Gray Matters, April 2022

The Cognitive Benefits of Social Emotional Learning

Over the past several weeks you have read blog posts in this space describing ways in which we integrate social emotional learning at Capitol Hill Day School. Day-to-day we work to create an environment focused on the mental health and wellness of our community. Aspects of our curriculum and pedagogy put an emphasis on the development of cultural competency. Through their years at Capitol Hill Day School, children explore their self-identity and learn the value of perspective taking. Ultimately, we strive to establish a community in which all members have a strong sense of personal belonging and a deep empathy for others. 

Implied in the descriptions from Kathryn, Tom, and Leslie has been the importance of social emotional growth and development as a key element of teaching and learning. As educators, we do not simply commit to social emotional learning because it makes everyone feel better—we also recognize that how learners feel about themselves, others, and the content with which they engage, is unequivocally important. Empirical evidence clearly demonstrates the cognitive benefits of the social emotional growth that children experience at school. 

Here are three quotes from articles linked below that speak to this evidence:

“Emotion is essential to learning, and should not be underestimated or misunderstood as a trend, or as merely the “E” in social-emotional learning. Emotion is where learning begins, or, as is often the case, where it ends. It is literally neurobiologically impossible to think deeply about things that you don’t care about. Even in academic subjects that are traditionally considered unemotional, such as physics, engineering or math, deep understanding depends on making emotional connections between concepts.” (Orem)

“Psychologists increasingly appreciate the importance of social relationships for human functioning. Many scientists hypothesize that a portion of our brains evolved expressly to connect with others. This extra gray matter can pay big dividends in schools. Studies on thousands of students show that learners who are better socially connected to their teachers and classmates are significantly more engaged and achieve better than their less well-connected peers.” (Gehlbach)

“We know from the science of learning that academic learning is integrally tied to both the social and emotional climate of the classroom and the social and emotional skills of students. When students feel safe to take learning risks and make mistakes, when their cultural identity is affirmed in the classroom, and when they are able to effectively collaborate with others in the learning process, they are better equipped to learn academic content more deeply. All cognitive learning has myriad social and emotional facets.” (Berman & Darling-Hammond)

The Social-Emotional Foundations of Learning (Donna Orem, NAIS, March 2022)
How Teachers Can Find the Time for Social-Emotional Learning (Hunter Gehlbach, Education Week, October 2017)
Communicating the “Learning” in Social-Emotional Learning (Berman & Darling-Hammond, Learning Policy Institute, November 2021)

At Capitol Hill Day School we emphasize social emotional learning because we do care dearly about how children perceive themselves and others. We also emphasize social emotional learning because we know that it is the foundation on which all learning happens. To hear more about the important cognitive benefits of connection and to learn about ways in which we strive to create connection at Capitol Hill Day School please join us at Wednesday’s Community Meeting.

Head of School, Jason Gray makes a pincho pot with an EC student.



Catch up on past Gray Matters below: