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Across the country, students, teachers, and families agree: Social and emotional learning (SEL) belongs in schools. But a small number of loud voices with media attention and political dollars have amplified a false narrative to manufacture a “controversy.” 

It’s time we give the microphone back to families, students, and educators. Here are actions that you can take:
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Lead a Conversation About Social and Emotional Learning

Key Messages

These talking points can help you have conversations with those who may not be familiar with social and emotional learning, may have misconceptions about it, or may be in decision-making roles about curriculum or policy. These are starting off points and should be tailored to fit your position in the community (e.g., as a parent, a taxpayer, an educator) and your voice. These can also be used to write letters to local school boards or state legislators or as public comments to the editor of your local newspaper.

No matter how you use them, it’s important to remember that in your role as an SEL leader, you are an important messenger.

EXAMPLE SOUNDBITES:

  • Social and emotional learning helps young people turn aspirations into plans.
  • Social and emotional skills are a toolbox for:
  • Academic learning and success
  • College and career readiness
  • Happier, healthier lives
  • Stronger relationships and communities
  • Technical skills can help you get the job – social and emotional skills turn it into a fulfilling career.

Proof point:

  • There are significant associations between social and emotional skills in kindergarten and key outcomes for young adults years later. In fact, benefits developed through SEL programs are correlated with higher levels of well-being up to 18 years later.

EXAMPLE SOUNDBITES:

  • If we care about the well-being of children, we must work together to support their social and emotional learning. 
  • Social and emotional learning is a key ingredient in addressing the top concerns for schools this year – mental wellness and academic recovery. 
  • Social and emotional learning has never been more important, and our students’ wellbeing and futures rest on what we do in this moment. 

Proof point:

  • Social and emotional learning that addresses the five core competencies increased students’ academic performance by 11 percentile points.

EXAMPLE SOUNDBITES:

  • All learning is social and emotional. 
  • Academic learning + social and emotional learning = real-world skills. 
  • Social and emotional skills mean students are focused and prepared for academic learning.  
  • Social and emotional learning creates a safe, positive, and productive learning environment for all students.
  • Social, emotional AND academic learning – there is no either/or. 
  • Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmetic, Relationships. Social and emotional learning adds the “R” that makes learning possible.

Proof point:

  • 92% of executives say skills like problem-solving and communicating clearly are equal to or more important than technical skills, yet 89% said they have a difficult time finding employees with those skills.

EXAMPLE SOUNDBITES:

  • Parents know what’s best for their children’s education – that’s why they overwhelmingly support social and emotional learning.
  • Social and emotional learning is part of every parent and child’s right to high-quality education.
  • Parents have a right to have their voices heard. That’s why we should listen when they say: Social and emotional learning belongs in schools.
  • Parents are children’s first teachers, and social and emotional learning helps reinforce the values children learn at home.

Proof point:

  • 88% of parents want their students to learn social and emotional skills like respect, cooperation, perseverance, and empathy.

Responding to Challenging Questions

As an SEL leader, you are likely to be asked some version of the following questions. You can use and adapt the provided answers below for your personal voice, tone, and position in the community.

The “SEL controversy” narrative driven by political agendas is a distraction, full stop. Social and emotional learning is not and has never been about  advocating for any particular political viewpoint – and anyone who tries to tell you that is just flat-out wrong. SEL is based in the science of learning and development, not politics. Rather than teaching our kids what to think, social and emotional learning helps them develop skills to reflect on and communicate their own perspectives, listen to others with vastly different viewpoints, and work together toward common ground. 

There is no real controversy: the vast majority of parents across political ideologies agree that social and emotional learning is important in schools because it helps children succeed academically, build healthy relationships, and achieve their goals. 

No. Social and emotional learning is not therapy and not a replacement for mental health services for students who may need additional support.

Social and emotional learning cultivates important “protective factors” like caring relationships and emotionally supportive environments to buffer against mental health risks.

While social and emotional learning is not a panacea, it should be among the tools schools use to prevent isolation and disengagement.

Social and emotional learning should be driven by families and schools working together. How SEL is implemented and what skills are emphasized are driven by partnerships between parents, educators, and other school leaders and tailored to the local priorities, cultures, and needs.

SEL is not “one size fits all” but tailored to local priorities and needs. Schools and communities can work together to develop a vision, graduate profile, and/or learning goals that articulate what students should know and be able to do. They can then align SEL programs and practices to support these goals.

Contact Decision-Makers About Social and Emotional Learning

Sharing your SEL story is needed now, more than ever, to protect and advance social and emotional learning. Lawmakers and decision-makers need to hear from you and your community on what your experience has been like and why it is important that your community has access to SEL. Curious if your state is prioritizing social, emotional, and academic development? Explore this scan

Have 2 minutes? Use this pre-written message to introduce yourself and share why SEL is important to your legislators, via Committee for Children.

Have about an hour? Download this worksheet to write and share your social and emotional learning story with decision-makers.

