeing in education and beyond. Whether it's through our advisory curriculum, mentoring program, or peer mediation, we employ a multi-faceted approach to learning.

New Dawn Charter Schools operates two New York City Transfer Schools designed and dedicated to helping students who have either dropped out or are in-school truants — those who will most likely not graduate with their four-year 9th grade peers.

Interested in enrolling your high school student in New Dawn Charter High School? Find out here whether they're eligible for enrollment and get your application started today!