Schools across the nation are embracing social and emotional learning (SEL) to help students build skills like setting goals, working together and making good decisions. But what do teachers think about the SEL-related efforts in their districts and schools? How do they see these efforts affecting their students and themselves? Do they feel they are getting enough support to work on SEL in their classrooms? 

To answers these questions, the RAND Corporation conducted a survey in spring 2019 via the American Teacher Panel, a nationally representative sample of K-12 teachers. RAND received responses from more than 1,200 teachers working in schools across the country and that varied by such characteristics as enrollment and racial and ethnic composition. The findings from this study, documented in the full report and summarized in the accompanying research brief, can help leaders and policymakers better support teachers carrying out SEL efforts.

Key findings from the survey include:

  • Most teachers expressed confidence in their ability to improve students’ social and emotional competencies.
  • At the same time, many teachers expressed a belief that factors beyond their control had a greater influence on students’ SEL than they did and that pressure to improve students’ academic achievement made it difficult to focus on SEL.
  • While most teachers said their school has a culture that is supportive of SEL, the percentage was higher for teachers in lower-poverty schools (71 percent) than those in higher-poverty schools (55 percent).
  • Teachers indicated a need for additional professional development on several topics, including integrating SEL into academic instruction, adapting SEL to different cultures and to students with different learning needs, and reviewing and using SEL data.
  • Eighty percent of teachers said they wanted more SEL lesson plans and curriculum support.
  • Overall, teachers reported high levels of job satisfaction and general well-being, but ratings for both factors were lower among teachers working in higher-poverty schools.
  • Higher levels of teacher well-being were associated with greater use of SEL practices, but the reasons for this association are unclear.
  • Teachers were less likely to use technology that supports SEL than they were to adopt other SEL-related practices.

Based on these and other findings, the report offers ways state, district and school leaders can help support the take-up and effective use of SEL practices. These include addressing teacher well-being and burnout, developing the right SEL-related professional development opportunities, and—in light of the COVID-19 pandemic—providing guidance on new and emerging SEL online instruction programs and tools.

 Points of Interest

  • Analyzing the results of a national survey, RAND found a relationship between teachers’ sense of well-being in school and their emphasis on practices that promote social-emotional learning. But well-being is lower for teachers in higher-poverty schools, and many are facing additional burdens and stress because of COVID-19.
    Teachers’ job satisfaction and use of social-emotional learning practices are linked, but we don’t yet know how. Leaders, keep an eye out for burnout, especially in high-poverty schools.
  • In a nationally representative sample, teachers say they are confident in their ability to improve students’ social-emotional skills, but they want more lesson plans, curriculum supports and professional development on key topics.
    Teachers say they’re interested in building students’ social-emotional skills, but they need more targeted support from school and district leaders.
  • Many teachers reported in a RAND Corporation survey that their school lacks a clear vision and roadmap for social-emotional learning. Professional development can equip principals with the resources and knowledge they need to lead the way on SEL.
    Professional development on social-emotional learning isn’t just for teachers. Principals need knowledge and resources so they can lead the way.