Why Some Administrations Resist SEL

Angela Benedetto, PhD

If someone wants to climb the career ladder in education (to earn more or to have an influence on the school system or for any other reason), they must choose the administrative path.

In the big picture one major reason not to point fingers at school administrators for laggard support for Social and Emotional Learning in their districts, is simply that the majority of administrators weren’t trained in SEL as part of the teacher leadership/administrative program on their way up.

Moreover, like it or not, many current administrators function from an old paradigm of professional advancement in which they are at the top of the pyramid, responsible for all decisions

Not required by this system is authentic, self-reflective, inclusive, collaborative decision making when it comes to school policies.

Put another way, many administrators have not been exposed to the new paradigm possibility of becoming a “servant-leader” – and may have no interest in this way of leading their district.

If an administrator hasn’t been guided to become aware of his or her own emotional and social states of being, how can she or he possibly model that to their staff and student body?

Comparable is a parent who has only been exposed to an authoritarian form of parenting with no experience of a more democratic way that includes using non-violent communication and empathy and finding it is better for their children and for the family as a whole.

Another impediment to wide-scale adoption of SEL programs is that high- level administrators sometimes move from district to district to advance their careers and salaries. This can create a lack of continuity in how an administration handles local district, state and federal initiatives and policies.

In fact, the effect can be chaotic given that it can take three or more years with no major disruptions for a new system to be fully integrated into a large school system, and some more years to iron out kinks.

This is especially true regarding soft skills like SEL, which requires a school district’s mission statement to embrace an interest in furthering self-reflection, life-long learning, and heart-based connection to change.

When pondering these realities, it’s useful also to remember that all institutions are a creation in and of themselves. A schooling institution is filled with large numbers of adults working there who have chosen to be part of it for a variety of reasons along children who are required to attend by law unless the parents choose home schooling.

For all these barrier-to-SEL-implementation reasons, it is paramount that the rest of us ask high-up policy makers on school boards and legislators to encourage and support the critical role SEL and mindfulness can play in improving school climate, student performance and supporting faculty.

It is our sincere hope that administrators will feel supported to say yes to the growth, healing, and mutual support that SEL offers when mindfully approached and implemented.


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