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SEL & Academic Rigor -How do we prioritize?

The perpetual, but ever-changing need to maintain a consistent pulse on the needs of students has remained at the forefront of the educational landscape. Academic stakeholders are responsible for attempting to synthesize the countless moving parts of teaching and learning best practices along with the increasing social and emotional obligations of today's diverse learners. Over and over, we ask ourselves if the idea of equitable education is possible or just a ubiquitous myth that remains out of reach. Teachers are held accountable for ensuring the authentic delivery of rigorous grade-level content while also addressing the widening skill deficits and the social and emotional gaps amplified by the pandemic. It has become an overwhelming juggling act that many of us have not yet mastered and feels as though we are in the same pool with our students, treading water until we find the solution that breaks the surface.

Social-emotional learning (SEL) has begun to play a pivotal role in enhancing outcomes for students by addressing core life competencies that are essential for students to build capacity, self-efficacy, and motivation to be successful. Today's students are not equipped to persevere when faced with roadblocks associated with learning and relationships. They are failing to make meaningful connections to content and remain steadfast in the idea that rigorous and challenging concepts are beyond their grasp. Educators are spending countless hours scouring research theory, meaningful resources, and lesson frameworks that will make an impact in moving the needle toward growth. Compelling research-based evidence supports not only consistent standards-based instruction but also thorough integration of SEL that reinforces comprehensive development.

The challenge is the delicate balance between academic accountability and social-emotional necessity. With limited classroom time and resources, there is a consistent struggle to prioritize and facilitate lessons that include essential core content aligned with SEL concepts. It is clear that teachers are conflicted with the unwavering passion for meeting the needs of their students while also conforming to district, school, and state requirements of positive performance. Unfortunately, the optimal solution remains to be seen and schools continue to reform, refine, and innovate ways to improve while expecting academic stakeholders to buy into systems that are not yet developed. Ultimately, we are losing valuable members of the academic community who have become disillusioned with the process, keeping our youth at an unrelenting disadvantage. Accountability and collective responsibility are pillars of effective academic processes; however, where do we draw the line in addressing the appropriate ratio of robust instruction and vital life competencies for successful student outcomes?

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