Promoting Social and Emotional Competencies in Elementary School: A SSWN Research Brief
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Editor’s Note: Here at SSWN we post Research Briefs (RBs) regularly. These RBs were completed by school social workers like you, taking research they’ve found and applying it to their school contexts. These RBs will describe research articles and what the particular study could contribute to your school social work practice, starting as soon as tomorrow. They will cover the kinds of things you see every day in your practice and (hopefully) be written in a way that you can use the information immediately. Here is a RB by a school social worker and current Loyola School Mental Health Advanced Practice Program (SMHAPP) student, Ms. Laura Montiel, drawing on her work on implementing SEL within her elementary school context.
Jones, S. M., Barnes, S. F., Bailey, R., & Doolittle, E. J. (2017). Promoting Social and Emotional Competencies in Elementary School. Future of Children, 27(1), 49–72.
Recently there has been emphasis on making SEL (Social Emotional Learning) an integral part of the day in education for students at all grade levels. In fact, some school districts in the State of Illinois (where I work as a school social worker) have started to hire more SEL educators such as social workers, psychologist, and counselors to meet the needs of the students in a public education setting. Unfortunately, it seems that even now, many schools and school districts are focusing more on academics rather than the emotional health of students.
I believe that if there is a balance between both academics and social emotional health students will thrive in the school setting. Even though administrators may critique SEL programs’ efficacy, in my view, SEL skills are very important for our students to learn in order to function to the best of their ability. Core understanding of cognitive regulation, emotional processes, and the attainment of social and interpersonal skills can make a significant difference in a student’s success in school and in their future. Taking into consideration the key findings in this article can help develop a successful framework to implement a Tier 1 intervention to benefit all students and potentially help those with mental health needs.
In the article, “Promoting Social and Emotional Competencies in Elementary School,” Jones et al. (2017), discuss 11 widely used school based SEL intervention programs (Jones et al, 2017). This study focused on randomized controlled trials in peer reviewed journals. The purpose of this article was to review the outcomes and possible success of each SEL intervention program and to review how the programs met the needs of the student or school development. The article had a great breakdown and explanation of how five different components (cognitive, emotional, social, behavioral, and academic) have an effect on student level outcomes. The study also focused on classroom and school-level outcomes.
The article suggests that elementary interventions that align their content and goals with children’s sequence of skill development may be more successful than interventions that target the same skills, regardless of age. (Jones et al, 2017). This is true for students who have an IEP (Individualized Education Plan). The plans for students with IEP’s are well developed and include accommodations to meet the student needs. It is necessary to think about the school as a whole and integrate Tier 1 level interventions to service the entire school population. A tier 1 intervention would help meet SEL needs of student’s development and potentially address some aspects of mental health needs in students. According to the article some Tier 1 interventions can even make a change, over time, in mental health and academics. The key is to keep in mind that all students will benefit from additional supports in SEL.
The article suggests that elementary interventions that align their content and goals with children’s sequence of skill development may be more successful than interventions that target the same skills, regardless of age.
Another important insight I gathered from this article was to ask the question, “What is the focus of the implementation of SEL? What will the school target and how will it target particular area of development in students?” (Jones et al., 2017, p. 53) In other words, how can the SEL program implementation align with the issues the school wants to target? These are all great questions to ask when developing the framework to implement an SEL integration plan. In addition to creating this kind of focus, the article addresses the need to look not only at students as individuals but to measure the success of the program in the school including all school components including organizational health, teacher turnover, school climate, and structural resources. (Jones et al. 2017) The article emphasizes the mental health needs of teachers as well as students. Teachers are at the front of the battle when in the classroom therefore, there should be welfare checks for teachers to keep a successful running SEL program.
If implemented correctly using a well-constructed framework and taking into consideration all the suggestions the authors of this article it is possible to implement a successful SEL program. One note to keep in mind is that good outcomes take time. The SEL program might not seem successful at first but in due time and with good data tracking, good outcomes can reveal themselves. The data is something that must be tracked. Maybe following this article, I will explore a good data collection article to help shine more light here.
Overall, this article is a good resource to gather more knowledge on the focus of the implementation of SEL. Trying to start a new program for SEL is not as easy as purchasing a program and handing items out. It takes time and sometimes years to implement and develop the correct framework and procedures to ensure that the program will have a positive effect on students, teachers, and the school as a whole. Taking care of everyone in the school is important. One important thought to leave with as I wrap up this article: never assume that the students are the only ones that need social and emotional support but consider the teachers, administration, and even yourself too when formulating this plan. Remember it is a school improvement plan and not only a student improvement plan.