May 2019 Blog

May 2019

Making the Case for Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)

Making the Case for SEL

Texas Legislation Proposes HB4454: Social and Emotional Learning Standards for Public School Educational Programs

Initiated by Monica Rios (a former SEL student of R. Keeth Matheny), Texas is now considering state standards for SEL. CLICK for more info. 

HB4454 Update: The TX House Education Committee approved HB 4454. Representative Dutton moved that HB 4454 be reported favorably to the full house with the recommendation that it pass and be printed.

“The Need for SEL is Intense and the Potential is Immense.”

Keeth Matheny, Testimony in support of HB4454 to TX House of Representatives Public Education Committee, April 17, 2019:

“In my 20+ years in education, what I have found most problematic is that we only give help when students are already in crisis. If you want mental health help, you must show us you are in full crisis before we help you. If you want behavioral health help, you must beat the heck out of someone, put them in the hospital, and then we will teach you how to manage your anger and how to resolve conflicts. This is backward and broken. It requires students to escalate to a crisis before they get the support and skills they need.

What we need to do is flip this system from a reactive model to a proactive model. We need a wellness approach to student supports rather than a crisis model. SEL is that proactive approach. It is research and evidence-based work and hundreds of educational organizations have endorsed SEL as critical to overall student success. Creating SEL standards could ensure these proactive supports for millions of Texans and future Texans.

We have a mental health crisis in our schools today. Numbers of teens struggling with anxiety and depression have skyrocketed. Suicide rates in teens have increased by 33% in the past ten years.  In addition, we have school safety issues often caused by current or former students with wounds from unresolved conflicts in school, including hundreds of school closures today [April 15, 2019] in Colorado due to yet another threat.

Evidence strongly suggests that students’ self and social regulation and problem-solving skills are key to school violence prevention. The National Commission on School Safety and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public High School Safety Commission both recommend SEL as a method for school violence prevention.

I have been teaching SEL from bell to bell for the past ten years and have been in the classroom for more than 20. I have seen first-hand what this approach can do for students. I was Kiet’s teacher [testimony below], Daniel’s teacher [mother’s testimony below], and Monica’s teacher [introduced HB4454 – story above]. There are hundreds more that wanted to be here today to testify that SEL has been a game changer for so many.

Teaching students to manage their emotions, build and maintain healthy relationships, resolve conflicts, and create a vision for their lives not only improves academic outcomes, but it also makes schools safer, helps proactively address mental health, and benefits the community and the workforce.

The need for SEL is intense and the potential for SEL in schools is immense. Please help ensure this life-changing support for all Texas students.”

Making the Case for SEL

In support of TX HB4454: Social and Emotional Learning Standards for Public School Educational Programs—educators, administrators, and community members testified in support of SEL in schools:

From TX State Representative Eddie Rodriguez, Texas House of Representatives:

“I want to personally thank my intern, Monica Rios [a former SEL student], who gave me this bill idea. I think it’s a great idea. SEL is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

There are many benefits:

  • School Performance: SEL predicts academic achievements in education milestones including high school graduation and post-secondary enrollment and completion.
  • Student Well-being: SEL is associated with lower rates of risky behavior like drug use and teen pregnancy, decreased dropout rates by between 5 – 12%, and can also interrupt the school to prison pipeline by reducing rates of violent behavior and criminality
  • School Safety: Evidence strongly suggests that students’ self and social regulation and problem-solving are key to school violence prevention
  • Long-lasting Effects: SEL has long-lasting effects including reducing depression and anxiety in childhood and adulthood
  • Future employment: Employers overwhelmingly identify SEL as being the most important to success and at the same time one of the hardest qualities to find in the labor force.

From Mila Rios McCutchen, Parent of Daniel McCutchen, an SEL student who went from “at-risk” to Harvard University:

“I am 100% in support of the SEL Bill 4454. My son Danial went through the social and emotional learning class when w he was in 9th grade. We entered high school wondering how we were going to get Daniel through high school.  He had been labeled as an “at-risk” student and due to his severe anxiety and OCD, he had major issues.  His anxiety peaked when he moved from middle to high school, and especially because the size of the school doubled. He was overwhelmed and he would let his frustrations out over us as we were his safe environment.

Luckily, Daniel was placed in an SEL class in 9th grade and it helped his transition from middle to high school. The class provided a small sense of community inside the larger public school, so was a lot of help for him.  This SEL class taught him how to collaborate effectively, stay organized with a planner and make good first impressions, and more importantly diffuse emotions like anxiety and anger. He loved the class and would tell me that it was not boring – and he loved that planner.

Daniel’s life changed because of SEL. It was not an overnight change but that semester changed his life.  Because of SEL he made the decision that he would graduate with a high GPA and I’m proud to say he graduated valedictorian from Austin High and he was accepted to Harvard University where he is now finishing his second year of college.

As a parent, we all want the best for our children and ensuring SEL is taught in schools helps prepare them for college, but even more so, for the workforce and for their adult lives.”

From Kiet Luan, a former Austin High SEL student and now at University of Texas, Austin:

“My name is Kiet Luan and I represent the students. I used to be a shy, emotional troublemaker. In middle school, I was bullied. To fit in, I often acted out and was a wannabe gangster. Since none of my parents had a college degree, I had no hopes of college. In fact, some teachers had given up on me. I didn’t know how to deal with these situations, so I repeatedly took my anger out on my parents. I yelled at them and ended up creating a destructive relationship. I was in a terrible state of mind. Depressed with no one to reach out to, the situation became worse when I moved to Texas. I didn’t understand myself or my emotions. I knew something had to change.

