4 Misconceptions about Social-Emotional Learning in Schools

Post By:
Created On:
January 17, 2024

4 Misconceptions About Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)

What is social-emotional learning (SEL)?

Social-emotional learning in schools centers around teaching students valuable social and emotional skills to help them navigate school, life, and relationships. The SEL competencies found in the CASEL Wheel serve as the gold standard foundation for school and district SEL programs. The competencies include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Districts and schools that focus on helping students develop these skills set their students up for success in the classroom and beyond.


Why is social-emotional learning in schools important?

Social-emotional learning improves academic performance, behavior, and overall student well-being. So far, twenty-seven states have adopted SEL standards. Many states, districts, and schools that do not have formal SEL programs still incorporate SEL competencies into their curriculum, whether they know it or not. Simple activities, such as setting goals or creating a study schedule, are considered SEL activities because they help students improve their self-management and decision-making skills. 

Social-emotional learning is valuable for adults and children, but it’s extremely beneficial for autistic students who sometimes face additional challenges with social awareness, relationships, decision-making, and self-management skills, such as emotional regulation.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation around social-emotional learning’s purpose in schools, which makes some communities uncomfortable with it being taught. Let’s take a look at four of the most common misconceptions about SEL and the facts that dispel them.

Misconception 1: Social-emotional learning isn’t as important as academics

Social-emotional learning skeptics argue that there’s no time during the school day to dedicate to SEL. Their concern is understandable considering the learning gaps that were exacerbated by the pandemic. However, SEL evidence shows that SEL actually improves academic performance. By learning SEL, students learn how to better manage their time while also learning how to cope with overwhelm and other intense emotions that can interfere with learning or lead to behavioral issues. SEL teaches students about empathy and understanding, which creates a more positive and welcoming learning environment for everyone.

Social-emotional learning is also easy to incorporate into existing curriculum throughout the day. A language arts lesson can incorporate social-emotional learning using a character analysis, whereas a social studies lesson is the perfect time to teach about perspective-taking. It’s not a matter of academics being more important than SEL or vice versa. It’s a matter of academics and SEL supporting each other to provide students with a well-rounded learning experience.

Misconception 2: Social-emotional learning is for students with behavioral problems

Everyone, including adults, can benefit from social-emotional learning. While SEL isn’t exclusively for students with behavioral problems, it’s a powerful tool for improving student behavior by promoting self-regulation, social awareness, and other competencies that can be at the core of behavior problems. Students learn healthy coping skills that can help them handle overwhelm, stress, and overstimulation in a positive way. Through teaching SEL, educators can also strengthen their own empathy skills, which is necessary for building relationships with neurodivergent students.

Misconception 3:  It’s not the school’s role to teach social-emotional skills.

Social-emotional learning does not seek to indoctrinate students or force students to think a certain way. At its core, social-emotional learning teaches students healthy ways to navigate everyday situations and challenges. Skills like goal setting, time management, coping, and communication all fall under SEL and are crucial for students’ success in the classroom and throughout life. 

It’s important to remember that students are already exposed to more than academics at schools, whether it’s intentional or not. With students spending the majority of their waking hours at school, it’s inevitable that they will learn from observing school staff and other students. Districts and schools that implement SEL are proactive in teaching students healthy versions of what they would have learned anyway. For example, let’s say a student is upset because they do not want to transition to a new activity. The student can throw an object at the wall, which introduces an unhealthy way to cope with emotion. In a school with an SEL program, however, students will proactively learn healthy ways to regulate and express their emotions, resulting in more positive behaviors overall. In both scenarios, the students learn about coping, but only one scenario allows students to learn a healthy coping mechanism.

Misconception 4: Educators are not qualified to teach social-emotional learning because it deals with mental health.

While social-emotional learning does teach skills that can help students maintain their mental health, it does not dive into addressing mental health challenges. Educators are required to refer students to the proper professionals for personal issues and other concerns that go beyond the scope of general social-emotional learning. For example, students may learn to use journaling as a coping tool when they’re feeling overwhelmed. However, if a student expresses that they are overwhelmed with their home life and do not know what to do, the educator will refer the student to the appropriate professional rather than trying to solve the problem.

Superintendents and school administrators play an important role in ensuring students gain the social-emotional skills necessary to be successful. SEL’s ease of implementation makes it a powerful tool for improving student performance, student behavior, and well-being. Our resource page and monthly newsletter include social-emotional lesson plans and activities to share with your staff members. Check them out here .

Our online curriculum and SEL game Ava was created by a neurodivergent team specifically for neurodivergent youth ages 10-15. Learn more about how Ava can help your students strengthen valuable social and emotional skills.