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Social and Emotional Learning

Social and emotional learning programs develop critical competencies in children. Emotionally competent children are happier and more productive. Schools offer a wonderful opportunity to provide social and emotional education. And schools themselves may benefit from doing so as Jonathan Cohen suggests (2000, p. 5):

In recent years, there has been growing concern that more and more children are distressed, disturbed, and not motivated to learn. We all know that psychological and, too often, physical violence complicate and often derail educators and children’s capacity to teach and to learn. . . On a typical school day, over 135,000 students bring weapons to school (Hamburg, 1992; Mott Foundation, 1994). Today, 25% of American 10 to 17 year old children suffer from school adjustment problems, problems that are predictive of later, more serious problems (Dryfoos, 1990). As students move into the adolescence (14 to 17 year olds), recent studies show that 35% of our children engage in high-risk behavior. Between 15 and 22% of our nations youth experience social, emotional and other problems that necessitate mental health treatment. And, approximately 80% of them are not receiving needed services (Dryfoos, 1997). These and related findings about the distressing state of children nationally and internationally have intensified our search for more effective ways by which that we can help our children develop into responsible, caring and healthy individuals.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning is a good source of information and support. For instance, you can find a collection of sample SEL activities and a quick introduction to SEL on their website. CASEL has put forth guidelines for SEL programs (Elias & Weissberg, 2000) that explain the best ways to implement programs at the classroom, school and district levels. They detail the skills that are the focus of SEL efforts. Also of interest is a review of SEL activity in a number of different countries developed by the Marcelino Botin Foundation.

CASEL’s Key Skills in Social and Emotional Learning

  • Self-Awareness
  • Recognizing and naming one’s emotions.
  • Understanding the reasons and circumstances for feeling as one does.
  • Self-Regulation of Emotion
  • Verbalizing and coping with anxiety, anger, and depression.
  • Controlling impulses, aggression and self-destructive, anti-social behavior.
  • Recognizing strengths in and mobilizing positive feelings about self, school, family and support networks.
  • Self-Monitoring and Performance
  • Focusing on tasks at hand.
  • Setting short- and long-term goals.
  • Modifying performance in light of feedback.
  • Mobilizing positive motivation.
  • Activating hope and optimism.
  • Working toward optimal performance states, learning how to achieve flow.
  • Empathy and Perspective Taking
  • Becoming a good listener.
  • Increasing empathy and sensitivity to others’ feelings.
  • Understanding others’ perspectives, points of view and feelings.
  • Social Skills in Handling Relationships
  • Managing emotions in relationships, harmonizing diverse feelings & viewpoints.
  • Expressing emotions effectively.
  • Exercising assertiveness, leadership, and persuasion.
  • Working as part of a team/cooperative learning groups.
  • Showing sensitivity to social cues.
  • Exercising social decision-making and problem-solving skills.
  • Responding constructively to interpersonal conflict.

2008 Meta-Analysis of SEL Programs

Some of the most compelling information supporting SEL comes from findings of the largest, most scientifically rigorous review of research ever done on interventions that promote children’s social and emotional development. This review of more than 700 studies published through 2007 included school, family, and community interventions designed to promote social and emotional skills in children and adolescents between the ages of 5 and 18. This large sample of studies was divided into three main areas: studies about (a) school-based interventions, (b) after-school programs, and (c) programs for families.

Results of the school-based research, which included 207 studies of programs involving 288,000 students, is of key relevance here. In this meta-analysis (study of studies), researchers used statistical techniques to summarize the findings across all the studies and found a broad range of benefits for students:

  • 9% decrease in conduct problems, such as classroom misbehavior and aggression
  • 10% decrease in emotional distress, such as anxiety and depression
  • 9% improvement in attitudes about self, others, and school
  • 23% improvement in social and emotional skills
  • 11% improvement in achievement test scores

More information on the research results is available in a CASEL briefing paper and as an archived teleconference.

Videos of Possible Interest

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Sample Catalog Resources

Below you'll find a randomized listing of up to 20 related items (we may have more...) drawn from our Resource Catalog.