So, I unconventionally took SEL my sophomore year. It became my safe space. I learned skills from managing my emotions to apologizing. I repaired family relationships, made new relationships, and created a vision for my life. For the first time, I started looking forward to the future and these SEL skills helped me change my life in powerful ways.

Some may think SEL is a small rock [referencing an SEL activity in which small rocks are less significant], but I am here to tell you… in fact, we are all here to tell you from all perspectives, that SEL is a big rock and should be a priority for all Texans.”

From Sharon Bradley, Director of Family and Social Services, Plano ISD:

“Throughout my 18 years in education, I have seen students achieve academic success at the highest levels and I’ve also seen the hindrance of success as a result of issues like anxiety, depression and lack of coping and self-management skills. 

SEL programming is brilliantly universal.  Through explicit teaching of skills, integration into the curriculum, school-wide procedures and structures—ALL students are given tools, strategies, and support to help them survive and thrive in an evolving, stressful world. Through active partnerships with families and community members at the core of systemic SEL implementation, there are endless opportunities to reinforce the skills that are being taught at school and to practice and hone essential skills for life.

In my previous experience as a school principal, I facilitated a community-building circle with my staff and asked them this question: “What do you want your students to be like as adults?” One by one, teachers expressed traits such as: problem-solvers, collaborators, effective communicators, and kind. Noticing that not one of the responses had anything to do with IQ, I began to build capacity within my teachers to develop and assess their own SEL competencies so that they could model and cultivate those skills in students… the skills that they deemed most important. As a result, we saw a reduction—by more than half—in student suspensions. Acts of aggression were at an all-time low, and passing rates were at an all-time high.

Texas joins upwards of 25 states that are developing SEL standards, which keeps Texas’s competitive edge in preparing its students for the modern workforce and life.”

From Kelsey Theis, Texas Association of School Psychologists (TASP):

“Promoting social and emotional competence contributes to a positive school climate which is key to preventing school violence and promoting an environment in where students and educators feel safe and supported.  When students feel safe and connected to their school, they are more engaged in learning and experience greater academic achievement.”

From Dr. Paul Cruz, Austin ISD Superintendent:

“I fully support this bill.  I fully support social-emotional learning. Many times we say those are the soft skills, I say, and we believe in Austin, that those are the essential skills.

When asked many times of employers, “what is the best hire they’ve ever had?” They always talk about somebody who demonstrates grit, persistence, who can work with others, who can collaborate, who can communicate, who has a voice. That’s what they talk about. As a [former] Language Arts teacher, I would love to hear someone say, “someone who never split an infinitive, never dangled a preposition and never wrote a run on sentence.” I’ve yet to hear that.  Of course, academics are important, and that’s essential. It absolutely is. It is not enough. For our students to be successful in college, career, and life, social-emotional skills are essential.”

From Pete Price, Austin ISD, Director of Social and Emotional Learning in Multi-tier Systems of Support:

“There are two common misperceptions about implementing social and emotional learning in a school district:
 The first one is that a district must either implement social and emotional learning or academics. This belief flies in the face of research. When students are exposed to both social emotional learning programs and rigorous academic offerings, achievement soars. It is not a case of “either/or” but “both/and.”

A second misperception is that some individuals are worried that implementing social and emotional learning is an undue burden on teachers and staff. Here’s what we tell educators: ‘Social emotional learning is not something we are adding to your plate. It is the plate.’  It is the foundation for all academic learning.”

Written Testimony Submitted in Favor of HB4454 from Scarlett Lewis, Mother of a 6 year old student murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary – National SEL and School Safety Advocate:

My 6-year old son, Jesse McCord Lewis, saved nine of his first-grade classmates by shouting for them to “RUN!” before his murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December, 14 2012. For this brave act, he was given a Commander-in-Chief funeral, reserved for heads of states and returning war heroes. Jesse was considered a war hero because his first-grade classroom was a literal war zone.

The Sandy Hook Advisory Commission was given the responsibility of finding out how something like that could happen and what we could do to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The final report summarized 3 things that might have prevented the tragedy, in no particular order. One was more access to mental health. The second was increased gun safety. The third was Social and Emotional Learning!! In fact, the report strongly urged schools, Kindergarten through 12th grade, to have a comprehensive, year-long, Social and Emotional Learning program taught with fidelity – which means embraced by all.

New Hampshire’s Governor, Chris Sununu, was the first in the country to release his statewide school safety initiative. He focused on SEL as one of the main components of his school safety plan. The Head of the Department of Homeland Security for the state, Perry Plummer, has made sure all of his employees have been introduced to SEL and advocate for proactive prevention as well. He understands it is better to proactively prevent something than to risk your life addressing the aftermath.

Six months later, in December, 2018, the Federal Commission on School Safety released their final report in Washington, DC. The first chapter lists Social and Emotional Learning as a proactive and preventative solution. Many states are including Social and Emotional Learning in their statewide school safety initiatives. You can not have a comprehensive school safety initiative without it!!

Show Your Support for HB 4454

TX HB4454 – Relating to the adoption of social and emotional learning standards for public school educational programs.
3/26/2019: Referred to public education committee
(a) The State Board of Education shall adopt developmentally appropriate, evidence-based standards for social and emotional learning, including standards regarding:
(1) the development of competency in self-management, self-awareness, and social awareness for students; and
(2) responsible decision-making.
(b) Each school district shall provide in appropriate educational programs in each grade level the social and emotional learning standards adopted under Subsection (a).

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