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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
Circle Time Poster This poster, designed for use with primary age students in the U.K., is an aid to those who use circle time and provides useful reminders for children to ensure the sessions are positive and productive.
The Elementary Child: Teaching to the Spirit, Teaching for Peace This combined 2-part article (published in 2 separate issues of Montessori Leadership), provides an overview of how Cathleen Haskins implemented a peace education curriculum in a Montessori classroom. It provides information on Montessori's call for peace education, and specific details on the curriculum autonomously created (activities and exercises) and used with students aged 6-9 years, in both a public Montessori and private.
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.
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.
Role play for nonverbal involvement activity Word document presenting a role play exercise in nonverbal communication.
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.
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.
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).
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."
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.
Spatial invasion Word document with role play to emphasize personal space and boundaries.
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.
SACSC Toward a safe and caring secondary curriculum 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 "purpose of the Society for Safe and Caring Schools and Communities Toward a Safe and Caring Curriculum Secondary Unit and Lesson Plans web-based resource is to provide units, lesson plans and other resources that integrate safe and caring knowledge, skills and attitudes into all subject areas in the Alberta secondary curriculum... this resource was developed by Alberta reachers in whose classrooms the accompanying lessons have been field tested." The lessons address 6 topics: Living Respectfully; Developing Self-Esteem; Respecting Diversity and Preventing Prejudice; Managing Anger; Dealing with Bullying; and Resolving Conflicts Peacefully for junior and senior high school students.
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.
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."
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.
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.
Peace Pedagogy Learning Modules from Peacelearner.org A series of learning modules developed by Daryn Cambridge for a Peace Pedagogy course he taught at American University in the Fall of 2012. The course was designed around seven pillars of peace education: community building, enabling multiple intelligences, nurturing emotional intelligence, exploring approaches to peace, re-framing history, transforming conflict nonviolently, and life-skills building. The learning modules were posted at the public website PeaceLearner.org as part of the course. Here's a listing of the available modules: Learning Module 1 – Welcome to Peace Pedagogy Learning Module 2 – Peace Education Voices Learning Module 3 – Community Building Learning Module 4 – Social and Emotional Intelligence Learning Module 5 – Conflict Resolution Learning Module 6 – Yoga and Meditation Learning Module 7 – Nonviolence Learning Module 8 – Environmental Sustainability
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.