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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.
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.
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.
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."
Non-verbal active listening skills Word document which describes active listening and outlines five body language postures that mediators should use when listening.
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).
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.
Five Critical Steps for Reducing Peer Aggression: Early Childhood Practitioner Training Program STEPS for Early Childhood Practitioners is a comprehensive training program using The Ophelia Project's Five Critical Steps framework. Through this training, Early Childhood practitioners learn to observe aggression in the classroom and develop skills to carefully and consciously change the social climate of preschools and childcare centers. The training modules empower practitioners to integrate using positive language and pro-social norms as part of their everyday interactions with children and also shows how to create lesson plans to promote empathy, conflict resolution, respect, civility, and manners.
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
It's about Relationships: Creating Positive School Climates When teachers wonder "What should I do?" in response to challenging student behaviors, the answers are not as simple as they might seem. What teachers can do also depends, at least in part, on external demands (e.g., discipline codes, principal expectations, time pressures on teaching content and testing) that can either facilitate or thwart positive resolutions of conflicts. The most effective teachers in working with challenging students had very positive relationships with them. For years, many school districts have provided training or support around positive discipline but with little evidence of improving the culture of punishment that pervades many New York City schools. This author found that most educators were not directly trained in the strategies their schools were trying to implement. Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is a tiered framework of positive behavior systems in a school. Success depends on having clear expectations that are taught, rehearsed, and reinforced consistently across settings. In spring 2012, The Atlantic Philanthropies awarded a three-year, $300,000 grant to the consortium that helped cover start-up costs, technology, and professional development. With this grant, the consortium has sought to support schools regarding student behavior. This was the beginning of what would become the Positive Learning Collaborative (PLC), an initiative jointly run by the United Federation of Teachers and the New York City Department of Education to help educators create positive school environments. The Positive Learning Collaborative (PLC) is a holistic approach that focuses on teaching reflective and restorative practices and was implemented in the New York City school system. To that end, educators are coached to be mindful of their own internal dialogue and to teach students coping skills to deal with feelings such as anger and frustration.
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.
Role play for nonverbal involvement activity Word document presenting a role play exercise in nonverbal communication.
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).
Flirting or hurting?: Teacher guide, grade 6-9 9-page PDF teacher's guide which accompanies 3 filmed programs on sexual harrassment, "two of the modules target students, and one targets teachers. Throughout the student programs, the host, an older sister character, provides definitions, explanations and insights based on her own experiences ... the two 15-minute classroom programs include breaks for discussions or activities. These programs are appropriate for coeducational Health, Guidance, Family & Consumer Science, English, Social Studies, Physical Education, and New Student Orientation classes, or Vocational shops in grades 6 through 9."
Getting to Know You - Classroom Activities for Starting Off the School Year from Morningside Center As a new school year begins, teachers and students renew relationships after the long summer break, see new faces, and establish their routines for the year. The activities in this packet are designed to help you get the year off to a good start by engaging you and your students in getting to know each other, practicing listening skills, and discussing the values that will shape your classroom community. There are separate sets of activities for grades Pre-K to 2, grades 3 to 5, and grades 6 to 12. They are adapted from exercises in the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program and the 4Rs Program (Reading, Writing, Respect & Resolution) developed by the Morningside Center.
Conflict resolution education and Social emotional learning programs: A critical comparison Pdf document that compares and contrasts Social and emotional learning programs to Conflict resolution education, with bibliography. Part of the results of the National Curriculum Integration Project.
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.
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.
Social and emotional competencies -- grades K-12 Word document in table format which lists social and emotional skills and the behaviors manifested at particular grade levels.
VOV activities: Preventing feelings of isolation through trust and cooperation, grades 7-12 6-page PDF with activities for 7-12 graders to improve communication skills and build trust.