Social and Emotional Learning and the Arts

By California State PTA Arts Education Committee and Health & Community Concerns Commission 

There is no question that an emphasis on the importance of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in the educational environment has grown exponentially. SEL has been an emerging educational priority over the past several years, as school leaders confronted the ever-increasing signs of stress and trauma our students are experiencing.

According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.

 SEL advances educational equity and excellence through authentic school-family-community partnerships to establish learning environments and experiences that feature trusting and collaborative relationships, rigorous and meaningful curriculum and instruction, and ongoing evaluation. SEL can help address various forms of inequity and empower young people and adults to co-create thriving schools and contribute to safe, healthy, and just communities.

Well documented is the alarming rise in teen suicides (which are now appearing in our middle schools and high schools), social media shaming, ghosting, peer pressure, and school shootings. These have all contributed to what is clearly a mental health crisis in our schools and society. All of this was occurring pre-COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these issues by causing youth to miss milestones (graduations, concerts, proms, trips, sports activities, travel) and has impacted the ability to look ahead regarding career aspirations and finding a successful pathway to their passion in life. 

How can the arts help?

A recent report from the University of Chicago and Ingenuity entitled Arts Education and Social-Emotional Learning Outcomes Among K-12 Students noted that much of this can be understood by considering the framework of how students learn.

  • The way children and youth develop competencies, beliefs, and behaviors is through developmental experiences — opportunities to act in the world and reflect on their experiences; and,
  • Experiences are most influential in shaping the course of development when they take place within the context of strong, supportive, and sustained developmental relationships with important adults and peers.

Developmental relationships and developmental experiences form the bedrock of SEL for students. The key is whether or not these experiences are positive ones!

The researchers identified 10 developmental experiences that were particularly powerful contributors to youth learning and development, including the development of social-emotional competencies. These include five action experiences (encountering, tinkering, choosing, practicing, and contributing) and five reflection experiences (describing, evaluating, connecting, envisioning, and integrating). Evidence from a range of disciplines suggests that the more students have the opportunities to engage in these types of experiences, the more developmentally healthy and successful they will be.

The connection to arts education is clear  because the arts are social. Look at our arts classrooms to see the social interactions between students and the decisions each student makes in the course of being  part of a group. The arts, by their very nature, are also emotional. One cannot look at a work of art or hear a piece of music without feeling something.

 What can we do?

For SEL to be effective, it must be embedded, intentional, and sustained within the curriculum. How do we intentionally embed SEL to the work in our arts classrooms to make meaningful connections? We can begin with The Arts Education & Social and Emotional Learning Framework.

By connecting the new Arts Learning Standards to the SEL Competencies, along with examples of effective strategies —arts educators and administrators will have a road map they may use to aid in the SEL integration process—and our students, schools, and communities will be better for it. Opportunities to develop literacy and fluency in the arts have always been an important dimension of education. Now more than ever, these opportunities are essential to the well-being of our students.  California State PTA has partnered with Create CA, an organization dedicated to advocating for high quality arts education for all students by providing policy expertise and by mobilizing a statewide network of advocates and allied partners. Learn more by downloading  this flier to help you continue or even start your arts advocacy journey.

Parents, guardians, and caregivers partnering with our music and arts educators are the secret weapon to implementing social-emotional learning in our schools, and arts education is the super power to once again connect our students to our schools and provide a pathway to express themselves in this post-COVID world of education.

 This article borrows heavily from:

Robert B. Morrison’s article- Arts Education and Social Emotional Learning: A Secret Weapon for Our Students.

Additional Resources: