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Empowering Our Educators

Leveraging Social and Emotional Learning to Help Students

Valerie Truesdale

Assistant Executive Director, AASA, The School Superintendents Association

Without question, American education is experiencing unprecedented challenges as we confront the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, growing national concerns about equity and racism, and socio-economic inequalities affecting educational schools and districts today. 

Increasingly, educational leaders are emphasizing the importance of safe, engaging, inviting, and collaborative learning organizations — the hallmarks of effective social and emotional learning (SEL) in action. 

As a former superintendent, I have been deeply impressed by the commitment of our school district leaders to align students’ cognitive/academic achievement with their development of social skills, the capacity for self-regulation, and interpersonal communication competencies. 

Our “new normal” consistently reinforces that student and staff health, well-being, and sense of safety and security must take precedence over outworn models of “teaching to the test.”

Leading from the frontlines

I am consistently moved by how superintendents throughout the country are leading the transformation of schools as we know them. To that end, I have seen numerous examples of districts integrating SEL standards into learners’ daily academic experiences. 

High-quality curriculum in many districts now integrates social-emotional programs with academic instruction. Teacher-centered instruction is now being enhanced to place the student at the center of the learning process, including a growing national focus on collaboration, cooperative learning, and project-based inquiry.

We are also seeing a greatly expanded focus on the importance of coaching and mentoring, ensuring every learner succeeds, and experiences a personalized and differentiated approach to their academic progress. 

Leaders throughout the country are expanding professional development offerings to ensure teachers, administrators, and support staff understand and use SEL-compatible instructional and classroom management strategies — including a commitment to culturally responsive practices and trauma-informed organizational cultures. This process is also ensuring that parents, community members, and partner organizations understand and support the importance of social and emotional learning practices.

I am proud of my organization’s ongoing commitment to SEL. For example, in February 2021, the theme of our national conference will be Social Emotional Learning: Focusing on the Total Child. We are also producing an extensive range of professional learning resources related to SEL leadership, all of which will be available on the AASA website.

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