02/07/2011 06:38 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Social Emotional Learning In Schools Lifts Student Grades, Says Loyola University Chicago Study

According to a study led by Loyola University Chicago professor emeritus Joseph A. Durlak, learning about social skills in the classroom may increase students' academic success.

The report specifically focused on the effects of social and emotional learning (SEL) initiatives in K-12 classrooms. The study concluded:

"[It] appears that SEL programs are successful at all educational levels (elementary, middle, and high school) and in urban, suburban, and rural schools... Results from this review add to a growing body of research indicating that SEL programming enhances students' connection to school, classroom behavior, and academic achievement."

SEL programs focus on social themes rather than academic study, letting students role-play and take part in problem-solving activities to learn how to react to and process emotions.

The Courier-Journal reported on one such program in Jefferson County, Kentucky. Through the district's Care for Kids Initiative, students are educated on different conflict resolution strategies and other themes related to effective communication.

Wilt Elementary School teacher Jessica Hill participates in the Care for Kids Initiative. Once she started teaching her pre-kindergarten class SEL themes, they wanted to get involved. She told the Courier-Journal:

"The kids have been learning about various community organizations and have developed a particular interest in the effort to help stray or abandoned animals in our area."

Aside from encouraging social responsibility, the study suggests that SEL programs cultivate habits that will help the student learn more effectively. The report stated:

"Students who set high academic goals, have self-discipline, motivate themselves, manage their stress, and organize their approach to work learn more and get better grades."

The study also showed that programs initiated on a one-teacher, one-classroom basis fared much better than national programs. Durlak told Education Week,

"The more-comprehensive and broader programs tended to have more implementation problems. Trying to do more in the schools tends to be harder, takes more coordination, involves more people -- they're a lot harder to pull off."