If Not Now, When? Social and Emotional Learning in Ohio is Essential

As we enter 2021, a year of unprecedented challenges but also unparalleled opportunities, it is with excitement that we launch the Social and Emotional Learning For Ohio Blog! Every month, a guest author will share expertise, insights, stories, reflections, and resources in service of advancing SEL in our great state.

SEL for Ohio is a newly-formed grassroots group and a chapter of the SEL 4 US  nonprofit network. We aim to connect practitioners, parents, and other education-focused leaders and stakeholders who are implementing SEL in their homes and learning environments in order to scale systemic, evidence-based, equity-focused SEL in Ohio. Our goal is to support the educational, personal, and professional success of our children and young people by preparing the adults who teach and care for them with research-driven policies, skills, and practices. We focus on providing learning and collaboration opportunities, sharing high-quality resources and information, elevating SEL bright spots across the state, and advocating for equitable policies and practices that will help all children thrive.  

What is SEL and Why Focus on it Now?

SEL for Ohio encourages implementation of any evidence-based, whole child framework or practices, but uses as our touchstone, the Collaborative for Academic Social and Emotional Learning’s (CASEL) systemic framework, which identifies five core competencies essential in school and in life, including self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making, taught and learned within compassionate, equitable environments. We know from advances in neuroscience what educators and parents have always known deep down: learning is social and emotional and happens in caring, supportive relationships. We also know from economists and employers that investing in SEL produces an 11:1 return and these skills are essential to a career-ready workforce. 

Further, and perhaps most importantly, in order to tackle our seemingly intractable and escalating societal issues, we need to foster a generation of empathetic people that can take the perspective of those who are different from themselves, think critically in order to make responsible decisions that do no harm, work cooperatively across lines of difference toward the common good, and shape a future in which the dignity and equal rights of all people are honored. To do this, our teachers and our children must build skills in deeply knowing and understanding their own thoughts and feelings, how to manage more difficult emotions like fear and anger, how to listen reflectively, communicate assertively and without aggression, work through conflicts constructively, and make choices that help and not hurt self or others.  These are essential capacities in 2021 if we want our children (and our state) to reach their true potential. 

Ohio’s Opportunity

We believe in our state’s ability to overcome this moment, and indeed the Ohio Department of Education is working to become a leader in this space, adopting SEL Standards in 2019. But the ideologies of families and community members in Ohio are unquestionably fractured and divided. Focusing on the social and emotional development and well-being of children will not only help unite us around a common critical cause, it will bolster our collective strength as we work toward health and justice amidst the pandemic and political and social unrest. Our times of crisis have laid a foundation for a different kind of education for our children – one that focuses on valuing relationships and care for one another. We are ready to work to give every child the type of upbringing and education that all Ohioans can all be proud of. We believe we can do this only if we work together.
We encourage each of you to forward this blog to the educators, leaders, parents, and caregivers you know to invite them to join us and be a part of the SEL movement in our state. Because, as President Kennedy asked: if not us, who? If not now, when?

Pamela McVeagh-Lally and Jennifer Smith Miller – SEL for Ohio co-founders