The Purpose of SEL Is MIA

Ava Soleibe, Staff Writer

You are scrolling through the Enriching Students app, and the words “Nest: Blocked for: SEL” glare back at you. A small sense of dread may settle in your stomach, or on the contrary, a weight could lift off your shoulders. Are you thinking you have been blessed with a free period (only to be interrupted occasionally by an over animated video or the drone of an unenthused teacher) or has your stress level raised exponentially because the time you thought was there to complete an unrelenting pile of homework is being replaced by a forgettable lecture? Social emotional learning or SEL is defined by the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments as “the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”  This program was designed as a time to impart positive qualities and process how we can better our community and the world. However, a student of IHS may view these 35 and 50 – minute periods as a mental break, time to see friends, or the perfect slot for a run to Koffee Sutra. In this regard, SEL is ineffective for high school students because often the time is not used as it was originally intended.

The SEL program can boast of various merits. There have been valuable videos and well researched lessons placed so prettily in the hands of IHS teachers. A deeper problem lies here: teachers, by no fault of their own, are unequipped to deliver these lessons, which leads to inconsistency across classes. The National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments states, “While high schoolers have a strong sense of independence, adults continue to play important roles in their lives. During these years, SEL continues to be essential for supporting teens in their healthy development.” While this is a well-meaning notion, there is a wide spectrum: at one end, there are teachers who will click through PowerPoint slides swiftly, in attempt to allow students study hall time. The other end is a teacher adding individual insight and holding question forums to get the most possible value out of a lesson. If the lessons are distributed unevenly to the student body, they lose impact.

Although SEL was only recently adopted during COVID, social emotional learning has been administered to us throughout the entirety of our education, since primary-colored days of read-aloud and recess. Advantageous topics like relationship skills and communication were incorporated into art projects and games. In high school, Education Week says, “Too much of what constitutes SEL feels patronizing to teenagers and fails to address their core psychological needs and motivations.” Concepts of SEL are aimed at younger students, and therefore have little effect on teens. However naïve, we are stubborn in our preconceived perceptions and ideas about the world. A brief recess in academic learning twice a week to rehash subject matter students have already cemented opinions on rarely changes that fact. According to Forbes, “No number of SEL lessons about character and tolerance and soft skills and agency will erase what students learn from your school about how the world works.” If the culture that IHS establishes is at all contradictory to SEL, it is difficult for the ideals to take hold.

The content SEL promotes is important; however, the current execution is ineffective for high school students. This could be improved through efforts of integrating SEL concepts into academic learning, as well as conscious coherence when administering, so that all of IHS can benefit from the lessons and cultivate a more intentional environment.