Social-Emotional Learning in Adult Education

A look at one of our changemaking clients, the Sacramento County Office of Education

“When I started this job, I told myself I wanted to teach in the way I would want to be a student in my own class,” says Timothy Amaral, a GED instructor for the Salinas Adult School and trainer in social-emotional learning, also known as SEL. “I want students to feel welcome and involved.”   

SEL is a specialized curriculum and an example of the program development priority, one of CAEP’s seven state priorities for ensuring the best outcomes for adult education students.

“Social-emotional learning makes an enormous difference in students’ retention, persistence and ultimately graduation,” Amaral says. “They feel responded to, so they continue to attend. About two-thirds of my graduates move on to college.”

“Social-emotional learning makes an enormous difference in students’ retention, persistence and ultimately graduation… About two-thirds of my students move on to college.”

Timothy Amaral, GED Instructor

Amaral’s classroom is lecture-based, a model in which he constantly engages with students. One of his lessons is “building a vocabulary for students to express their internal world,” he says. “They get empowered to express their needs and do it in a safe place.”

As part of his lesson plan, Amaral references the works of psychotherapist-author David Richo and his “Five A’s of Love and Belonging”—Attention, Affection, Appreciation, Acceptance and Allowing.

“When my students are under distress—and there’s a lot of distress for them in an academic setting—they’re able to express themselves really well and ask for what they need,” Amaral says. “Somebody else in the class steps up for them, and they regulate and get back on task.”

Still, it must be disconcerting for adult students who expect a “normal” classroom setting from their high school years to find themselves as strangers in a strange land.

“It’s disorienting when they first walk in because they expect something impersonal,” Amaral says. “Instead, the classroom feels like a family home during the holidays.

“I tell them the old pattern never worked, that they survived school rather than thrived,” he says. “I want to provide an environment where they thrive. In many cases, they’ve never been cared for in their lives and it makes them very anxious. It takes time for them to trust it.”

And the teacher’s reward? “When my students leave class, they like school again.”

Read the full publication here.