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Not Everything that Counts Can Be Counted

Posted on Mar 2, 2016 10:00:00 AM

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
-- William Bruce Cameron

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is in the news so often, it may seem like an entirely new approach to education. But at Horizons, it has been at our core for over 50 years.


Horizons programs have been teaching the “whole child” since our start in 1964. We’ve always focused intentionally on how our students think, what they do, and how they relate to others, because right from the start, we’ve understood that student success, both in school and in life, goes beyond academic skills. That’s why we’ve crafted a balance of academic, cultural, and recreational activities to prepare confident, capable, and caring individuals.

We wonder if short-term gains in Social Emotional Learning can really be measured, because our background and experience tell us this is fundamentally a long-term process, and we engage our students for the long-term. With a student and teacher retention rate of over 80% annually across the network, most students remain with Horizons for an average of 6 years.

A few things that can be measured tell us we’re on the right path. Daily attendance is 94% in Horizons programs, and we’ve seen that commitment affect our students’ regular school year as well. Horizons students report a heightened sense of engagement with school, and an improved attitude toward learning – along with an uptick in academic results and attendance rates. Teachers report that Horizons students become more confident in their ability to learn, and start imagining a brighter future. 99% of Horizons high school students graduate, and 91% go on to college or other post-secondary training.

So what does SEL look like within a Horizons program?

At Horizons, SEL is integrated throughout the day. Whether it’s in the classroom, at meals, on the playground, or in the pool, we create approaches that best reflect the needs and strengths of our children, families, and communities. Regular routines, transitions, morning meetings, and consistent classroom techniques – all are designed to support student success.
Horizons students:

  • Are active participants, not passive observers
  • Engage in long-term, open-ended projects that require setting goals and following through
  • Have choices in what and how they learn
  • Are encouraged to solve problems
  • Are encouraged to adopt a growth mindset both in and out of the classroom
  • Know their classroom is a safe, positive place.

SEL is a critical component of student success at every developmental level.

Through our long-term relationship with students from early childhood through adolescence, we understand SEL instruction looks different at different ages. For our youngest students, for instance, “self-regulation” may be as simple as waiting one’s turn and learning to stay on task – important skills that support student success. For our adolescent students, “self-regulation” influences responsible decision-making and long-term goal setting. For all students, we believe SEL instruction is essential, and should align with their needs at each developmental stage.

There is a positive link between SEL and academic development.

Research confirms that quality SEL instruction often leads to better academic performance, improved attitudes and behaviors, fewer negative behaviors, and reduced emotional distress. Years of Horizons evidence, survey results, and assessment data support that premise. With a small teacher-to-student ratio, meaningful relationships are at the core of every Horizons program. Through formal and informal instruction, students learn about personal and communal respect and responsibility. The confidence students gain through learning to swim transfers into the classroom and propels academic gains. By promoting a growth mindset, collaboration, and meaningful relationships, Horizons enables students to achieve in a safe and respectful environment.

Horizons approaches SEL in multiple ways, reflecting local student, staff, and community needs.

Given the wide diversity of affiliates, grade levels, children, and educators across our network, Horizons takes a developmental approach that supports students at all ages. Through ongoing professional development and clear program objectives, Horizons teachers have the tools and expertise to deliver SEL instruction in both formal and informal ways as they establish long-term interactive relationships with children and families. Since a student’s social, emotional, and cognitive development is the result of multiple experiences within multiple environments, Horizons, as a long-term program, is well-suited to create intentional experiences to promote positive growth.

See a thoughtful paper from the Brookings Institute: Hard Thinking on Soft Skills