Why Prioritizing SEL is Critical to College and Career Planning

After a decidedly unusual summer break, schools across the United States are back in session. For millions of educators and students this means firing up a laptop and logging in to a virtual classroom from home. For others, it means teaching and learning in-person, but with face masks, temperature checks, social distancing, and other trappings of pandemic life.

Education this year will be full of unprecedented challenges related to COVID-19 and that is why now, more than ever, it is vital that educators help students develop transition skills. If students in grades 6 through 12 are given the tools they need to prepare for life’s many transitions, like going to college or joining the military or workforce, they will build resilience and learn to meet and overcome inevitable bumps in the road. This new, atypical educational landscape can and will be jarring and disorienting for many students. So it is also paramount that a focus on social and emotional learning (SEL) be woven into every curriculum.

The Importance of SEL

The importance of incorporating SEL has long been clear. Academic skills and college prep are not enough to prepare students for the multitude of challenges and opportunities they will face in postsecondary education and the world in general. Students need to be grounded in self-awareness in order to thrive after graduation. When given the chance in middle and high school to develop emotional intelligence and discover what they’re passionate about, students are better equipped to plan for their futures.

Through SEL students come to know themselves as individuals during a pivotal time in their lives. This self-awareness leads to a deeper understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, as well as of their likes and dislikes. It also creates a healthy foundation from which they are able to set and meet goals, foster and navigate positive relationships, and make responsible choices.

As part of the Naviance College, Career, and Life Readiness (CCLR) Framework, SEL complements other important competencies — including academic skills, interpersonal skills, and understanding of college and career paths. This research-backed model helps educators drive student engagement and better outcomes through a purposeful approach, and it helps students meet their full potential and enjoy long-term success after high school.

Case Study

A recent study from Washington state offers proof that without SEL and transition skills, students can and do fall behind. In the early 2000s, the Everett Public School system near Seattle found itself in a graduation crisis. Out of the system’s some 20,000 students, only 58 percent were graduating from high school on time. To combat this decline, school administrators first began evaluating the situation by talking to students. “Each student came with a story of what was going on in their lives that was preventing them from graduating and achieving their high school and postsecondary goals,” said Becky Ballbach, Director of Student Support Services at Everett Public Schools.

Over time, the district began to shift its learning model to one that incorporated SEL. Through their efforts, on-time graduation rates began to rise. Ballbach believes those results go well beyond academics. “If a student cannot cooperate and communicate with classmates and teachers, they are not going to learn. When a foundation for social and emotional skills is established early on, students transform into effective adults,” she said. Today the district’s on-time graduation rate is 95 percent — marking an over 60 percent increase since creating a more holistic approach to education that includes SEL.

Learn More

For more on how to support your students in a distance learning environment, read our blog post, 3 Ways Counselors Can Support Students Headed Back to School and our white paper, Five Ways to Ease Transitions for Students During COVID-19.

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