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Why you should use SEL in high school

Morgan HugoboomJanuary 24, 2023

Why you should use SEL in high school

As we move to a more comprehensive understanding of how students learn, ongoing research shows that success in the classroom depends on numerous factors beyond just academic performance.

Students who struggle in school might face additional challenges at home or in their community. Students who exhibit behavioral issues might lack important emotional skills like stress management or conflict resolution. They behave negatively because healthier, positive options aren’t yet in their toolbox of skills.

These are just some of the reasons why high schools should use an SEL curriculum in their lesson plans. Social-emotional learning (also known as SEL) has been linked to higher academic performance, better behavioral outcomes, growth mindset, and a more positive school and classroom environment.

Let’s take a look at this critical part of the educational framework and how it can benefit your students.

What is social-emotional learning (SEL)?

Social-emotional learning is a framework that helps students achieve academic and personal success through learning important skills like critical problem-solving, self-management, and responsible decision-making. It recognizes that academics don’t exist in a vacuum and students need a wide range of skills and competencies to thrive in the classroom. Social-emotional learning (SEL) fosters the development of these skills that enable students to thrive both in and out of school.

The 5 social-emotional learning competencies

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) breaks the social-emotional learning framework into five competencies.

The SEL core competencies are: 

1. Self-awareness

Understanding your own emotions, ideas, and thoughts (as well as how they direct your behaviors, actions, and decisions)

2. Self-management

Establishing goals, utilizing organizational skills and self-discipline to achieve goals, and understanding and managing your emotions

3. Social awareness

Recognizing different perspectives, showing empathy for others, and understanding how your actions impact others

4. Relationship skills

Communicating with a diverse range of individuals, cultivating positive and healthy relationships, navigating difficult social and personal situations, and working successfully in a team setting

5. Responsible decision-making

Using critical thinking skills to analyze information, make decisions based on that analysis, and anticipate the impacts of those decisions 

For more information on the main components of social-emotional learning, check out our educator’s guide to SEL core competencies.

5 reasons why you need SEL for your high school students

While the focus around SEL typically centers on elementary ages, social-emotional learning delivers a huge impact on high schoolers. 

From improved academic performance in the classroom to a better foundation for career growth in adulthood, here are some reasons why you need social-emotional learning in your high school.

1. Promotes academic success

Even though SEL focuses on soft skills like self-management and social awareness, its framework has also been linked to higher academic performance. In one report, students who received social-emotional learning showed an 11% increase in their grades over their peers who did not participate in an SEL program. When students are more engaged, motivated, focused, and ready to learn through the SEL skills, they are more likely to succeed in their classroom.

2. Fosters a more positive school environment

The core competencies of social-emotional learning work together to create a more vibrant and motivating school environment. Through SEL, students develop better connections with teachers and classmates. They learn how to navigate difficult situations and manage their stress levels, resulting in more positive behavioral outcomes and fewer disruptions due to detentions or behavior-related issues. 

Teachers are better supported when delivering comprehensive and evidence-based education, reducing their own burdens during a time of historic teacher burnout. From educators and staff to classrooms and students, SEL can help build a more sustainable, engaging, and motivating experience for your high school.

3. SEL helps high school students prepare for college

Investing in social-emotional learning for high school students gives them many of the skills necessary to navigate the college experience. For many students, college is the first time that they are away from home as independent adults. 

They’ll need more self-discipline to attend classes and meet deadlines. They’ll meet different people and develop new relationships. Some will also manage additional stressors like financial obligations and adjusting to a new dorm or home life.

With so many massive changes during the college years, students must be prepared with important skills in high school. Social-emotional learning can prepare them to build healthy relationships and peer networks, effectively manage stress, and work through other challenges in productive, responsible ways.

4. Builds valuable career skills

Teaching SEL in high school helps students to cultivate the tools necessary to someday compete in a quickly-evolving job environment. Companies are already identifying candidates with soft skills as the most in-demand among applicants. 

According to a 2016 report by the World Economic Forum, “Overall, social skills — such as persuasion, emotional intelligence and teaching others — will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills, such as programming or equipment operation and control. In essence, technical skills will need to be supplemented with strong social and collaboration skills.” 

Investing in SEL for your high school means investing in your students’ future abilities to leverage these tools in their careers.

5. Reduces teacher burnout

It’s not just for students! Social-emotional learning helps teachers, too. SEL can help foster a more cohesive classroom where students are actively engaged, more focused, and work in deeper collaboration with one another and their teacher. 

The same SEL core competencies taught to high school students can be utilized by their teachers to manage stress, solve difficult problems, and cultivate a healthier work outlook to reduce burnout. Social-emotional learning is a strong step toward creating a school culture that is more inclusive, positive, and inviting to students and educators.  

Jumpstart your journey with these SEL questions for high school students

A great first step towards incorporating SEL into your classroom is posing specific social-emotional questions to your high school students. These questions are an SEL tool that don’t require a lot of time, don’t cost any money, and help you to lay a basic foundation for social-emotional learning in your classroom.

Using SEL questions for students in your classroom can help students reflect on themselves and their experiences. It also gives teachers a valuable opportunity to hear about a student’s life outside of the classroom. The teacher develops an understanding of external factors that might impact the student when they are in the classroom. In turn, a student feels more appreciated and valued as a whole person when their teacher shows interest in them beyond simply their academic performance. 

Social-emotional learning questions can also help high school students build important relationship skills with their peers. Students who share responses to the questions are practicing skills like listening, participating in a discussion, and reflecting on the experiences of others. It also fosters SEL core competencies like social awareness and creates a more collaborative, dynamic class.

How to use SEL questions in the classroom

There are several ways to incorporate social-emotional learning questions into your high school classroom. You can even change the delivery method daily to better suit the day’s mood or the questions involved. Especially when first starting, it is helpful to allow students to choose which questions they feel comfortable answering. 

Individual discussion

Set aside time at the beginning or end of the day to sit down with students individually for about five minutes each.

Small group discussion

Break the class into small groups. Each student selects which question they feel comfortable answering in front of the group, or the group decides collectively which question they will all answer and discuss.

Full class discussion

This can be done in a forum session, where students are arranged in a circle or semicircle to foster easier discussion. Students can select from a series of 5–7 questions and decide which question they feel comfortable answering in front of their peers. Additional students who feel comfortable can also discuss the question/answer. This continues until all students have participated.

Anonymous discussion

A teacher can incorporate anonymous feedback by utilizing a printed-out set of questions to be submitted in writing, or by creating an online survey. 

Examples of SEL questions for high school students:

  • What do you like to do outside of school?
  • What is your typical morning like on school days?
  • What is the most difficult part about school? What is the most difficult part about home?
  • When you are anxious, stressed, or depressed, what do you do? How do you handle it?
  • What was the best/worst part of this week for you?
  • How can your teacher support you more?
  • How would you want to be recognized for positive behavior in the class?
  • What are the qualities that you like the most about your closest friends — what traits do they have that you value?

For more examples and helpful tips, see how to create a social-emotional classroom environment.

Using social-emotional learning to support high school students

The life skills developed through social-emotional learning are vital to helping high school students flourish in their classrooms and throughout the rest of their lives. If you want to learn more about fostering this critical development among your students, check out how we provide SEL support to schools like yours.

Photo Credit: Google Education

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