2 vital components for true college, career readiness

True college and career readiness is about more than a student’s ability to read, write, or solve math equations


To succeed in the real world, a student must have the ability to work well with others, persevere through challenges, and make healthy choices and responsible decisions.

Oftentimes these two areas of growth are addressed independently: academic skill is the focus of classroom learning, while social and emotional learning, or SEL, is used as an intervention on an as-needed basis.

Research has established a clear connection between academic and social and emotional growth, which underscores the importance of incorporating SEL development in school classrooms. SEL isn’t about adding another class to students’ schedules or requiring teachers to plan extra activities. It’s about equipping educators with the tools and resources to integrate SEL into their everyday classrooms — helping students set and achieve goals, manage emotions, feel and show empathy for others, and nurture positive relationships to establish a foundation for success.

Watch this TED Talk about the value of social and emotional learning.

(Next page: How SEL can be implemented in the classroom)

The Critical Role of Social and Emotional Learning in 21st Century Classrooms

When preparing students to thrive in the economy and society of the 21st century, the 3R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic) are no longer enough. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a nonprofit coalition, has identified the 4C’s – critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity – as essential innovation skills to ensure that students can make an impact as workers, leaders, and citizens.

The cognitive, affective, and behavioral skills outlined by the research and policy organization CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) are grouped into five competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. These capacities are a critical foundation for students in developing the 4C’s of 21st century learning:

Critical Thinking: Students must not be afraid to question their own thinking and to demonstrate social awareness to think from different people’s perspectives. They must exhibit self-awareness to recognize their own biases or cultural perspectives.

Collaboration: Students must develop relationship skills that allow them to work in groups of diverse peers. Inevitably, disagreements arise and students must exercise responsible decision making in resolving conflict.

Communication: Nearly every aspect of SEL facilitates effective communication. SEL helps students communicate their feelings, opinions, disagreements, and beliefs with others.

Creativity: Students must be able to effectively self-manage and persist through feelings of confusion, uncertainty, or frustration when faced with a difficult or ambiguous task and the need to be creative.

Social and emotional learning is an important part of students’ growth. It establishes a positive school climate, fosters citizenship amongst diverse student groups, and is essential for the development of the 21st century skills of critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity.

The Impact of SEL on Student Achievement

Research has also shown that effective SEL implementation in schools has a significant and measurable impact on academic achievement, including reading, writing, and math.

A recent study conducted by The Society for Research in Child Development concludes that SEL has a positive impact on student achievement at all educational levels and across urban, suburban, and rural settings.

The study measured an 11 percent improvement in students’ academic achievement – particularly when SEL skills were encouraged by teachers in classrooms – noting, “student academic performance significantly improved when school personnel” were involved.

Strategies to Support Teachers in Integrating SEL into Classroom Instruction

At first, the task of adding another layer to classroom instruction might seem daunting to teachers. However, teachers themselves are the biggest advocates for SEL: a survey conducted by CASEL this year found that teachers overwhelmingly believe SEL has a positive impact on students’ growth and academic performance, regardless of ethnic background or socioeconomic status.

The barrier therefore is not awareness, but rather the challenge to address both academic and SEL instruction in an integrated approach. The solution is not to add an SEL class or to intervene only when necessary. Schools must allocate resources and focus professional development activities that support teachers with including SEL as a component of regular instruction. In this manner, teachers can successfully embrace the “whole student” mentality to prepare students for college, careers and citizenship by addressing SEL skills in everyday classroom activities.

For example, at Goalbook we provide resources and strategies to help teachers scaffold social and emotional learning objectives and to design integrated instruction in their classroom. Our content and professional development materials are aligned to the Universal Design for Learning research framework to promote multiple means of access to personal growth and success.

As students are challenged by more rigorous, standards-based instruction in the context of learning environments comprised of an increasing diversity of students, it only seems logical that their ability to succeed is closely tied to their ability to mature, cooperate, and persist. Schools must take a proactive role in this whole student transformation and support teachers with ensuring that all students can develop the problem-solving, collaboration, and communication skills necessary to succeed and thrive in the 21st century.

Steve Saul is a manager on the school and district success team at Goalbook. Prior to Goalbook, Steve was a high school English teacher and track team coach in Naperville, IL.

Daniel Jhin Yoo is the co-founder of Goalbook. Daniel was formerly a special education teacher and coordinator in East Palo Alto, CA.  He has also been a software developer at Oracle and Google.

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