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:

Webinar: Steps to Take Action as an Arts Education Advocate

Join this informative webinar and discover how you can take action as an arts education advocate for students!

  • Learn about the role of parents, students and community members to serve as advocates and to convince decision makers about the value of arts education.
  • Walk away with ready-to-use tools from Create CA, CA PTA, Arts for LA and Arts Education Alliance of the Bay Area that will support you in advocating for a creative education for all students in your district.

Happening on February 3rd at 6:00pm, REGISTER HERE

March 31st is National Crayon Day

Take some time with the family today to celebrate both National Crayon Day and the end of Arts Education Month. Our Communications Commission created these coloring sheets that highlight PTA’s advocacy efforts over the years — enjoy coloring them with the family or your PTA unit.

PDF version                         PDF version                  PDF version                  PDF version                 PDF version                PDF version


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New Arts Education Data Released

Every student has the right to a dynamic, creative education, and California Education Code requires it. Yet 88 percent of California schools are failing to meet this standard. This. Must. Change. That’s why California State PTA joined forces with Create CA to launch one of the most impactful public will campaigns for the arts in recent history demanding arts education for all students.

Simply put – arts education should not be optional.

This week, the 2017-2018 arts education data was released and you can see it here:

The good news is that over the past five years there has been positive growth in delivering arts education to students. The bad news is that it will take 45 years for half of California’s middle and high school students to receive the education they are legally entitled to.

California State PTA’s Arts Education Committee Chair Erin Jenks sat down to take a look at how her school district measures up.Here’s what she had to say about the data in her community.

“I am fortunate enough to live in North Orange County, where we have relatively good schools. I have five children and eleven grandchildren and have been a member and serving in PTA for over 25 years. I have been a school district employee for 23 years; first as an instructional assistant and now as a library media tech (I run a high school library at an alternative high school). Between being a mom with all of the fun things that go with that (car-pools, team mom, team dinners etc), I have also had the good fortune to work with kids in my employment. That’s why I continue to serve in PTA – kids matter!

When I was in sixth grade, Fridays were dance days. I remember that everyone loved those Fridays – even the boys. And although Friday was always test day, no one missed because it was dance day. One Friday, the class was being particularly rambunctious and the teacher said she would cancel afternoon dance if we did not settle down.  Needless to say, no one believed her, until she told us no dancing today. I still remember all these years later that collective groan and a palpable feeling of disappointment permeated the entire class room and every student in the classroom was quiet for the remainder of the day.

When I reviewed the Data Project and I looked at the statistics for the school district I grew up in as well as the one that I work at and where my children attended school, I experienced that same feeling of disappointment that I did when that Friday dance class was cancelled. Imagine my consternation that things are not better since my Friday dance days, but are actually worse.

At the school where I work only 34% of students are enrolled in art – visual art 17%, 17% other. There is no dance, no music, no theater. Every day these students struggle towards graduation. Knowing that kids who receive arts education are five times more likely to graduate and that there is inequity in who receives a quality arts education, I am saddened to see that not just my district but so many others have not placed the value an arts education that should be a priority.

Arts matter – dancing, acting, singing, videos, poetry – what makes our souls sing, what makes everything better and easier – the arts.

CreateCA How To Navigate the Data from linda on Vimeo.

Take a closer look at the data for your school district to see how it compares. Share your response with us at and with your PTA network and School Board.

Together, we must spark a movement with the public, parents, educators, artists and policy makers to demand a comprehensive, sequential arts curriculum for all children in grades K-12. If you haven’t yet, join California’s movement for arts education. Sign up at