News Release

Social Emotional Learning Isn’t Just for Students

New Policy Brief Highlights Teacher Stress, Calls for Providing Social Emotional Learning for Teachers

MEDIA CONTACT:  Gretchen Wright,, (202) 421-5830 

July 22, 2021 (Atlanta, GA)–The stress of the past year has had significant impact on students and their learning. As educators and policymakers examine ways to alleviate that stress and mitigate its impact on academic achievement, one area they should focus on is social emotional learning (SEL) for teachers, according to the Southern Education Foundation (SEF), a 154-year-old organization dedicated to education equity. An issue brief released today by SEF describes the impact of various stressors on teachers and how that affects student learning and provides a series of recommendations aimed at ensuring teachers receive SEL.

According to the brief, Teacher Stress and Burnout: The High Cost of Low Social and Emotional Development, “social and emotional skills are the ability to recognize and manage emotions, show empathy, build relationships, and collaborate effectively. These skills are developed through daily, embedded, ongoing practice, as opposed to isolated lessons out of context.”

Teacher Stress and Burnout notes that while teaching is the most important school-based factor in student success, teaching is also ranked one of the worst professions for physical health, psychological well-being, and job satisfaction. That leads to high rates of absenteeism and turnover, exacting a financial toll on schools and negatively affecting students’ academic achievement. The stressors are even greater for new teachers (in their first five years) who also tend to work in schools with a larger share of students from low-income families. Teachers in urban schools face additional stressors, including heavier workloads, school-level disorganization, student poverty, and high-stakes testing pressures.

All of these factors mean that students of color and students from low-income families are more likely to be affected by teachers’ stress, particularly when teachers aren’t equipped with the social emotional skills to manage their stress and that of their students.

“If we want our schools to be optimal learning environments, we need to provide teachers with the opportunity to build their own social and emotional skills, such as self-management and relationship skills,” said report author Sabrina Jones. “Teachers can then use these skills to manage their own emotions, co-regulate their students’ stress, and contribute to creating a healthier school climate.” Jones is a former fourth grade teacher in Miami-Dade Public Schools and the Southern Education Foundation’s 2021 Leadership for Educational Equity Fellow.

While SEL has become increasingly prominent in schools because it is shown to promote a healthy and productive learning environment, Jones and her co-author, Titilayo Tinubu Ali, point out that it is rarely offered in teacher preparation programs. Ali is the Southern Education Foundation’s Senior Advisor for Research and Policy.

Teacher Stress and Burnout describes the efforts of several southern school districts to provide SEL for educators, including in Atlanta, Georgia; Palm Beach County, Florida; and Tulsa, Oklahoma. The brief provides the following recommendations:

  • Districts should provide targeted SEL support to new teachers to help them build the skills to thrive and become effective sooner.
  • Districts with monetary attendance incentives should assess whether these policies are discouraging teachers from taking the time off they need to manage stress and take care of their social and emotional health.
  • Teacher preparation programs should assess their course offerings for social and emotional skills training and explore opportunities to offer courses cross-listed with departments of psychology, which often have available courses that may be adapted to an educational context.
  • School and districts leaders should conduct surveys and hold listening sessions to understand teacher well-being and job-related stressors and then use this information to target interventions. Leaders should be mindful of how teachers from different backgrounds may experience different job-related stressors.
  • Districts should leverage American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding, which requires that at least 20 percent of funds be used to address lost instructional time with evidence-based interventions that respond to students’ academic and social and emotional needs. Programs and interventions for student SEL should also include provide professional development to help teachers meet their students’ needs and to regulate their own stress.
  • States and districts should also use ESSER funds to address the root causes of teacher shortages and advance strategies to build a stable and diverse teacher workforce, including partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities which prepare 50 percent of the nation’s Black teachers.

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Originally founded in 1867 to educate Black children and children from low-income families in the South, the Southern Education Foundation also has a long history of developing leaders in education and was a pivotal source of research and data to support legislation and litigation aimed at fighting inequity in education during the civil rights era. The organization today conducts leadership development, research, and advocacy to improve educational opportunities for low-income students and students of color and achieve educational equity in the Southern U.S. It is based in Atlanta, Georgia. Find out more at