Social, emotional learning levels No. 1 predictors of academic outcome
J.C. Lyell, Staff Writer, [email protected]
About a dozen parents, teachers and community members gathered in the Lanesville school cafeteria Thursday evening for a community conversation about the importance of social and emotional learning.
Lanesville Junior-Senior High School counselor Robin Morgan and Christy Gauss, school mental health facilitator for the Indiana School Mental Health Initiative, which is part of Indiana University’s Institute for Disability and Community, led the discussion.
Steve Morris, the school corporation’s superintendent and principal of LJSHS, began the discussion by describing the relationship between social and emotional development and teaching typical classroom subjects.
“If we can get some structures in place so that social and emotional development is rooted in instruction, the academic learning will follow,” he said.
Gauss said mental health is a spectrum that everyone falls somewhere on, rather than a binary scale where someone either is or is not “mentally healthy.”
It can also vary during the course of a day or throughout a lifetime.
Intertwined with mental health are stressors one can experience and one’s skills for dealing with them. Developing these skills is a crucial part of social and emotional learning that children go through.
“We all can relate to stress in our lives,” Gauss said.
Despite what first impressions the word may elicit, she said stress can be beneficial when it leads one to perform better. But, when people’s reactions to stressors get in the way of healthy activity, that’s when stress becomes problematic.
Gauss said in today’s cultural climate, depression and anxiety are becoming more prominent in younger children.
The World Health Organization predicts that by 2030 depression will be the largest contributor to society’s disease burden.
“We know this is connected to learning outcomes as well,” Gauss said.
Measures of social and emotional learning levels are the No. 1 predictors for a child’s academic outcome, Gauss said. They are also the best predictor for mental health status.
She said lately teachers have been in “initiative overload,” with lawmakers pressuring schools to add education about bullying, suicide prevention, substance abuse, school safety, behavior, discipline and more into curriculums.
“There are state mandates on these without providing any extra resources for our schools,” Gauss said. “They are also reactionary.”
Gauss said the root source of many issues in these areas is social and emotional learning.
Lanesville, like other school corporations, is doing what it can to address gaps in social and emotional learning. Morgan said doing so starts with analyzing the student experience from the moment they walk through the school’s doors.
“We want to make sure that when students walk into this environment, it is conducive to learning,” she said.
Morgan said part of preparing the setting — or as Gauss called it, “Creating the conditions for learning” — means students should see school as a caring environment.
Nearly half — 47.3% — of Indiana children have experienced one or more “Adverse Childhood Experience” situations in their home.
The figure comes from responses to the standardized ACE Questionnaire that asks respondents questions about abusive and neglectful situations in their childhood homes.
“We do see students who cut; we do see students who have thought of suicide,” Morgan said. “We want them to know that we’re here for them. We want them to have the resources available for them to learn how to deal with it in healthy ways.”
She said part of creating that caring environment involves weaving social and emotional development opportunities into positive, engaged instruction.
The benefit is two-fold, Morgan said, because skills like problem solving and managing emotions are just as, or possibly more, important than learning typical educational standards like spelling/grammar.
“A lot of the (social and emotional) skills that students will learn are also the skills that employers want,” she said.
The good news in all of this, Morgan said, is that staff and administrators at Lanesville are already integrating social and emotional development opportunities wherever they can.
High schoolers have two 30-minute periods set aside each week when they can seek individual guidance.
Morgan said activities such as Embracing Lanesville Families, an annual food/charity drive that is currently underway, help foster a community among the students and teach them about the importance of giving, all part of creating the conditions for learning.
Groups like athletic teams and clubs such as ROTC, Destination Imagination, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, also help in establishing an environment prime for development, she said.
“It seems like each year we’re adding something new for everyone,” Morgan said.