Resource Title Description Links
Children at risk, violence in our home Two diagrams, one outlining the ways in which children may be at risk, such as physical, sexual and emotional abuse, the second diagram shows ways in which at risk children have problems in school, such as acting out, falling asleep, and no respect for authority.
Integrated lessons: Collection from the National Curriculum Integration Project Pdf document presenting a series of lessons for both language arts and social studies classes which examine conflict, explore positive solutions and examine how issues of culture and bias, social and emotional learning and law related education impact conflict and its resolution. Written above title on document: NCIP (National Curriculum Integration Project).
Nonviolence: An Assertive Approach to Conflict This 50-minute activity lesson plan takes the Occupy Wall Street protest movement as a jumping off point to explore different approaches to resolving conflicts. The lesson is structured to help students explore what escalates/deescalates conflict; look at the difference between aggressive, submissive and assertive responses to conflict; focus on nonviolent action as an assertive response to conflict; and learn about Occupy Wall Street's use of nonviolence as a strategy.
Developing and Assessing School Culture: A New Level of Accountability for Schools This 8-page CEP position paper argues that education in our nation is at a defining moment, one with the potential to reshape our national conversation about school improvement. Successful schools--ones that foster both academic excellence and ethics--have positive school cultures (or "climates"). CEP defines a positive school culture broadly to include all aspects of school life, including a safe and caring environment, a powerful pedagogy and curriculum, student motivation and engagement, professional faculty culture and relational trust, parent partnerships, and community collaboration. The paper presents case studies and educational research showing the impact of school culture on students' academic achievement and social behavior. Because a positive school culture is central to student success, the authors argue we must address how to help all schools develop effective cultures. Since what gets measured matters, schools must also be held accountable for having positive school cultures and must have tools for assessing their culture. If we are to prepare students to be lifelong learners and 21st century ethical citizens, we must develop a new "school report card" that includes not only test scores but also concrete indicators of the quality of school culture.
Conflict Resolution Education: A Guide to Implementing Programs in Schools, Youth-Serving Orgs A manual in pdf format providing an overview of various models for conflict resolution education program implementation. The first chapter defines conflict as a natural condition and examines the origins of conflict, responses to conflict, and the outcomes of those responses. It introduces four approaches to implementing conflict resolution education. Each of the next four chapters discusses one of these approaches and presents examples of programs that use the approach. One chapter describes an approach to conflict resolution education characterized by devoting a specific time to teaching the foundation abilities, principles, and one or more of the problemsolving processes in a separate course or distinct curriculum. Another chapter describes an approach in which selected, trained individuals provide neutral third-party facilitation in conflict resolution. A chapter presents an approach that incorporates conflict resolution education into the core subject areas of the curriculum and into classroom management strategies, and another chapter presents a comprehensive whole-school methodology that builds on the previous approach. The next two chapters address conflict resolution education in settings other than traditional schools. The final three chapters address more overarching topics: conflict resolution research and evaluation; a developmental sequence of behavioral expectations in conflict resolution; and the process of developing, implementing, and sustaining a conflict resolution program.
Role play : The power of dialogue fact sheet Pdf document that presents a role play dialogue between the parent of a middle school child, a middle school teacher and a principle, with background information on characters and a case overview.
How to talk so kids will listen & listen so kids will talk Document summarizing Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish's work of the same title, with instructions to increase listening skills, help children deal with feelings, provide praise and use alternatives to punishment, with role playing exercises.
What have I done: Victim empathy pack responsibility exercises 13-page Word document presenting a "new victim empathy resource designed to keep victim awareness high in Restorative Justice practitioner's priorities." Contains a number of exercises about taking responsibility for one's actions and exploring feelings.
