Emotional Support Boosts Academic Achievement

March 10, 2014 Updated: March 9, 2014

A recent study indicates that students who have support on social and emotional levels are better academic achievers. The three-year study was conducted based on controlled research led by Sara Rimm-Kaufman, professor at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education.

According to Rimm-Kaufman, the findings indicate that students who have support in the areas of social and emotional growth in the classroom show improved academic learning. Specifically, they showed increased reading and math achievements.

In addition, students benefit regardless of different socio-economic backgrounds. Per Rimm-Kaufman, math and reading gains were similar among students who qualified for free, reduced-priced lunch and those who paid full price.

Researchers followed a group of students and teachers at 24 elementary schools over three years from the end of their second-grade year until the end of their fifth-grade year. A comparison was made, based on reading and math achievements, between 13 schools that have adopted the Responsive Classroom (RC) approach—a social and emotional learning intervention—and 11 that have not adopted the approach.

“In a time of intense academic demands, many critics question the value of spending time on teaching social skills, building classroom relationships, and supporting student autonomy,” said Rimm-Kaufman in a press release. “Our research shows that time spent supporting children’s social and emotional abilities can be a very wise investment.”

Teachers Need Training, Support
“Our findings raise important questions about the support of teachers in implementing social and emotional learning interventions such as RC,” said Rimm-Kaufman. She believes that the RC approach is most effective only when teachers fully implement it in their classrooms.

According to Rimm-Kaufman, a teacher who receives adequate training and support for using practices that enhance the students’ social and emotional growth increases the students’ levels of achievement.

In addition, RC focuses on enhancing the teachers’ ability to create well-managed classroom environments that support social, academic, and self-regulatory skills, bolstering respectful and productive classrooms.

Teachers trained in the RC approach receive two separate weeklong training sessions in consecutive summers. The study indicated that teachers were more likely to use the RC practices when they had the support of the school’s principal.

The study, “Efficacy of the Responsive Classroom Approach: Results from a 3-Year, Longitudinal Randomized Controlled Trial,” is to be published this month in the American Educational Research Journal.