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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
Spatial invasion Word document with role play to emphasize personal space and boundaries.
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.
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
Needham School District comprehensive SEL plan Powerpoint presentation introducing the Needham School District's comprehensive social and emotional learning 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.
Needham experience: a district's commitment to social and emotional learning Powerpoint presentation of the Needham School District's experience with a comprehensive social and emotional learning program.
Communication for competency Word document exploring nonverbal and verbal communication with emphasis on direct and indirect language, with exercises.
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.
Social emotional learning scenario Web-based interactive resource which introduces social emotional learning which "refers to knowledge, habits, skills and ideals that are at the heart of a child's academic, personal, social, and civic development ... this type of learning enables individuals to recognize and manage emotions, develop caring and concern for others, make responsible decisions, establish and maintain positive relationships, and handle challenging situations effectively."
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.
Verbal active listening skills Document which outlines the five verbal listening skills (Acknowledging, paraphrasing, reflecting, questioning and crediting), the rest of the document examines non-verbal listening skills.
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.
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
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).
Conflict Resolution Education: A Guide to Implementing Programs in Schools, Youth-Serving Orgs A manual in pdf format providing an overview of various models for conflict resolution education program implementation. The first chapter defines conflict as a natural condition and examines the origins of conflict, responses to conflict, and the outcomes of those responses. It introduces four approaches to implementing conflict resolution education. Each of the next four chapters discusses one of these approaches and presents examples of programs that use the approach. One chapter describes an approach to conflict resolution education characterized by devoting a specific time to teaching the foundation abilities, principles, and one or more of the problemsolving processes in a separate course or distinct curriculum. Another chapter describes an approach in which selected, trained individuals provide neutral third-party facilitation in conflict resolution. A chapter presents an approach that incorporates conflict resolution education into the core subject areas of the curriculum and into classroom management strategies, and another chapter presents a comprehensive whole-school methodology that builds on the previous approach. The next two chapters address conflict resolution education in settings other than traditional schools. The final three chapters address more overarching topics: conflict resolution research and evaluation; a developmental sequence of behavioral expectations in conflict resolution; and the process of developing, implementing, and sustaining a conflict resolution program.
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.