Although SEL is sometimes met with skepticism or wariness by parents and guardians, it’s clear that the skills it teaches students are valued by teachers and employers.
A 2021 Fordham Institute Report found that families also support their children working on many of the skills commonly addressed in SEL. Though the term “social and emotional learning” itself was unpopular among parents and guardians of K12 students, over 90% of respondents to the surveys indicated that they believe schools should be guiding children toward setting goals and working to achieve them, approaching challenges with positivity, and developing self-esteem and self-efficacy—all skills fostered through SEL. Another 80%+ of respondents said that navigating social situations, responding ethically, building informed citizenship, managing emotions, standing up for people with different backgrounds, and empathizing with others were skills that schools should be focusing on helping students develop.
This study also saw so-called “soft skills” (frequently also described as “durable skills”) rank higher in priority than any discreet academic skills. “Reasoning and problem solving” ranked highest of all, well above any academic competency. While mathematics, career and technical education, and English skills were also popular among parent and guardian respondents, so were taking responsibility, communicating effectively, and building self-confidence.
Social-emotional learning proponents agree with the findings of Fordham’s parent surveys: social emotional and academic learning can coexist in schools, and neither needs to take time away from the other. There are multiple opportunities and methods for incorporating SEL into schooling that don’t require detracting from formal instruction. If implemented well, the skills students learn through SEL can also help them succeed and persist as they learn traditional academics and technical skills.
CASEL has also recognized the power of integrating SEL into career and workforce development as a way of helping students build employable skills. They have partnered with the Coalition for Career Development Center and CIVIC to create a framework to support educators in implementing SEL-informed career development programming. So far, they have collaborated with eight US states to develop a Career and Workforce Community of Practice (CoP) in Delaware, Kansas, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Wisconsin.
Pennsylvania’s Career-Ready Skills recognize the need to prepare students for tomorrow’s workforce with more than just technical skills. Their priorities reflect both the social-emotional focus of CASEL’s five pillars as well as the social 21st century skills research shows to be critical to employability. These skills are scaffolded such that teachers can integrate them into their curricula from kindergarten to 12th grade. This intention is reflected in their skills continuum, which shows how Career-Ready Skills can be taught in developmentally appropriate ways to help young students build fundamental competencies that enable them to learn more advanced, career-focused skills in the upper grades.
Kansas has also made great efforts in recent years to ensure students have the academic, cognitive, technical, and employability skills to succeed in their lives after graduation. Individual Plans of Study, coupled with opportunities for students to become civically engaged, support each student in grades eight through 12 to apply academic and social-emotional learning to their real-life interests. Through self-exploration, career exploration, and career planning, Kansas students combine their strengths, interests, and goals to form a guiding roadmap to follow after they graduate.
The other states that participate in CASEL’s CoP have set up similar guidelines and graduate profiles to help guide learning across schools statewide. These learning and planning structures combine SEL competencies with career-relevant skills to equip students for both college and career paths.
States outside of CASEL’s CoP have also implemented their own similar frameworks. Texas’ Positive Character Traits Education aims to integrate the development of personal and interpersonal skills throughout students’ K-12 experience. In this same vein, Illinois’ Essential Employability Skills promote the growth of transferable skills that set students up for success in their education and career paths.
While the naming of frameworks and approaches may differ, the visible effort to prioritize transferable SEL skill-building across the country underscores just how essential this work is.
Download our full white paper Putting SEL to Work here to learn more about how SEL and Wayfinder are helping students thrive personally, achieve academically, and build the skills employers are looking for.