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July 1, 2022

Enhancing SEL With Data-Driven Instruction

In matters of social–emotional learning (SEL), data-driven instruction enhances educators’ ability to reach their students. As we all know, education is not just about helping your students achieve good grades and get into good colleges. It’s also about the knowledge they take with them when they leave school, the lessons they learn about good citizenship.

And that calls for statistical reinforcement.

We’ve written about SEL at length before, and for good reason. As a learning method focused on managing emotions and improving social interactions, SEL is vital for the future. In that respect, teachers should look to data to inform their SEL pedagogy. So how do you make the most of data-driven SEL instruction?

What Happens With Enhanced SEL?

Classrooms are becoming more and more diverse. For many children, their classroom is the first place they are exposed to others with different backgrounds, beliefs, cultures, and abilities. With the right instruction, students can leave this diverse classroom environment more empathetic and socially conscious. That’s what SEL can achieve.

In studying SEL, students become more aware of the way they treat those around them and why. SEL teaches children to recognize their emotions and manage them in a healthy way, reducing conflict and allowing for more understanding. Advanced SEL takes that a step further by considering the student’s unique background. Not all students come at socialization and emotions from the same angle, so there is no one-rule-fits-all. To truly teach SEL, educators must understand the individual student.

SEL and Data-Driven Instruction

Data-driven instruction takes into account the evidence and data that teachers gather about students as they get to know them and then incorporates that information into their SEL method. It requires an individualized approach to SEL that may involve more upfront work for educators, but is far more effective for students.

For instance, maybe one student struggles with anxiety more than other students in your class. That student may need more help reframing their anxious thoughts in order to manage their emotions.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) vouches for this evidence-based type of SEL and states that it is “one of the key strategies for providing consistent SEL opportunities for all students.” Data collection should be one of the first steps involved in any attempt at SEL. It can help to identify historically marginalized students, determine the type of support students need, as well as monitor and track their progress.

Data doesn’t have to be all spreadsheets and formal reports, and it certainly shouldn’t be disconnected from what you’re already doing in the classroom. In many ways, data collection is just an intentional way of getting to know students better. A few ways that educators can collect data on students for the purposes of SEL include:

  • Conducting a survey
  • Recording student behavior in real time
  • Measuring student performance
  • Examining absenteeism, disciplinary referrals or actions, suspensions, etc.

Teachers spend a significant part of the year with their students. It can be immensely beneficial to watch students’ behaviors and briefly note anything you think might impact their social and emotional learning.

Improving the 5 Pillars of SEL

SEL is a multilayered learning method. After all, emotions can be complex, and understanding social behavior requires quite a bit of context. There are five key pillars to teaching SEL. These pillars can all be improved upon with data-driven instruction.

  • Self-awareness: Self-awareness is the key to beginning social and emotional learning. Students must learn to recognize their emotions and how those emotions exhibit in their behavior. They can also learn to recognize their strengths and weaknesses so that they can build confidence in themselves. Conducting surveys or collecting data based on student behavior can help teachers recognize some of these strengths and weaknesses so they can better guide students.
  • Self-management: Once students can recognize their emotions and how those emotions affect their behavior, they can start to manage them. Self-management involves taking ownership of one’s emotions and actions and creating goals to manage them. Data about students’ needs in this area can help teachers work with students to set these goals.
  • Social awareness: Social awareness breeds empathy. It involves looking past yourself and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. It’s important for students to learn how to think and behave with empathy toward those who have different learning methods or home lives than they do. Data can help teachers to recognize the diversity in their classroom and celebrate those differences.
  • Relationship skills: If a student is learning to manage their emotions and behaviors, they can begin to build healthier relationships. It’s important for students to be able to form relationships with classmates with different backgrounds, cultures, and ideas. Teachers can help to foster these relationships when they have a clear sense of each student’s background.
  • Making responsible decisions: All of these skills can help students make more thoughtful, socially conscious, and responsible decisions going forward. Teachers can help guide students to consider the ethics and social ramifications of their choices in each situation before they act.
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