Teachers are the engine that drives social and emotional learning (SEL) programs and practices in schools and classrooms, and their own social-emotional competence and wellbeing strongly influence their students. Classrooms with warm teacher-child relationships support deep learning and positive social and emotional development among students, writes Kimberly Schonert-Reichl. But when teachers poorly manage the social and emotional demands of teaching, students' academic achievement and behavior both suffer. If we don't accurately understand teachers' own social-emotional wellbeing and how teachers influence students' SEL, says Schonert-Reichl, we can never fully know how to promote SEL in the classroom.
How can we boost teachers' social-emotional competence, and how can we help them create the kind of classroom environment that promotes students' SEL? Teachers are certainly at risk for poor social-emotional wellbeing. Research shows that teaching is one of the most stressful occupations; moreover, stress in the classroom is contagious—simply put, stressed-out teachers tend to have stressed-out students. In the past few years, several interventions have specifically sought to improve teachers' social-emotional competence and stress management in school, and Schonert-Reichly reviews the results, many of which are promising.
She also shows how teachers' beliefs—about their own teaching efficacy, or about whether they receive adequate support, for example—influence the fidelity with which they implement SEL programs in the classroom. When fidelity is low, SEL programs are less successful. Finally, she examines the extent to which US teacher education programs prepare teacher candidates to promote their own and their students' social-emotional competence, and she argues that we can and should do much more.