Social Emotional Learning’s Impact On School Violence

September 2, 2021

Technology has a role in Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and preventing school violence

School violence disrupts learning and can have long-term physical and emotional effects on everyone in the community. There’s no silver bullet to eliminate it, but the positive Social Emotional Learning (SEL) impact on school violence makes it a tool worth considering.

What is Social Emotional Learning (SEL)?

Social Emotional Learning teaches self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills. These skills are critical to preparing adults and children to succeed at school and work, to have successful family lives, and to function well within their communities. SEL addresses five core competencies that can be applied in classrooms, schools, with families, and in the community as a whole:

  1. Self-Awareness: The ability to understand your thoughts, emotions, and values and how they affect your behavior in a variety of situations. This includes things such as linking feelings, values, and thoughts, and recognizing your strengths and limitations while maintaining confidence in yourself.
  2. Self-Management: Managing emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in a variety of situations that help to achieve goals. This includes things such as learning how to delay gratification, be self-disciplined and self-motivated, setting goals, managing stress, and taking initiative.
  3. Responsible Decision Making: The ability to make productive choices about your behavior in a variety of situations. This includes the ability to behave in a way that addresses ethics and safety issues, to understand the consequences of your actions, and to make decisions after analyzing the facts in a specific situation.
  4. Social Awareness: Understanding other people’s perspectives and empathizing with them, even when they are from different backgrounds and cultures. This includes being concerned about other people’s feelings, being compassionate towards others, and recognizing their strengths.
  5. Relationship Skills: The ability to establish and nurture healthy relationships and to apply those skills with diverse people and groups. This includes good communication skills, working well in a team, using collaborative problem-solving, resolving conflicts productively, and asking for or offering support when it’s needed.

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Can SEL Impact School Violence?

If you think about the instances of school violence you have witnessed or heard about, you’ll undoubtedly find that the perpetrators lack SEL skills. They don’t know how to manage their emotions, they don’t have empathy for others, and they’re not comfortable in their own skin.

Research reinforces the notion that SEL can reduce school violence. For example, schools that have an SEL program benefit in the following ways:

  • Students were 42% less likely to report involvement in physical aggression
  • There was 20% less bullying of students with disabilities
  • SEL programs in schools reduced the dropout rate by 5-12%
  • There was a 13% increase in academic achievement
  • In other research, it was found that after implementing a popular SEL program, schools experienced a decrease in bullying and other aggressive behaviors.

Looking to the future of your students, it’s also interesting to note that 79% of employers report that SEL skills are critical for job success.

School Violence Early Warning Signs

In the report titled Averting Targeted School Violence: A U.S. Secret Service Analysis of Plots Against Schools, published in March 2021, the United States Secret Service noted that one of the key findings of the study is that people who are thinking about violence can often be spotted based on observable behaviors. There are five behaviors you can look for to spot someone moving toward violence.

Spotting and addressing these behaviors can often help to thwart school violence. It’s a much better plan than waiting until violence affects the community. School violence early warning signs include:

  1. Bullying: Bullying is a problem that negatively affects the bully as well as the students being bullied. The Secret Service report indicates that 21% of students that plotted violence in schools were trying to get revenge against those who had bullied them either face-to-face or using cyberbullying.
  2. Suicidal Behaviors: 13% of students plotting violence are suicidal, and 37% of them are willing to die, intend to commit suicide, or want to commit suicide by cop.
  3. Life Stressors: 91% of plotters had major life stressors in the five years before they started to plan violence, and 81% had life stressors in the past year or on an ongoing basis.
  4. Obsession with Violence: 67% of plotters are obsessed with violence, which shows due to communicating violent themes, becoming addicted to violent content, and an obsessive interest in weapons.
  5. Communication of Intent: The report notes that as the plotter gets close to carrying out their plans, they often interact with others concerning their plans. They may ask friends to help with an attack or warn friends to stay away from the attack site.

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Technology’s Role in SEL and Preventing School Violence

Technology is starting to be used to assist in teaching SEL skills. There’s also a role for school IT teams to use technology to help spot the early warning signs of school violence.

Technology in SEL

Eileen Belastock, the Director of Technology and Information at Nauset Public Schools, recently joined us on our podcast to talk about the role of technology in SEL (listen to the episode here).

Eileen talked about how schools can use solutions as simple as a Google Form for an online morning “check-in” with students to identify how they’re feeling that day. Oftentimes, when a student lashes out at a teacher or peer, it’s because the student is dealing with life stressors like being hungry or dealing with issues at home. The check-in would give teachers and students a point of reference for planning their day.

She also noted that introducing robotics into the classroom is an excellent way to help teach students how to work together and do collaborative problem-solving. She is also excited about new online SEL curriculums that are presented as games, but that help students to understand and practice SEL skills.

Monitoring Student Technology

The school IT team can also take an active role in monitoring for early warning signs. IT teams can automate online monitoring in a number of ways, including:

Since students live so much of their lives online, very often the only way to spot early warning signs of violence is for the IT team to get involved. As the Secret Service noted in its report, if risky behaviors are reported, the next tragedy can often be averted.

In many K-12 schools today, IT teams use monitoring software to keep tabs on what is appearing in school technology provided to students. When they receive an alert, they can forward the issue to the professionals in the proper school building who are tasked with counseling students with problems.

Many schools are taking note of how SEL can help reduce school violence, bullying, self-harm, suicide, and improve overall student wellbeing this school year. IT teams can help by providing online support for SEL education, and by monitoring school systems to identify students in crisis.

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