November 30, 2018
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The case for teaching social and emotional skills in high school

In a new survey sponsored by The Allstate Foundation, young people say they need a wider range of skills—not just academics—to succeed in life.

A new survey asks current high school students and recent graduates about how well they think their schools are meeting their developmental needs. Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images

It’s easy for adults to dole out advice to young people. We’ve been there, done that. But what can we learn from listening to young people? What can they tell us about our role in helping to prepare them for a changing world?

A new study from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and Civic does just that. Over the last year, researchers surveyed more than 1,300 current and recent high school students and gathered insight into their lives. The young people, ages 14 to 22, were asked about some of their greatest challenges, how prepared they felt about life after high school, and how schools can help them reach their full potential. The report was made possible by The Allstate Foundation.

According to the survey results, young people crave the kind of learning environment found in schools that emphasize social and emotional skills as well as academic ones. These are the skills necessary for them to succeed in life—to problem solve, to collaborate with and listen to people who are different from them, and to deal with stress and trauma, said John Bridgeland, Civic CEO and co-author of the report.

74% of current high school students say attending a school that has strong social and emotional learning would help them personally.

Roughly three-quarters of current high school students say attending a school that has strong social and emotional learning (SEL) would help them personally (74 percent). Similarly, 74 percent of recent high school students say it would have benefitted them.

“The findings from this study—the first big point—is they see a big missing piece in their education. It’s not academic challenge, it’s the cultivation of social and emotional development,” Bridgeland said. “They feel like high schools are not equipping them and cultivating those essential skills [that] employers tell us are the very skills they’re looking for.”

Bridgeland spoke at Education in America, an event hosted by The Washington Post at the newspaper’s headquarters in D.C. He was joined on stage by Timothy Shriver, Board Chair of CASEL, and Vicky Dinges, senior vice president of corporate relations at Allstate, to discuss the report’s findings and the role of SEL in schools.

The report highlights how current and recent high school students believe that schools that integrate SEL create a more positive learning environment. Both groups responded that going to an SEL high school would benefit their relationships with peers (67 percent current students, 71 percent recent students), reduce bullying (63, 64), and better prepare them for college (76, 69) and the workforce (73, 67).

61% of current high school students and 72% of recent students say that feeling stressed affected their ability to learn and do their best in school.

More than half of current high school students (61 percent) and three-quarters (72 percent) of recent students say that feeling stressed affected their ability to learn and do their best in school. Significant numbers of recent students also say that a lack of confidence (56 percent), feeling lonely (49 percent), and bullying (42 percent) made learning more difficult.

Shriver said this report tells a searing story about what young people are asking for in their educations. “They’re starving for connection. They’re starving for strategies to reduce loneliness and anxiety. They’re starving to find purpose and meaning in their academic studies,” he said. “And they’re asking us—they’re popping out of the page begging us to pay attention to what we call developmentally, socially, and emotionally grounded skills.”

Educators and policy makers are taking notice and Shriver predicts that future generations will attend schools that have a new way of thinking. Organizations like The Allstate Foundation are contributing to this change. In October, The Allstate Foundation, which sponsored this report, announced a $45 million commitment to empower millions of youth to build social and emotional learning skills such as resilience, self-awareness, and conflict resolution. The programs will be available to parents and teachers, and through the Foundation’s nonprofit partners, including WE Charity and the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning.

Through this report, young people’s voices are clear about the world they want to live in, said Shriver. “They want their schools to be places where they feel respected, and they feel listened to, and they feel heard, and they feel belonging,” he said. “They’re hungry to belong, but they don’t think we’ve heard them.”

Read the full report: Respected—Perspectives of Youth on High School & Social and Emotional Learning.

Margaret Myers

Margaret Myers is the editor of The Renewal Project.