Social-Emotional Learning: Closing The Achievement Gap

by | May 3, 2022


The achievement gap has existed in America’s education system since the time of its inception. This can be defined as unequal or inequitable educational results among students. Although research shows the gap is ever so slowly decreasing, there is still much work to be done to close it completely.

Personalized learning, connecting with families, and evidence-based instruction are just a few of the specific measures educators have been taking to make progress. However, unfortunately, it still has not been enough.

Focusing on social-emotional learning in the classroom can further accelerate the closure of the gap while simultaneously preparing students to be high functioning, emotionally intelligent adolescents.

Why SEL?

Social-emotional learning is an area of educational curriculum that genuinely deserves a dramatic rise in attention. SEL focuses on fostering students’ emotional well-being, self-regulation skills, coping mechanisms, and empathy amongst students. Currently, students are undergoing unprecedented turmoil that is having a dramatic effect on their well-being. Therefore, incorporating a significant social-emotional learning curriculum into the classroom is more crucial than ever.

We must actively work to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in conjunction with the day-to-day challenges that students inevitably face. Developing these skills is imperative to prepare students to become successful adults and, even more importantly, to help them achieve in the present.

Another argument for focusing on SEL is that it allows students to celebrate their uniqueness. Although personal experiences amongst students vary considerably, reframing this from a negative to a positive has a significant impact on students’ feeling of belonging. Especially in school climates where there are racial inequities, students can gain an understanding of the unique differences between all students, regardless of external appearances. A sense of belonging has been positively associated with greater motivation and success within the school setting and can have overflowing effects on students’ personal life as well.

Contributing Factors To The Achievement Gap

The achievement gap exists in virtually every area of education and the measures by which we define academic success. Countless factors contribute to this. Of these factors, some play a more significant role than others. Large class sizes, over-reliance on standardized testing, lack of access to technology, parenting techniques, and lower SES are a few of the most impactful indicators.

Many educators also include behavior issues as well. As students exhibit disruptive or inappropriate behavior, they often face punishment that further perpetuates the achievement gap, such as suspension. When students that are already struggling are forced to miss vital direct instruction time, the disparity is exacerbated. In this way, it becomes a vicious cycle that does not allow for reform or even improvement.

With the Covid-19 pandemic, the divide was further increased as many lower SES families were not able to access their education as easily. Poor or no internet connection, lack of parental support, and outdated or non-existent technology had a massive impact on families of lower socioeconomic status. Inequities in education have dramatically increased during the last two years as a result. For this reason, it has become more critical than ever to make changes that will make headway.

SEL Benefits

In addition to the many benefits listed above, one of the most impactful benefits of social-emotional learning is strengthening the relationships between teachers and students. Many SEL-focused lessons promote a higher level of trust and closeness within their classroom community.

Students who feel emotionally supported by both their peers and educators have a significantly higher academic achievement rate than those who do not. In fact, students that participated in SEL programs saw an 11% increase in both attendance and academic achievement.

One of the incredible aspects of SEL is that it can be seamlessly woven into the existing curriculum and stand-alone lessons. By tying lessons to real-life, relatable situations, students can visualize the importance of what they are expected to learn.

How Can A Focus On SEL Help?

By switching to a lens of toolbox building, educators can provide students with the necessary skills to help solve their problems. For example, by teaching students how to regulate their emotions, they are far less likely to engage in harmful behaviors that result when experiencing anger, frustration, or sadness.

Research has shown that students from lower SES families exhibit lower levels of cognitive control, higher levels of risk-taking behavior, and more significant psychological distress. Developing specific social-emotional skills such as responsible decision making, social awareness, and positive self-esteem can significantly decrease these statistics.

Furthermore, by building students’ self-confidence, we can instill the intrinsic motivation that causes them to feel the desire to achieve rather than feeling forced to do so. This knowledge extends far beyond the students’ education as it can help guide them into successful adulthood. These crucial skills developed during SEL allow students to grow into high-functioning members of society. In addition, they will have been provided with the skills to pass on to their children, which further works toward closing the achievement gap for future generations.

Guiding students toward a healthy mindset has the ability to impact all areas of their lives. While our urgent goal as educators is to work towards closing the achievement gap, we must not forget the importance of fostering vital life skills in our students as well.

By focusing on social-emotional learning in the classroom, we can not only set our students up for success in their careers and adulthood, but we can also allow them to be successful children as well.