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  • Writer's pictureJake Marr

5 things to know about Social & Emotional Learning

Portland Public Schools (PPS) has announced that the first week and a half(ish) of the 2020-21 school year will be focused on social and emotional learning. You probably have lots of questions. "What is it? Why are our kids not focusing on actual curriculum? Why is it so important?" Here are five answers.


5. What is Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)?

According to Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), SEL is,"the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Lessons focus on self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. These start at an early age with focus on interpersonal relations within the classroom community, then broaden to internal reflection within the student's external communities (entire school, family, neighborhood, etc.).


4. Not all students are the same

This may seem insultingly obvious, but understanding that students are as diverse in their academic needs as their social emotional needs. The spectrum ranges from differences in communication to diagnosis that require intentional types of interaction. Students come from a plethora of home situations that directly impact their social emotional skills and well-being.

Data from the 2019-20 school year shows that 41.2% of PPS elementary students qualify for free and reduced lunch. Of elementary students enrolled last year, 43.5% were students of color, who face challenges of their own. In FFY 2019, Oregon DHS reported 309 certified foster homes between Multnomah and Clackamas counties. Underserved students (defined as being eligible for Special Education, Limited English Proficiency, free meals by Direct Certification, or identify as Black, Latinex/Hispanic, Native American, or Pacific Islander) accounted for 49.8% of elementary students in 2019-20.

These are just a few ways to slice the pie that requires differentiation. Each way you slice the student population requires an intentional approach in the classroom.


3. SEL sets the stage for Restorative Justice (RJ)

Restorative Justice, or RJ, is such a large topic of itself that it has consumed books and websites entirely. Essentially, RJ justice repairs the harm caused by crime. When victims, offenders, and community members meet to decide how to do that, the results can be transformation (

RJ is standard practice in PPS. It is not easy, but it is effect. Countless studies show the decrease in behavioral issues as RJ becomes the classroom standard. SEL provides the individual a foundation for RJ to build upon. Both RJ and SEL are skills necessary for being a positively contributing citizen in adulthood.


2. "But, my kid is 'normal/regular/average', so they don't need this SEL."

SEL is not just for children with troubled homes, of different abilities/conditions, or any other 'non-normal' qualifier. Yes, SEL promotes self-awareness and emotional awareness, but it also educates about the role in community health.

Students learn to take care of themselves while learning how to better interact with others. Internal and external awareness is the name of the game.

So, no, your student does need SEL to share in the support of their peers.


  1. These are troubled times

Nobody needs the reminder of the dumpster fire that 2020 has been. Our students were snatched out of their desks and plopped in front of a screen, with teachers that were unprepared to educate in the new format. Hopefully, the students also had to deal with a summer of quarantine. Here in Portland, there is growing awareness even in our youngest students of the unrest related to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Now, any hope of returning to school to be with their friends and 'a normal life' has been placed on hiatus until November 6th with the outlook not looking good for any change at that time.

These poor generations are dealing with unprecedented times like the adults are, therefore we must give them the opportunity to be able to handle such turbulence. SEL is just that. That is why PPS has decided to dedicate the opening of their school year to social and emotional learning.


Thank you for reading! Stay healthy!

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