TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The University of Alabama’s College of Education recently received a $5 million federal grant to study the importance of social and emotional learning in relation to the academic and overall success of elementary school students.
The project researches how social and emotional learning, or SEL, is vital to a student’s success, in the classroom and in life. SEL teaches students how to be aware and manage their feelings while understanding others in any environment because they have learned to do so in a safe and positive SEL environment at school.
“Development of social and emotional skills is foundational to student success in both academics and life,” said Dr. Greg Benner, Helen and Pat O’Sullivan Professor of Education at UA and principal investigator of the project.
The key benefit to this project includes giving participating elementary educators in Montgomery, Tuscaloosa City and Jasper City Schools the ability to deliver appropriate SEL instruction to all early elementary learners in grades kindergarten through third, including those with or at risk for emotional and behavior disorders. The program will eventually expand throughout Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Florida.
“Our goal is to give elementary educators the ability to improve the social and emotional health of the students they serve, including those who are struggling most,” said Benner.
UA will partner with xSEL Labs, Rush University Medical Center, Oregon Research Institute, Trifoia, Research Press and school partners to develop and evaluate the Social and Emotional Learning Study Groups, referred to as SELSG+, for educators of students with emotional and behavioral disorders.
“Improving youth SEL outcomes for all students requires educators to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to deliver differentiated SEL instruction,” said Benner. “Educators receive an average of eight hours of training on effective SEL strategies and even less training on how to differentiate to youth with significant behavior concerns.
“As a result, educators feel unprepared to provide explicit, differentiated SEL instruction, particularly for students with and at risk for emotional and behavioral disorders.”
According to Benner, the social and emotional difficulties in students with emotional and behavioral disorders play a significant role in their poor academic and long-term outcomes. A National Center for Education study in 2016 showed 80% of students with emotional and behavioral disorders are served in general education classrooms.
“Educators need a solution that meets all their students’ needs,” said Benner. “The SELSG+ innovation is a professional learning solution to this problem. This project will give elementary educators the ability to deliver appropriate SEL instruction to all early elementary learners, including those with or at risk for emotional and behavioral disorders.”
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.