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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.

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
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).
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)
Non-verbal active listening skills Word document which describes active listening and outlines five body language postures that mediators should use when listening.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
SACSC Elementary unit and lesson plans Web site developed by the Society for Safe and Caring Schools and Communities in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada whose mission "is to encourage home, school and community practices that teach, model and reinforce socially responsible and respectful behaviors, so that living and learning can take place in a safe, caring and inclusive environment. Achieving this mission requires the involvement not only of parents, teachers, and children, but of all the important adults in children’s lives." The site houses a number of lesson plans and educational units "focusing on adult modeling, the SACSC programs prevent negative social behavior through character education, conflict management training and building respect for diversity. They promote a problem-solving approach to discipline that encourages positive social behavior by expecting young people to fix the wrong they have caused, thereby learning from their mistakes." They focus on 5 topics: Living Respectfully; Developing Self-Esteem; Respecting Diversity and Preventing Prejudice; Managing Anger and Dealing with Bullying and Harassment; and Resolving Conflicts Peacefully for grades K-6.
Summary - The Positive impact of social & emotional learning kindergarten to eighth grade students 12-page PDF 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."
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.
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.
Communication for competency Word document exploring nonverbal and verbal communication with emphasis on direct and indirect language, with exercises.
Ideas for using emotion cards: Citizenship education for young people with special needs 5-page pdf document which presents a number of images of different emotional states. The cards can be used with particular lessons or to allow children to show how they feel about specific situations.
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.