The Value of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in School | Imagine Learning

November 9, 2020 9:08 am

The Value of SEL in Schools With Daniel Budzinski

Social emotional learning (SEL) is an educational concept that recognizes that social and emotional skills impact students’ success in school and in life.

What is SEL?

Social emotional learning (SEL) is an educational concept that recognizes that social and emotional skills impact students’ success in school and in life.

SEL is the process through which students develop their own identities, hone their social skills for interacting with others, develop and maintain supportive relationships, and find productive ways to manage their goals, ambitions, and emotions in making responsible decisions for their lives.

Why is SEL Important in the Classroom?

Social emotional learning is essential to effective learning and impacts academic performance. Integrating social emotional learning in classrooms enables teachers to connect with students, help them develop skills for managing learning and daily stresses, build trusting relationships with peers and adults, and make responsible and healthy decisions.

SEL concepts can also address inequities in classrooms as students are empowered to co-create learning communities that are safe, healthy, and just—supporting all students in becoming the best versions of themselves.

“Cultivating a Social and Emotional Connection Across Our Schools and Community”

with Daniel Budzinski (Webinar Recap)

Imagine Learning Director of Marketing Research Nari Carter, Ph.D recently hosted a webinar with Purpose Prep CEO and founder Daniel Budzinski entitled “Cultivating a Social and Emotional Connection Across Our Schools and Community”.

The webinar focused on Budzinski’s experience traveling the world and speaking with educators about social and emotional learning strategies, as well as his own personal experience as a troubled teenager who struggled in school.

Read on for some key parts from Budzinski’s talk on the importance of SEL in the classroom, including how education is adapting to the digital age and how SEL strategies can bridge the gap between school and community for many students.

students celebrate

On Pop Culture, Career Goals, and SEL

“I’ve heard educators say this is a very unique and interesting time to educate young people because of who and what they want to be, and the realistic lifestyle track to get to those places. If I’m taking you through the history of SEL, and really why social and emotional learning is even important, there are three major provocations that I think have brought us to the place where we are right now: it’s the influence of music, the influence of movies, and the influence of culture that have really created a strong gap in the reasons we need SEL in our lives.

I call it the “desensitization of humanity.” there’s no judgement here, there’s no angst here, there’s no anger — I love looking at the facts. Facts don’t care about what we feel, they just tell us an interesting story and we get to decide if we want to see if we can change those facts.”

On Student Struggles and SEL Strategy

According to Budzinski, the Top 10 Student Struggles are:
  • Bullying and cyberbullying
  • Suicide and self-inflicted hurt
  • Substance use and alcohol abuse
  • Social media and device distraction
  • Family issues and relationships
  • Teen pregnancy and sexual pressure
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Fear of the future
  • Low self-esteem and inferiority complex
  • Peer pressure and acceptance

“How and why and what do students struggle with? As we’ve traveled, we’ve heard educators at the district level, educators at the school building leadership level, social workers, counselors, mental health professionals, teachers of all types of different categories—you could talk math, English, science, it doesn’t matter— they have said, “Wow, I’ve seen an increase in this more than ever before.” There are always positive stories, but what’s happening is our students are hurting, and they’re hurting because of these other things.

These are the top 10 struggles happening in our students lives right now, because of where we’re at in this world and where we’re at in society. We have an incredible opportunity to create a significant seismic shift and change in our schools, because as things get worse, I truly believe things can only get better and better and better exponentially. And I’ll tell you why: because people want to do what’s right.

I deeply have a conviction—and I’ve seen it across every country I’ve worked in, and every school, and the millions of people that I’ve spoken to—people want to do what’s right. While our students are struggling with this, here’s an interesting thing: what are we struggling with? What are you struggling with as an educator? I think it’s an interesting perspective to think, “Wow, maybe I do have low self-esteem and I’ve never really noticed my inferiority complex, which is why I sometimes inadvertently ignore certain staff members in my school, or trigger certain ways when people ask me to do certain things. Maybe I do have a fear of the future—with Covid happening, I don’t know if my job is going to be there. That freaks me out. I don’t know if I want to live behind a screen forever, I want to get in front of these kids’ faces and help them out.” There are all these things where we’re very similar in some ways to students, but the pressures are different.”

“Nine out of ten students believe that social and emotional skills can be taught and that it benefits students.”

Bridgeland, J., Bruce, M., & Hariharan, A.


On SEL Pressures in the Classroom

According to Budzinski, the Top School Pressures Are:
  • Academic performance
  • Behavior issues / suspension
  • Truancy
  • Daily attendance
  • Teacher retention
  • School culture
  • Safety and security
  • Enrollment
  • Regulatory compliance
  • Reduced budgets / resources

“The outcome from a business perspective for our schools is really about the end user, and the end user is the student, the parents, and the families. So, if students are not being bullied and if they’re not dealing with as many issues—like depression and anxiety, or fear of the future because we’re able to support them in a certain way, or teach them the skills to cope—then the research shows that we may have a greater increase in academic performance.

If a student is being bullied, maybe that’s the reason why their attendance is low, or [maybe] they’re truant because they don’t want to show up to school. We realize that students’ reality—so close to our reality—is connected to the very outcomes that we’re trying to create in our schools, and it’s the underlying foundation. That’s why, when I talk about SEL, I don’t talk about programs; I want to talk about systemic social and emotional learning not just as a thought.”

On Bringing SEL to Schools

“I really don’t believe that we need to say “SEL is a program”—SEL isn’t a program, it’s a way of thinking. It is a belief system.

How could SEL play a role in the way that our families are interpreting the school district? SEL is not a program, it’s a way of thinking, and when we know that and see that, it doesn’t mean that we need to have bunch of meetings about how we’re failing and how our students are struggling and the world’s falling apart and everything is going to self-implode; it’s actually an empowering thing to say, “Oh my gosh, we’re human, and it’s honorable to admit when we’re struggling and when we’re sad and when we doubt ourselves. It’s okay that as an adult, you have to go through some stuff. You’ve been maybe stabbed in the back, and if you want to ignore that, that’s going to lead to some social and emotional issues in your school. What I love to say is that there’s the human resource aspect, and then there’s the human aspect—we have to balance what’s appropriate between professional and personal.”

“Supporting students’ social and emotional development produces an 11-percentage-point gain in grades and test scores.”

Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor & Schellinger


Your role is not insignificant. Every stakeholder matters; you could start to raise your voice to actually bring SEL into your school. You can bring that cultural change. [There are many] evidence-based white papers on early efficacy and impact with schools that have brought SEL in. We’re talking about big things—graduation rates, increases in attendance, decreases in suspensions, expulsions, disciplinary remarks. Amazing data, and the plan for how to do it.”

On SEL for Parents & Caregivers

“We have to involve our parents and caregivers. We have to let their voices be heard. We have to communicate with them with email updates on what we’re doing. I can’t tell you how many schools have come back to me and said ‘The last time, we didn’t update our parents on the program we were using, and it really hurt us.’

Curriculum engagement activities, lessons — what can we give to our parents? Are there seminars we can put together for them? Is there adult SEL training we can put together for them? Again, talking about how we do this virtually, how we do this in a blended environment that ultimately reinforces the need for this community, for this family, to send their student to our schools.

Teacher shortage was one of the most difficult things we were facing, and I think on top of that, we’re now going to face student shortage. We need to convince and show our parents that we love their kids, we believe in their kids, and that we want to empower them to be successful in the future through SEL and through curriculum and everything else we’re doing. This is how we support our parents.”

Click to watch the full “Cultivating a Social and Emotional Connection Across Our Schools and Community” webinar recording!