Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)
The intent of the FAQ is to introduce you to this strategy and serve as a starting point for further investigation.
- What is Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)?
- What needs can Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) address?
- What are the goals and primary student outcomes of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)?
- What are my first steps for implementation?
- What structures need to be in place for a successful implementation?
- What should I keep an eye on to help ensure an effective implementation?
- How do I help my staff implement Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) effectively?
- What does research say about Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)?
- What is an example of an effective implementation?
According to Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), social and emotional learning is the process of developing students' and adults' social and emotional competencies--the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors that individuals need to make successful choices. SEL helps make individuals understand and regulate their emotions, successfully complete goals, take others' perspective or point of view, develop positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.
SEL is a universal approach for all students. The goal of SEL is to address the social and emotional needs individuals have to be successful in school and in life. Developing SEL skills improves student capacity to engage in academic learning and prepares students to meet college and career readiness standards. In order to participate in rigorous standards, students need to be able to regulate their emotions when they become frustrated, collaborate with their peers, communicate their ideas, and take the perspective of others. In addition, focusing on SEL skills decreases negative behaviors and student emotional distress.
CASEL identifies five social and emotional competencies, which are composed of multiple skills and abilities:
- Self-awareness is the ability to recognize one's own feelings, interests, strengths, and limitations
- Self-management refers to when individuals regulate emotions and manage daily stressors
- Social awareness refers to perspective taking and to appreciate similarities and differences
- Relationship skills are when individuals exhibit prosocial behavior and demonstrate positive social skills in order to develop meaningful relationships
- Responsible decision making refers to when individuals make ethical decisions, and strengthen the ability to develop appropriate solutions to identified problems
Research demonstrates that when students participate in activities that focus on these competencies, student prosocial behavior improves, students decrease in their participation of negative behaviors, and students improve in their academic achievement.
SEL is considered a universal approach. In other words, it is for ALL students and ALL staff, as everyone has social and emotional needs, concerns, and skills, it is important to remember that SEL is a process of developing student and adult social and emotional competencies. Therefore, there are multiple ways in which social and emotional skills and competencies can be developed and nurtured, from general pedagogical practices, to classroom interventions, to a whole school approach. Although there are multiple ways to integrate SEL, the SEL approach needs to be implemented with fidelity in order to have an impact on student success.
- To begin this process, it is important to know why you want to incorporate social and emotional learning. Specifically, decide how SEL fits within your mission and vision of the school (with the possibility of reworking your vision statement if SEL is not currently a part of it), and decide what are the core competencies and skills that students and staff need to develop and refine.
- Conduct a needs assessment of your school to determine what you are doing well and areas that you want to grow in. Such a needs assessment could look at current SEL supports offered within the school, discipline code of conduct, disciplinary data, assessment of student SEL skills, and assessment of adult SEL skills, amongst other things.
- Identify where SEL fits within your school. How does it connect with other school priorities?
- Provide staff opportunities to learn what social and emotional learning is. This learning should not focus only on student SEL skills, but also that adults have SEL skills that can continuously be refined.
- Identify strategies to implement SEL in classrooms and in the school (see 2013 CASEL Guide in resources).
- Assess SEL efforts/participate in a continuous improvement cycle. Based on your needs assessment are you improving in the areas that you wanted to improve upon? Are there other areas that need to improve?
There are multiple structures that can help facilitate the implementation of social and emotional learning. Such structures include:
- School leadership team that has a lens toward SEL. This is also a great opportunity to provide teacher leadership by having a teacher take the lead on SEL implementation in the school.
- Professional learning communities or collaborative opportunities for teachers to talk about SEL topics and concerns
- Strong school-family-community partnerships
- Teachers are supporting students--academically, socially, and emotionally
- Teachers are paying attention to students' needs and responding to them appropriately
- Teachers provide students feedback
- Teachers demonstrate that they care for and respect their students
- Teachers model appropriate social and emotional skills to their students
- Positive relationships are being cultivated between students and staff, and between students
- Students feel more connected to the school, and perceive to have better relationships with teachers, staff, and other students
- Model good social and emotional learning skills
- Provide professional development on SEL
- Invest in an SEL program
- Connect SEL to other initiatives, including teacher effectiveness work and college- and career-readiness.
- Provide structures to develop a positive school climate for students and for teachers, including create a space for teachers to develop their own SEL skills and for teacher to collaborate on SEL initiatives.
Research confirms that a focus on SEL improves students' social, emotional, and academic skills. In a meta-analysis of 213 SEL programs/interventions that conducted experimental or quasi-experimental designs, Durlak and colleagues (2011) (Durlak, J.A., Weissberg, R.P., Dymnicki, A.B., Taylor, R.D., & Schellinger, K.B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students' social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82, 405-432.) found that students in SEL interventions (compared to control students) increased in social-emotional skills, attitudes towards self and others, academic achievement, and positive social behaviors, and decreased in conduct problems and emotional distress. More specifically, the meta-analysis revealed that students with SEL training gained 11 percentile points in test scores and similar gains in grades relative to students not in SEL program.
These results were consistent across grade level (elementary, middle, and high schools), location (urban, rural, and suburban), and school type (schools serving ethnically and racially diverse student populations). Furthermore, they found that the effects of SEL programs were stronger when programs were implemented with fidelity. A context that supports the basic personal, social, and intellectual needs of students must be developed for successful work to be done in schools (Solomon, Battistich, Watson, Schaps, & Lewis, 2000) (Solomon, D., Battistich, V., Watson, M., Schaps, E., & Lewis, C. (2000). A six-district study of educational change: Direct and mediated effects of the child development project. Social Psychology of Education, 4, 3-51.).
Oakland Unified School District has been able to set up multiple structures in place that facilitate district-level and school-level support of social and emotional learning for all students. They have taken many of the steps necessary for successful implementation, including developing a shared mission and vision of SEL, integrating SEL with other district/priorities, providing shared collaboration time amongst teachers to discuss social and emotional learning issues, implemented SEL programs, and have a cycle of continuous improvement. For a summary of their work, view an article written about them in the Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vicki-zakrzewski-phd/a-new-model-of-school-ref_b_5375221.html.
- The Collaborative on Academic Social and Emotional Learning is a leading organization on SEL. One key resource is the 2013 CASEL Guide, which outlines SEL programs with the strongest research base.
- Edutopia provides an online learning hub for research, videos, and classroom materials.
- The ASCD Whole Child initiative provides a variety of tools and resources to help educators learn about and implement SEL in schools.