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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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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
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.
Non-verbal active listening skills Word document which describes active listening and outlines five body language postures that mediators should use when listening.
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."
Needham School District comprehensive SEL plan Powerpoint presentation introducing the Needham School District's comprehensive social and emotional learning program.
Role play for nonverbal involvement activity Word document presenting a role play exercise in nonverbal communication.
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.
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
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."
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.
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
Nonviolence: An Assertive Approach to Conflict This 50-minute activity lesson plan takes the Occupy Wall Street protest movement as a jumping off point to explore different approaches to resolving conflicts. The lesson is structured to help students explore what escalates/deescalates conflict; look at the difference between aggressive, submissive and assertive responses to conflict; focus on nonviolent action as an assertive response to conflict; and learn about Occupy Wall Street's use of nonviolence as a strategy.