There is no question that an emphasis on the importance of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in the educational environment has grown exponentially. SEL has been an emerging educational priority over the past several years, as school leaders confronted the ever-increasing signs of stress and trauma our students are experiencing. The alarming rise in teen suicides (which are now appearing in our middle schools and high schools), social media shaming, ghosting, peer pressure, and school shootings have all contributed to what is clearly a mental health crisis in our schools and society. All of this was occurring pre-COVID-19. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these issues due to missed milestones (graduations, concerts, proms, trips, sports activities, travel) and even questions regarding career aspirations and students’ finding a successful pathway to their passion in life.  

The confluence of student mental health and well-being and the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust the need for SEL front and center as our students return to school this fall. 

Connecting Arts Education & Social and Emotional Learning  

A recent report from the University of Chicago and Ingenuity entitled Arts Education and Social-Emotional Learning Outcomes Among K-12 Students noted that much of this can be understood by considering the framework of how students learn. This document quoted from the report, Foundations for Young Adult Success: A Developmental Framework, highlighting the following two ways that students learn: 

1)  That the way children and youth develop competencies, beliefs, and behaviors is through developmental experiences — opportunities to act in the world and reflect on their experiences; and, 

2) Experiences are most influential in shaping the course of development when they take place within the context of strong, supportive, and sustained developmental relationships with important adults and peers. 

Developmental relationships and developmental experiences form the bedrock of SEL for our students. The key is whether or not these experiences are positive ones! 

The report further notes the developmental experiences that played a key role in education: 

Researchers identified 10 developmental experiences that were particularly powerful contributors to youth learning and development, including the development of social-emotional competencies. These include five action experiences (encountering, tinkering, choosing, practicing, and contributing) and five reflection experiences (describing, evaluating, connecting, envisioning, and integrating). Evidence from a range of disciplines suggests that the more students have the opportunities to engage in these types of experiences, the more developmentally healthy and successful they will be. 

As a school board member — can you think of how school-based arts education creates these five action-experiences and five reflection-experiences? These verbs suggest common experiences our students and teachers can use to build on the foundations of quality teaching and learning. 

The connection to arts education is clear. This is because the arts are social: look at our arts classrooms to see the social interactions between students and the decisions each student makes in the course of being a part of a group. The arts, by their very nature, are also emotional. One cannot look at a work of art or hear a piece of music without feeling something. 

Knowing these are important experiences to the developmental process — what can your school district do to make these experiences more meaningful? By taking an intentional approach to maximize these educational experiences, school administrators and arts educators will increase educational impact through these interactions with students. 

Making Intentional Connections 

This has given rise to the question: how do we best address SEL in our schools? 

We need to look no further than the report “A Nation at Hope” from the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development convened by the Aspen Institute. The report presented a series of recommendations, including: 

III. Change instruction to teach students social, emotional, and cognitive skills; embed these skills in academics and school-wide practices. 

This is key. For SEL to be effective, it must be embedded, intentional, and sustained within the curriculum.  

How do we intentionally embed SEL to the work in our arts classrooms to make meaningful connections? — The Arts Education & Social and Emotional Learning Framework. 

A team of experts explored all of the intersections between SEL and Arts Education through the lens of the arts education standards (artistic processes of Creating, Performing, Responding, and Connecting) and the social-emotional learning competencies (Self-Awareness and Self-Management, Social Awareness and Relationship Skills and Responsible Decision-Making). This approach maintained the focus on the primary goal of teaching the arts while making a clear connection to SEL to inform the instructional approach. This allowed the team to illuminate the inherent nature of SEL within arts education and how this can be activated in students intentionally.  

Understanding how the artistic processes intersect with the SEL competencies enables administrators and arts educators to intentionally activate and maximize these connections for the benefit of students. 

This crosswalk or “matrix” approach to revealing the intersections between arts education and SEL served two primary goals: 

Empowering arts educators with the information they need to revise curricula and instruction to embed the activation of the SEL components into practice. 

Providing arts educators, administrators, and other decision-makers with the information needed to elevate the understanding of how arts education is a valuable tool to support the implementation of SEL strategies in a school or district. 

 The results of this 18-month process can be accessed at The Center for Arts Education and Social Emotional Learning at, which every arts educator and school administrator across the nation can now utilize as a resource to embed SEL into instructional practices. 


By connecting the new Arts Learning Standards to the SEL Competencies, along with examples of effective strategies, arts educators and administrators will have a road map they may use to aid in the SEL integration process, and our students, schools, and communities will be the better for it. Opportunities to develop literacy and fluency in the arts have always been an important dimension of education. Now, more than ever, these opportunities are essential to the well-being of our students.  

In your community, NAMM member companies have been critical supporters of music and arts education. They have information and resources to help you with your programs, including how music may support the social-emotional learning goals for a school district.  

Our music and arts educators are the secret weapon to implementing social-emotional learning in our schools, and arts education is the super power to once again connect our students to our schools and provide a pathway to express themselves for this in this post-covid world of education. 

Robert B. Morrison is in his third term on the Watchung Hills Board of Education (NJ) and serves as a member of the New Jersey School Boards Association’s Board of Directors. He is a member of the NAMM Foundation’s SupportMusic Coalition and is the director of Arts Ed NJ and The Center for Arts Education and Social Emotional Learning. To connect to NAMM members in your community, email 


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