The ROI of Social-Emotional Learning

By January 8, 2020 No Comments

As the discussion about social-emotional learning (SEL) takes its place in the national discourse, it is important to reflect on how the perception of SEL has changed in the last ten years. What was once considered a luxury curriculum for some students has shifted to a critical tool for student success.

As we enter a new decade, we are looking at a potential tipping point; principals and teachers are anxious to embed evidence-based SEL curriculum into their classrooms. The eagerness of these principals and teachers is logical. As far as deeper learning initiatives go, high-quality SEL is one where the return on investment is self-evident.

For students to find both academic and personal success, the ability to regulate their own emotions and empathize with those around them is essential. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) published a report finding students’ academic performance increased by 11% when they received SEL instruction compared to students who did not. The soft skills taught through SEL curriculum – self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, responsible decision making – lead to improved academic performance.

No matter how engaging their teachers are, students who are stressed, anxious, or depressed are not entirely in the headspace to learn. Without the skill sets to process or set aside the emotions that can all too easily commandeer their attention, students cannot learn to their full potential.

Several studies, including those by CASEL, have determined that for every dollar spent on social-emotional learning programs, there is a more than tenfold return on investment. By creating an environment where teachers can spend less time addressing distractions and discipline in the classroom, SEL creates economic value for school administrators.

The benefits of SEL extends past students. As the nation grapples with an all-time high teacher shortage, state lawmakers are looking for innovative solutions to recruit new teachers. But there is a second problem exacerbating the never-ending need for more teacher recruitment: retention. Stress and burnout are causing teachers to leave the classroom. By equipping teachers with the means to teach SEL in classrooms, they also begin to internalize these practices, leading to happier and more satisfied teachers.

Employers today want to know that the person they are hiring is not only qualified but also prepared for a workplace. They want to know that candidates can communicate with colleagues, work both collaboratively and individually, and adapt to new situations. Not only does SEL improve classroom dynamics and success while students are learning, but it provides students with the necessary skills for life ahead of them.

Lawmakers would be well served to step foot inside an active SEL classroom to see the difference high-quality, evidence-based learning makes. Far too many policymakers dismiss soft skills initiatives as irrelevant, but SEL shows a boost in nearly all objective measures. As many states enter into legislative sessions this spring, policymakers ought to consider how they can provide this support to classrooms. If they genuinely want to see a significant return on investment of their state’s limited education dollars, there are few avenues greater than incorporating social-emotional learning in classrooms.

Contributed by Strategos Group Principal, Tara Reid. Tara is based in Tallahassee, Florida and can be reached via email at