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School districts across the country, including Waverly-Shell Rock, have begun to implement social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum and strategies. What is SEL and why and how are our schools addressing it? This article and others to follow throughout the year, written by various staff members with different perspectives, will try to answer those questions.

Social-emotional learning, as defined by the Committee for Children, is “the process of developing the self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills that are vital for school, work, and life success.” And the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) describes SEL as “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.”

While many think that schools exist so that students learn history, math, how to read, and so on, we feel our mission extends much further. We believe it is our responsibility to help young people learn how to cope with adversity, get along with others (even and especially those with different perspectives), work in groups, to be comfortable facing the unknown, and so on. Like with math and reading, none of us are born with these skills. And since they are vital to successful living, it’s important for people to learn them. So we feel compelled to do what we can to facilitate that learning.

Research indicates that learning such skills helps prevent bullying, improves academic outcomes, and improves overall behavior. A 2018 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 70% of 13-17 year-olds think anxiety and depression are major issues for their peers. They also found that six in ten feel pressured to get good grades, and that 30% feel pressure to look good and fit in socially. And these are but a few of the sobering statistics related to teen mental health. The pressures that young people (and adults!) feel in today’s society are perhaps greater than ever, making this work as important as ever.

Eighteen months ago we set out to determine what a “profile” of a W-SR graduate might look like. We wanted to know what attitudes, knowledge and skills our graduates should have, that would make them good neighbors, co-workers, employees, and people. We asked approximately 250 adults in Shell Rock and Waverly this question, and the results were interesting, though not surprising. What we were told was that they wanted graduates who are willing and able to learn new skills, communicate well, and solve problems. But even more so, the respondents stated clearly that it is important that our graduates possess empathy, to be people of character, make ethical decisions, understand the value of service to the community, and be considerate of others. If this is part of our charge (and we believe it is), then social-emotional learning is a very important part of the education of our students.

As I indicated at the beginning, you can expect to see more articles on this topic over the next few months, written from the perspectives of different people in the school system. We hope that will afford members of our community the opportunity to learn about what’s happening with our students and staff in this area.

Ed Klamfoth is the superintendent of the Waverly-Shell Rock Community School District.