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National Survey: Principals Want to Invest in SEL. What’s Stopping Them?

In the past couple of decades, there’s been a growing interest in social emotional learning, or SEL—the skills like managing emotions, building healthy relationships, and developing empathy that studies show lead to better academic outcomes.

Principals are among that group, with the vast majority expressing a strong desire to implement SEL into their curriculum, according to a recent national survey of nearly 900 principals of elementary, middle, and high schools.

Unfortunately, most feel like they don’t have the necessary guidance, training, and support to teach these skills effectively.

Principals want help

The survey, conducted by Civic Enterprises with Hart Research Associates for the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), found that virtually all principals believe an improved focus on SEL would positively impact school climate, build citizenship, improve relationships between students and teachers, and decrease bullying.

But across the board, principals said they want more training for teachers and greater access to research-based strategies for successfully developing SEL in students. Sixty percent of principals pointed to a lack of teacher training to support students’ social and emotional development as a big challenge.

“These results closely mirror what we are hearing from our work in the field. Principals, superintendents, and teachers alike are clamoring for practical, evidence-based resources and guidance,” said Roger Weissberg, Chief Knowledge Officer at CASEL.

Full survey
For the full survey, check out Ready to Lead: A National Principal Survey on How Social and Emotional Learning Can Prepare Children and Transform Schools. 

When it came to the usefulness of measuring SEL, principals didn’t always agree. For example, while 71 percent agreed that SEL skills can be measured and assessed—and that they want better tools for doing so—only a little more than a third (38 percent) of those using SEL assessments in their schools said they’re useful.

Furthermore, nearly three-quarters of principals said the development of SEL skills should be spelled out in state education standards. But only about half (49 percent) felt that teachers should be held accountable for developing SEL skills in children.

Implementation varies greatly

In schools that are implementing SEL at high levels, principals reported greater success in improving student outcomes. But only a little more than one third (35 percent) of principals reported having a plan for teaching SEL and are systematically implementing it school-wide.

The survey found that those schools that are implementing their SEL plan systematically tend to be far more likely to have strong support from their district leadership.

“Leaders on the front lines of education understand the critical nature of developing students’ social and emotional competencies and are aware of the enormous benefits a greater focus on SEL can have on our schools and classrooms,” said Jennifer DePaoli, Senior Research and Policy Advisor at Civic Enterprises and lead author of the report, “but they need support and resources to make it happen.”

CASEL is the nation’s leading organization advancing and promoting integrated Pre-K to 12 academic, social, and emotional learning for all students. Civic Enterprises is a social enterprise firm that works with corporations, nonprofits, foundations, universities and governments to develop innovative initiatives and public policies in education and other fields. Hart Research Associates is one of the leading research firms in the United States.