Bridgeland, J., Bruce, M., & Hariharan, (2013). The Missing Piece: A National Teacher Survey on How Social and Emotional Learning Can Empower Children and Transform Schools. Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. Chicago: Author
In the report, “The Missing Piece”, Bridgeland, Bruce, M., & Hariharan (2013) present findings on teachers’ perspectives about social emotional learning in schools. The stated that emotional learning (SEL) “involves the processes of developing competencies, including self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making” (p. 1). After examining 605 k-12th grade teacher surveys, the authors conclude that SEL is the solution to transforming our American youth.
The authors introduced the article by making a strong case for the importance of social emotional learning in schools. They argued that without it, “America risks a generation of talent, needlessly lost” (p. 11). They go on to say that equipping students with strategies to increase their social and emotional skills “can help solve key national challenges related to our education and workforce readiness” (p. 20). Furthermore, the American dream is at stake for our children. Clearly, the author’s theoretical framework was developed with the intention to convince policy makers, educators and educational stakeholders of the key ingredient (social emotional learning) that can solve many of the nation’s most salient struggles (p. 20).
Overall, the organization of the report was coherent and comprehensive. The article had several parts: an executive summary, an introduction, an overview, and an analysis of the three data trends. The majority of the report focused on the following three trends: Teachers reported favorable views regarding the importance of integrating social and emotional learning in schools, teachers saw social emotional learning as a contributor to student achievement and life success, and teachers identified natural ways to integrate SEL into their curriculums and community outreach programs. For each trend, the authors displayed graphs of the survey data along with a thorough analysis. The authors decorated each report page with convincing quotes from teachers and highlighted persuasive data findings that supported the case for SEL.
At the conclusion, in a section titled, “Paths Forward” (p. 37), the authors present nine recommendations. Similar to the other sections, the introduction stresses the urgency to ensure that SEL be taught and modeled in every school. They assert, “as a nation, we have the opportunity to change the lives of millions of American youth with the use of a very powerful strategy-social emotional learning” (p. 37). Their recommendations include ideas such as; incorporate SEL activities into the school curriculum, coordinate SEL competencies with community partners (including parents), provide professional development to the teachers, include SEL in district goals and standards, and be a federal policy advocate (p. 37-41).
The survey findings have many implications for contributing to the field of education. Teacher beliefs and values should be considered when important decisions are made around standards and curriculum. According to the surveys, teachers see social and emotional skills as driving forces for increased motivation. They reported, “academic, social, and emotional learning are inextricably linked, and SEL can accelerate student learning by increasing students’ intrinsic motivation to achieve, their ability to be attentive and engaged in their work, their satisfaction with learning, their sense of belonging, and their desire to work cooperatively” (p. 30). I found these teacher beliefs to be powerful. Interestingly however, thirty-two percent of teachers reported that their schools place very little emphasis on developing students’ social and emotional skills (p. 17). This tells us that despite teachers’ beliefs about the importance of SEL, if we see this as a need in our schools, we have to convince educational policy and stakeholders.
The authors supported the survey findings by citing other studies that yielded similar results. Some of the studies were ambiguous, leaving out pertinent details that would support the research credibility. I was often unclear of where the study came from and who conducted it. One example of this reads, “One research study shows that among one million students from grades five to twelve, positive emotions such as hope, well-being, and engagement account for 31 percent of the variance in students’ academic success” (p. 20). This study seems fairly profound and convincing, but I was left with questions and skepticism.
Furthermore, throughout the report, the authors presented the survey findings and created statements that seemed to exaggerate the truth. For example, the authors made claims that SEL can have many positive effects on students, including boosting academic performance, increasing student interest in learning, improving student behavior, reducing bullying and improving a school climate. Although this may be true, the surveys that were used to generate this report only included teacher responses.
I was most interested in reading the specific data findings from the report. I wanted to hear the authentic, un-interpreted teacher opinions and beliefs. Teachers are the most important stakeholders, as they are the ones who make the biggest impact in our schools. Most teachers (93%) felt that social and emotional learning should be part of the school experience. Of all the teachers surveyed, ninety-five percent noted that social and emotional skills are teachable. Nearly all teachers (97%) reported that these skills would benefit all students.
The authors chose to break some of the data down further by isolating certain variables. For example, teachers that work in high needs schools (60% or more free and reduced lunch) were more likely to endorse the need for SEL instruction (p. 18). Another way that the findings were broken down was by grade level. Shockingly, only 42% of the high school teachers reported that SEL should be taught during the high school years. Unfortunately, the authors didn’t elaborate on this particular finding. This was not surprising.
Reflecting on the implications for humanizing, access, and equitable education research, I think the teacher survey findings are insightful and should have implications for our schools. Our schools should be preparing children to be more self-aware, develop healthy relationships, and equip them with strategies to make responsible decisions. The report was convincing and only fueled my sense of urgency to get started.