Misconceptions About SEL

Chances are you have run into people with these perspectives, or have even thought them yourself. Here are the three most common misconceptions I have run into regarding SEL, and why they are so very wrong.

1: “This is just one more thing that’s going to suck time out of my day.”

Misconception #1 works on a couple of different levels. Do social-emotional concepts and skills need to be explicitly taught? Yes. Is it going to take a little planning and implementation time on your part? Yes. But this is fairly minimal. There are many places you can find resources and ideas for activities (see resources below). If you can group them into chunks that go together (more on that later) planning does not have to be difficult. As for implementation, activities typically take 15-30 minutes, depending on the depth you want to go to with your group of kids. They can easily be worked in as a warm-up, or during an intervention/advisory/enrichment time.

If you really think about it, taking 15 or 20 minutes once or twice a week doesn’t seem like a lot of time, when you compare it to the multiple 5-10 minute disruptions (sometimes more) that can be spent throughout the day dealing with issues that arise from lack of skills. Directly teaching and reinforcing these concepts ultimately saves us (and teachers of the same students down the road) a great deal of time, by equipping students to handle many of these things themselves.

Once the direct instruction has taken place, supports for the skills and opportunities for practice can easily be implemented during regular academic instructional time. Which leads to #2.

2: “SEL is another thing I have to try to be an expert in.”

Many SEL activities are laid out and easy to follow, especially as you are just getting started. They are usually centered around things that we are familiar with and implement personally every day; we just need to learn how to intentionally present it in a way that our students will be able to understand and hold onto.

The trickiest part of SEL is the framing. As (hopefully) functioning adults, we take for granted things like empathy, body language, flexibility, communication, etc. Our students often do not have the same understanding. So the real struggle for most teachers in taking something abstract that we “just know,” and making it concrete enough to actually teach it in a meaningful way. The key to this is to make it action-led. Provide students with activities and interactions that will give them opportunities to explore and implement new skills. Put it in language, diagrams, pictures, steps, and presentations that they can understand. That’s where pre-made resources might really help you.

It also helps that, by nature of the job, teachers tend to take naturally to this. We already model conversations and expectations, set parameters for groups and teams, encourage communication and collaboration. Once the skills are taught, they can be practiced and reinforced in classroom routines and activities that are already in place.

3: “This is nothing but fluff!” *eyeroll*

I’ve literally had a teacher describe SEL as “touchy-feely bull—-.” She was very adamant that it was unnecessary, and just another way for us to emotionally coddle our students.

I can completely understand why a teacher might feel this way. I, too, have been frustrated before by a seeming lack of structure and reinforcement for kids. We are taking on more and more responsibility that used to be handled at home. Many more “old school” teachers are already frustrated with the everybody-gets-a-trophy mentality, and the seemingly growing lack of consequences for students.

So try thinking about it this way.

In a recent study[i], 93% of employers listed soft skills as either an “essential” or “very important” factor in hiring decisions. Some reported needing these sorts of skills even more than up-to-date technology skills. In another study[ii], employers ranked leadership skills and the ability to work on a team as the most desirable attributes of a new graduate, ahead of problem solving, analytics, or quantitative skills.

A third study[iii] found that 59% of US hiring managers believe that it’s difficult to find candidates with a good grasp on soft skills. What are these soft skills that they’re looking for?

  • Communication skills
  • Organization/Time management
  • Teamwork
  • Punctuality/Responsibility
  • Critical thinking
  • Social skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Adaptability/Flexibility

Sound familiar?

Yes, SEL works with kids on the ability to manage their emotions. But it also teaches them to manage their time and resources, how to work and function with others. These skills are an essential component to getting our students ready for life and career after school, which is our responsibility. Period.

Do you have some experience with what we talked about in this post? Are there other misconceptions you run into? Do you have ideas or strategies you’ve found successful? Please share them in the comments!


[i] https://blog.coursera.org/soft-skills-stats-need-know/

[ii] https://www.naceweb.org/career-development/trends-and-predictions/job-outlook-2016-attributes-employers-want-to-see-on-new-college-graduates-resumes/

[iii] http://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/cceaf9_ec9ed750296142f18efdd49f4930f6d3.pdf

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