American organizations lose up to $44 billion in lost productivity annually because of poor mental health among their employees (Stewart et al., 2003).
Ninety-two percent of surveyed executives say that skills such as problem-solving and communicating clearly are equally or more important than technical skills (Davidson, 2016).
The above statistics indicate that mental health and social and emotional competencies have a powerful impact on workforce successes and retention. Given this, educational institutions now increasingly recognize mental and emotional well-being as part of their efforts to prepare students for college and/or careers. The good news is that by integrating social and emotional learning (SEL) and mental health into daily schooling, students are not only better prepared for their future personal and professional lives, but schools also experience improvements in academic performance, student and staff well-being, and school climate.
Historically, schools have been primarily seen as places for academic learning, where students acquire knowledge and skills in core subject areas such as reading, writing, and mathematics to succeed in the professional world. In recent years, there has been a growing recognition that preparing students for the future extends beyond the skills of core subject areas; education also plays a crucial role in fostering the social and emotional well-being of students, which is essential for working amidst the stressors of our much more complex and rapidly evolving American life (Weist et al., 2023). SEL and mental health are increasingly vital components of the business of schools, as they directly influence a student’s overall success and readiness for life. In this blog post, we explore seven reasons why SEL and mental health are increasingly recognized as an integral part of the mission, or the business, of schools.
This blogpost is part of a three-part series exploring myths related to social and emotional learning (SEL) and mental health. This second post, authored by NCSSLE partners at the National Center for School Mental Health (NCSMH) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, examines the question of whether SEL and mental health are the business of schools. The additional blogposts in this series examine common misconceptions about the relationships between SEL and mental health and the misconception that SEL and mental health supports in schools are just for students.
1. Improving Academic Performance
Research consistently shows that SEL and mental health are associated with academic achievement. Students who engage in SEL in the classroom perform better in school than those who do not receive SEL instruction (Durlak et al., 2022). Further, emotional well-being positively impacts memory, information retention, and cognitive functioning (Cipriano et al., 2023). When students feel emotionally secure and supported, they are better able to concentrate, focus, and engage in their studies. By investing in SEL and mental health initiatives, schools create an environment conducive to optimal learning and academic success.
2. Enhancing Social and Emotional Skills
Social and emotional skills are essential for navigating both personal and professional aspects of life. SEL programs equip students with tools to understand and manage their emotions, which leads to improved decision-making and conflict resolution. As students develop social and emotional skills, they become better at understanding others’ perspectives and forming meaningful connections with their peers and teachers. Ultimately, these skills translate to improved interpersonal interactions, collaboration, and relationships with future employers and colleagues.
3. Reducing Behavioral Issues and Disruptions
By addressing the emotional needs of students, schools can effectively reduce behavioral problems (Bradshaw et al., 2010). Emotionally secure students are less likely to engage in disruptive or harmful behaviors. Additionally, educators who are trained in SEL and mental health promotion techniques can demonstrate and reinforce positive behaviors and respond more empathetically to challenging behaviors, which leads to an improved classroom climate.
4. Creating Safe Learning Spaces
Schools are more than just institutions where students learn basic skills; they must also be safe havens for students. Many young people face a variety of mental health challenges, including stress, anxiety, trauma, and societal pressures. By prioritizing mental health, schools can create a safe space where students feel understood, respected, and supported. This, in turn, fosters a positive learning environment where students can thrive academically, socially, and emotionally.
5. Supporting Educators’ Well-Being
A school’s commitment to SEL and mental health extends not only to students but also to educators and staff. Educators face significant stress and emotional challenges in their roles, and it is essential to provide them with the necessary support and resources. When educators’ well-being is prioritized, they can better support their students’ emotional needs and create a more positive learning environment (Steiner et al., 2022). The development of SEL and mental health skills among students is similarly effective and helpful for educators to function in their own work and life spheres.
6. Encouraging Holistic Development
Education is not just about preparing students for future careers; it is also about nurturing well-rounded individuals capable of leading quality and fulfilling lives. SEL equips students with critical life skills, such as empathy, communication, problem-solving, and emotion regulation. These skills are vital for developing healthy relationships, handling conflicts, and collaborating effectively with others. By addressing the social and emotional growth of a student, schools can contribute to their holistic development and lifelong success.
7. Preparing for Life Beyond the Classroom
The ultimate goal of education is to prepare students for the real world. In this rapidly changing and often challenging world, strong social and emotional skills are increasingly more valuable. Students with a well-developed emotional foundation are more adaptable, resilient, and capable of dealing with the complexities of life. By integrating SEL and mental health into the academic curriculum and fostering positive mental health among students, schools give students a head start in both their personal life and careers.
Strategies and Examples
The following are examples of how states have embedded SEL and mental health into their policies and practices:
- Illinois education standards include life-skills competencies for K–12 students. The Illinois Social and Emotional Learning Standards include 10 SEL standards, along with goals, age-appropriate benchmarks, and performance descriptors.
- Arkansas offers the G.U.I.D.E. for Life program, which is designed to help K–12 students develop skills in growth (manage yourself), understanding (know yourself), interaction (build relationships), decisions (make responsible choices), and empathy (be aware of others).
- The Colorado Department of Education established a blueprint for school mental health services to guide community members, schools, local leaders, and districts through 10 best practices, including strategies for implementing, funding, and sustaining mental health services in schools. Their School Mental Health Toolkit helps make the case for schools to implement practices such as mental health screening, suicide prevention, and student wellness plans.
- The Wisconsin School Mental Health Framework, established by the State Department of Public Instruction, includes six components of a comprehensive school mental health system and provides guidance on implementing them from a trauma-sensitive lens.
The business of schools should encompass far more than academic achievement alone. By recognizing the critical importance of SEL and mental health, educational institutions can create a nurturing and supportive environment for students to grow and excel in all aspects of their lives. Investing in SEL not only improves academic outcomes but also prepares students for the evolving challenges of the real world, ultimately shaping them into well-rounded, compassionate, and resilient individuals. As we move forward, let us embrace the idea that education is not just about imparting knowledge but also about empowering future generations with the skills they need to thrive at home, in communities, and in the workplace.
This blog post was developed by Dr. Sharon Hoover and Dr. Nancy Lever of the National Center for School Mental Health with input from Erin Wofford.