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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
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)
Kids Working It Out Resource Appendix A listing of books, publications and websites provided in the appendix to Tricia S. Jones and Randy O. Compton (Eds.) 2003 book Kids Working It Out: Stories and Strategies for Making Peace in Our Schools.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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).
Communication for competency Word document exploring nonverbal and verbal communication with emphasis on direct and indirect language, with exercises.
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.
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.
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."
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."
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.