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Rey: Social, emotional learning standards in state schools

There is much literature and research supporting Social and Emotional Learning as a process for helping children and adults develop the fundamental skills to effectively handle school, work, relationships, and their own personal development.

Promoting social and emotional competencies within students can encourage their academic engagement, work ethic and school success.

Schools are where we can create safe, caring, learning environments, fostering SEL skill development. The most beneficial school-based SEL programs are ones that provide sequential and developmentally appropriate instruction in SEL skills. Principals, superintendents and counseling staff implement these programs in a coordinated manner from preschool through high school. Teachers receive ongoing professional development in SEL. Lessons are taught in the classroom and reinforced throughout the school day, during out-of-school activities and at home.

Families and schools that work together can enhance children’s success, not only academically but also socially and emotionally. Students typically do not learn alone, but  in collaboration with their teachers, in the company of their peers and with the encouragement of their families. With support in the home, students are more likely to succeed academically.

In 2002, a group of Illinois’ education, mental health, child advocacy and violence prevention leaders began promoting legislation that would require Illinois to establish SEL standards as part of Illinois Learning Standards. In 2003, a report was issued from a statewide Children’s Mental Health Task Force, a volunteer effort involving more than 100 organizations created to promote a comprehensive approach to children’s mental health and social and emotional well-being.

One of the report’s key findings was that children’s social and emotional development is an essential underpinning to school readiness and success. The group recommended legislation was needed to create a mandate for addressing children’s mental health in this manner and to codify a number of task force recommendations.

This led to passage of the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Act of 2003. Thus, Illinois became a leader in integrating SEL into education systems as the first state to adopt a comprehensive set of principles as part of the state’s learning standards from preschool to high school.

Learning standards describe what students are expected to know and do at various ages or grade levels. They communicate educational priorities and provide a framework for building and organizing curricula and aligning instruction with assessment.

The goals of the Illinois Social and Emotional Learning Standards are broad statements that organize the knowledge and skills that comprise SEL content:

• Develop self-awareness and self-management skills to achieve school and life success.

• Use social-awareness and interpersonal skills to establish and maintain positive relationships.

• Demonstrate decision-making skills and responsible behaviors in personal, school and community contexts.

• Learning standards and benchmarks are indicators of what instruction should emphasize at each grade cluster. These were broad enough to allow for a variety of approaches to teaching and aligning curriculum, yet specific enough to allow for classroom assessments, measuring student progress.

In December 2004, the Illinois State Board of Education adopted SEL standards with a plan for professional development and technical assistance to support their implementation.
Illinois remains in front of other states in terms of SEL standards for grades K through 12.

There will be more to follow – how several DeKalb county schools have implemented SEL standards.

• John Rey lives in DeKalb and is retired from DeKalb Ag/Monsanto. He also has been employed with AXA Financial and Family Service Agency. He continues as an active community volunteer in several organizations. You may contact him at 

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