Have more time? Engage with policymakers in person. Use this guidance via SEL4US.

Engage Local Media to Bring Attention to Social and Emotional Learning

Submitting a piece to your local paper or media outlet can shine a positive spotlight on social and emotional learning, and inform more people in your community about the difference it can make. Op-eds are timely and persuasive articles that provide readers with a clear opinion on a current issue. Letters to the editor are shorter, persuasive letters that often respond to current issues. 

Before you start writing, you need:

  1. Key message: Identify a defined, unique point of view.
  2. Author: Consider who you believe would be an effective messenger, whether it’s you or someone else in your network (e.g., teachers, students, community leader)
  3. Outlet: If you have a publication in mind, review the word count maximum for submissions (op-eds are usually around 500-600 words, and letters to the editor around 200 words). The specifics can be found on their editorial or opinion webpages.
  • The Lede: This is the first sentence or two. Make sure it is compelling, grabs your reader immediately, and connects to current events to be timely.
  • The Thesis: Your statement of purpose or your argument.
  • The Argument and Your Opinion: Have up to three main points and evidence to back those points up.
    • Evidence can be research, data, stories, or anything that bolsters the point you’re trying to make.
    • This is where you can incorporate some of the key messages.
    • Tip: Avoid using educational jargon and acronyms – spell out the full phrase “social and emotional learning” whenever possible (instead of SEL).
  • How this connects to your local community: Include a story or a powerful quote from a student, teacher, or community member that ties your op-ed to SEL in your local community.
  • Conclusion & Call to Action: Circle back to your lede and leave your readers with a clear takeaway and/or call to action. Examples: Letting people know how to get involved with SEL locally or requesting that they share their thoughts about SEL on social media.
  • Current events have elevated the conversation on school safety. Have you witnessed a powerful story in your community of a student, teacher, or community member leveraging social and emotional learning to create a safe, welcoming environment?
  • We know that parents and caregivers largely support social and emotional learning, but the media and political narrative says otherwise. Is there an example or story of how your school uses SEL to find common ground and work towards a solution together?
  • Data shows there is a mental health crisis nationwide. What examples can you share about your community is using social and emotional learning to help students feel engaged and supported?
  • What does SEL look like in your community? Break through the national narratives by painting a picture of what social and emotional learning looks like in reality.
  • Who is an atypical voice in favor of social and emotional learning? Find those business leaders, faith-based leaders, and more and ask them to share why SEL is valuable.

Pitching an op-ed varies by publication. There may be a submission form on the publications website, or an op-ed editor you can email. To find out how to pitch your op-ed via email, read more here.

 
  • (Op-ed). EdSurgePanic Over SEL Is Unfounded. Here’s Why.
  • (Op-ed). Hechinger ReportTo Recover from the Pandemic, Social-emotional Learning is not a Luxury, it’s a Necessity
  • (Letter to the Editor). Education WeekBanning SEL Puts Students at Risk

Using Social Media as an SEL Leader

SEL leaders – everyday people, parents, and caregivers – have enormous influence among networks on social media, much more so than organizations. If you believe in social and emotional learning, tell your friends about it. Share these sample posts and social media graphics to champion #SEL. 

  • Picture a classroom where your child is ready to learn because they trust their teacher, know they’re cared about, & feel comfortable asking for help. Social & emotional learning (#SEL) helps make that classroom a reality. https://leadingwithsel.org/ #leadwithSEL
  • Picture a school where your child feels connected to classmates and sees the community as a place where they belong. With social & emotional learning (#SEL), that school is a reality. https://leadingwithsel.org/ #leadwithSEL
  • Picture a classroom where your child feels empowered to speak up and is confident that they will be heard. Social & emotional learning (#SEL) makes that classroom a reality. https://leadingwithsel.org/ #leadwithSEL
  • Picture a school where your child is eager to come to class, interested in the course material, and motivated to learn. With social & emotional learning (#SEL), that school is a reality. https://leadingwithsel.org/ #leadwithSEL 
  • Picture a world where your child graduates with more than a diploma or high GPA—where they have the life skills to thrive, wherever their passions take them. Social & emotional learning (#SEL) makes that world a reality. https://leadingwithsel.org/ #leadwithSEL

Host a Caregiver Conversation on Social and Emotional Learning

Families and caregivers are critical partners in our children’s education. How can we bridge the communications between educators and families on social and emotional learning?  

Whether you are engaging in a family conference, participating in a year-end reflection, or connecting with new families and students, ongoing conversations between families and educators on social and emotional learning is key. 

Free resource: This is a tool for helping parents, caregivers, extended families, and their children have conversations about what social, emotional, and academic development actually looks like in practice, in the learning environments where they spend much of their time. It offers families concrete ways to identify what to look for at schools and in after-school environments that would indicate an intentional approach to the social, emotional, and academic development of their children. It also helps families and young people engage together in conversation around how they can help their schools and after-school programs take a more intentional approach to developing these important skills and competencies. (via Aspen Institute)