Beginning with the Children - A guide to creating a Peace Helpers program, grades K-2 This 73-page guide presents a field-tested, step-by-step process schools can use to train and support young students (K-2) in serving as “peace helpers” in their classrooms. After training sessions to develop their skills in listening, handling feelings, and mediating conflicts, they help their teacher establish a peace corner. Upon request they are available to work in the peace corner, listening to a student who is upset or helping two classmates talk out a conflict. Chapter 1 of the guide describes the Peace Helpers Program at P.S. 24 in Brooklyn, NY, to provide a vision of what's possible. Chapter 2 describes the ingredients for a successful program and a process a school planning team can use to decide whether now is the time for a Peace Helpers Program at their school. Chapters 3, 4, and 5 describe the steps for establishing and sustaining the program, including detailed agendas for workshop sessions to train the peace helpers. The Appendix has handouts for the peace helpers' training and other aids for implementing the program.
Harmony Island STAR and APE Activity Handouts This 6-page pdf provides colorful poster and handout examples excerpted from the Teacher's Guide for Harmony Island by Academic Edge, Inc. Harmony Island is a multimedia-enhanced conflict resolution curriculum designed to help learners broaden their understanding of conflicts and develop their conflict resolution skills. Students are introduced to core strategies that have proven to be effective in conflict resolution. STAR (Stop, Think, Act, Refect) is a series of steps learners can take to think about and avoid or resolve conflicts. APE (Active Listening, Problem Solving, and Emotional Awareness) is an acronym that summarizes some of the key skills involved in avoiding and resolving conflicts. The full teachers guide and information on purchasing the game materials is available via www.harmonyisland.org
Photocards of Feelings Photocards of feelings developed for grades 7 and 8 in the U.K. These cards provide a stimulus for children to explore and develop their feelings vocabulary. Includes feelings key and sample discussion questions.
Feelings Detective Posters These two posters, designed for primary age students in the U.K., support children when trying to recognise their own feelings and the feelings of others.
Peaceful problem solving posters These two posters, designed for primary age students in the U.K., support children in using a structured problem solving process, both individually and when in conflict with another student.
Confidentiality Pdf document which discusses the concept of confidentiality in social and emotional learning environments. Written above title on document: NCIP (National Curriculum Integration Project).
Social emotional learning scenario Web-based interactive resource which introduces social emotional learning which "refers to knowledge, habits, skills and ideals that are at the heart of a child's academic, personal, social, and civic development ... this type of learning enables individuals to recognize and manage emotions, develop caring and concern for others, make responsible decisions, establish and maintain positive relationships, and handle challenging situations effectively."
2010-2011 Playworks Playbook Playworks is a non-profit organization whose mission is to improve the health and well-being of children by increasing opportunities for physical activity and safe, meaningful play. The Playbook, a 390-page pdf, provides full descriptions of games and activities appropriate for K-5 school children. They are organized in the following categories: Ice Breakers; Readiness Games; Tag Games; Cooperative Games; Core Playground Games and Sports; Core Games Modifications; and Health and Fitness - FitKid Program. Also included is structured curriculum in Violence Prevention and Peace Promotion. The Violence Prevention materials focus on providing students with a set of foundation skills for preventing violence using a framework called the Five Fingers of Safety. The Peace Promotion materials focus on proactive measures to encourage and foster a healthy community, and can be used with a variety of student groups.
Respecting each other: From the Tanenbaum curriculum interreligious understanding guidebook 5-page PDF lesson plan which helps students understand and develop their own concept of respect for others.
Needham experience: a district's commitment to social and emotional learning Powerpoint presentation of the Needham School District's experience with a comprehensive social and emotional learning program.
Social and Emotional Learning and Bullying Prevention 21-page briefing paper prepared for the National Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and the Social and Emotional Learning Research Group at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "Schools using a social and emotional learning (SEL) framework can foster an overall climate of inclusion, warmth, and respect, and promote the development of core social and emotional skills among both students and staff. Because bullying prevention is entirely congruent with SEL, it can be embedded in a school's SEL framework. The aims of this brief are to (a) provide a basic description of a school-wide SEL framework, (b) illustrate the relationship between social and emotional factors and bullying, and (c) explain how an SEL framework can be extended to include bullying prevention."
Let's Be Friends Elementary Curriculum Grades 2-3 A prevention curriculum teaching young children positive social skills, "Let's Be Friends" presents useful tools that enable students to co-create a positive social environment that fosters kindness, compassion and responsibility. The 45-page pdf provides 8 lessons targeted toward early elementary students. Lesson One: Positive Attributes Lesson Two: Internal & External Strengths Lesson Three: What is a Friend? Lesson Four: Qualities of Friends Lesson Five: Understanding Conflict Lesson Six: Building Empathy Lesson Seven: Ways to be a Friend Lesson Eight: Reflecting on Friendships