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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
Social and emotional learning (SEL) and student benefits 12-page pdf document brief which "shares the latest research on the effects of social and emotional learning SEL) on students and includes strategies for implementing SEL, it explains how SEL works, elaborates on how SEL can be an integrative prevention framework that addresses the Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SS/HS) core elements, and spells out implications of the research for SS/HS grantees."
Eleven Principles of Effective Character Education A short introduction (4-pages) to the 11 principles of character education espoused by the Character Education Partnership (CEP)
Iconic communication activity Word document which presents iconic communication activity taken from M. Remland's, "Gesture and Movement as Iconic Communication Activity."
Needham School District comprehensive SEL plan Powerpoint presentation introducing the Needham School District's comprehensive social and emotional learning program.
Learning Skills of Peace through Every Day Conflicts Practical Activities and Resources for Families, Teachers and Other Caregivers. Noting that the conflicts arising daily for young children provide an opportunity for adults to model and teach skills for handling conflict peacefully, this guide provides tips for preventing unnecessary conflict, offers "first aid" for conflict moments, and provides resources for addressing common situations that can cause conflict. Developed cooperatively by Ohio's Commission on Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management, Head Start Association, and Department of Education Division of Early Childhood, with implementation facilitated by many Ohio public libraries, the guide is comprised of 40 thematic units of instruction for the early childhood setting, with most units accompanied by home cards providing tips for preventing conflict and suggested activities. Each unit contains information on the importance of the topic for conflict management and its link to peace, suggested books, activities, and copies of home cards. The 40 units cover: (1) anger and aggression; (2) art; (3) bad day; (4) bad language; (5) bathtime; (6) bedtime; (7) behavior; (8) big and little; (9) big brother, big sister; (10) biting; (11) conflict; (12) cultural diversity; (13) death; (14) disabilities; (15) divorce; (16) dressing; (17) family; (18) fears; (19) feelings and emotions; (20) free choice; (21) lying; (22) mealtime at school; (23) mistakes; (24) nap time at school; (25) new baby; (26) teaching the problem-solving process; (27) safety; (28) school; (29) security objects; (30) self-esteem; (31) sharing; (32) siblings; (33) sickness; (34) stealing; (35) stress; (36) tantrums; (37) time out; (38) transitions; (39) whining and nagging; and (40) work. Also included in the guide are additional resources, such as a list of books for each unit, information on child development and child needs from birth to five years, and suggested readings for teachers and parents.
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
Conflict resolution education: models, relationships to other fields Powerpoint presentation examining conflict resolution education and its relationship to fields such as peace studies, law related education and social and emotional learning.
Communication for competency Word document exploring nonverbal and verbal communication with emphasis on direct and indirect language, with exercises.
Using encouragement Document which discusses discouraging verbal messages, encouragement and how to teach problem solving skills adapted from Robert J. Mackenzie's book, "Setting limits in the classroom: How to move beyond the classroom dance of discipline."
Guidelines for personal disclosure (for teachers) Pdf document that sets forward guidelines (for teachers) for disclosing personal information within the bounds of social and emotional learning programs. Written above title on document: NCIP (National Curriculum Integration Project).
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
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.
Kids Working It Out Resource Appendix A listing of books, publications and websites provided in the appendix to Tricia S. Jones and Randy O. Compton (Eds.) 2003 book Kids Working It Out: Stories and Strategies for Making Peace in Our Schools.
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.
Non-verbal active listening skills Word document which describes active listening and outlines five body language postures that mediators should use when listening.
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.
Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL): Improving behaviour, improving learning This fully articulated curriculum resource from the United Kingdom is available as a 90MB zip file containing the full kit or as individual pdfs. It aims to develop the underpinning qualities and skills that help promote positive behaviour and effective learning. It focuses on five social and emotional aspects of learning: self-awareness, managing feelings, motivation, empathy and social skills. The materials help children develop skills such as understanding another's point of view, working in a group, sticking at things when they get difficult, resolving conflict and managing worries. They build on effective work already in place in the many primary schools who pay systematic attention to the social and emotional aspects of learning through whole-school ethos, initiatives such as circle time or buddy schemes, and the taught personal, social and health education (PSHE) and Citizenship curriculum. The materials are organised into seven themes: New Beginnings, Getting on and falling out, Say no to bullying, Going for goals!, Good to be me, Relationships and Changes. Each theme is designed for a whole-school approach and includes a whole-school assembly and suggested follow-up activities in all areas of the curriculum. The colour-coded resources are organized at four levels: Foundation Stage, Years 1 and 2, Years 3 and 4, and Years 5 and 6. Pupil reference material and photocopiable teacher reference material accompany each theme.
Positive impact of social and emotional learning kindergarten to eighth grade students, The 51-page PDF technical report which, "summarizes results from three large-scale reviews of research on the impact of social and emotional learning (SEL) programs on elementary and middle-school students — that is, programs that seek to promote various aocial and emotional skills. Collectively the three reviews included 317 studies and involved 324,303 children. SEL programs yielded multiple benefits in each review and were effective in both school and after-school settings and for students with and without behavioral and emotional problems. They were also effective across the K-8 grade range and for racially and ethnically diverse students from urban, rural, and suburban settings. SEL programs improved students’ social-emotional skills, attitudes about self and others, connection to school, positive social behavior, and academic performance; they also reduced students’ conduct problems and emotional distress. Comparing results from these reviews to findings obtained in reviews of interventions by other research teams suggests that SEL programs are among the most successful youth-development programs offered to school-age youth. Furthermore, school staff (e.g., teachers, student support staff) carried out SEL programs effectively, indicating that they can be incorporated into routine educational practice. In addition, SEL programming improved students’ academic performance by 11 to 17 percentile points across the three reviews, indicating that they offer students a practical educational benefit. Given these positive findings, we recommend that federal, state, and local policies and practices encourage the broad implementation of well-designed, evidence-based SEL programs during and after school."
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.
Cooperative Problem-Solving : A Guide to Turning Conflicts into Agreements This 56-page pdf is a guide designed for people who want to know how to resolve conflicts with other people in a way that leads to mutual agreements and stronger relationships. It was developed as a workbook for a workshop of the same title, but it can be used independently. Based on the book Getting to Yes, the Guide addresses: - Treating conflict as a natural resource - How to attack problems while respecting people - Raising an issue in a constructive manner - Exploring opposing positions to discover shared interests - Generating options to address all parties’ needs - Crafting clear and healthy solutions - Dealing with differing perceptions - Managing emotions - Insuring two-way communications - Choosing when to use a cooperative approach - Being a peacemaker while resolving conflicts