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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
Positions and interests Pdf document that describes an exercise in negotiation and problem solving to be used with children in grades 5-8, with a worksheet at end of document.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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."
Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning School Posters The Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) materials from the UK Primary National Strategies curriculum provide seven posters for use across the school. They are available for download as pdfs (see attachments in site sidebar). The topics include the following:Feelings detective – understanding my feelings and understanding the feelings of others. These two posters support children when trying to recognise their own feelings and the feelings of others.AssertivenessThis poster uses the ideas covered in the theme sets and provides a reminder about how we might behave assertively rather than timidly, aggressively or manipulatively.Problem solvingThis poster outlines a problem-solving process that might be used in social or learning situations.Peaceful problem solvingThis poster provides a reminder of the SEAL approach to resolving conflicts within the school.Circle timeThis poster is an aid to those who use circle time and provides useful reminders for children to ensure the sessions are positive and productive.The FightThis is a copy of The Fight by L. S. Lowry. It is used as a stimulus for work in Say no to bullying
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.
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.
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.
Don't Laugh at Me Teachers Guide: Grades 2-5 Creating a Ridicule-Free Classroom Don't Laugh At Me provides an effective tool for establishing a caring climate in which the emotional and physical abuse children suffer because of peer ridicule, bullying and other asocial behaviors is far less likely to occur. Operation Respect developed the Don't Laugh at Me (DLAM) programs, one for grades 2-5, another for grades 6-8 and a third for summer camps and after-school programs. All of the programs utilize inspiring music and video along with curriculum guides such as this one based on the well-tested, highly regarded conflict resolution curricula developed by the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program (RCCP) of Educators for Social Responsibility (ESR). Visit http://www.operationrespect.org to sign up for the full free curriculum kit which includes evaluations, CD and Video along with the curriculum guides.
Conflict resolution: Citizenship education for young people with special needs 27-page PDF document which aims to, "develop positive models for dealing with conflict and to practise appropriate responses to deal with conflict." Includes examples of use of universal access symbols to increase retention and understanding when working with low literacy participants and students in special education classrooms.
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).
Iconic communication activity Word document which presents iconic communication activity taken from M. Remland's, "Gesture and Movement as Iconic Communication Activity."
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).
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.
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 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."
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."