The Promotion of Students’ SEL

Educators, parents and policymakers who recognize that the core SEL competencies are necessary for effective life functioning also know these skills can be taught. Extensive research demonstrates that school-based SEL programs can promote and enhance students’ connection to school, positive behavior and academic achievement. 

    • “Too often, SEL is episodic. Some students finish high schools. Some don’t. When you look back in the rearview mirror, you can almost always see SEL as a determining factor of their success.”

      — Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia.

Classroom teachers can help students develop social and emotional competencies by directly teaching these skills, by using engaging curriculum materials, and by implementing specific instructional and classroom-management practices.

Various Approaches

Some SEL programs teach social and emotional skills directly. Occasionally programs address topics such as substance abuse prevention, violence prevention, health promotion and character education. Other SEL approaches have specific curricular and instructional components that foster safe, caring, engaging and participatory learning environments that build attachment to school, motivation to learn, and academic achievement.

Recent research has established that the quality of student-teacher interactions and the instructional practices that take place within the classroom are two important predictors of student academic performance and social adjustment. Teacher-focused SEL programs train teachers to be more emotionally supportive of their students or to use positive discipline practices to respond to students’ needs. These strategies also enhance student skill development.

The Importance of Practice and School-Family Partnerships

As students learn social and emotional skills, it is important that they have opportunities to practice and apply the skills in actual situations and be recognized for using these skills across a variety of settings. Given the importance of practice for skill mastery and the influence of adults and peers outside of school, it is also important to coordinate classroom instruction in social and emotional development with school, family and community activities.

Genuine school-family partnerships involve the promotion of two-way communication between teachers and families and the participation of family members in students’ education both at home and in school. This ensures consistency in the messages students receive and the practices they experience across multiple settings.

High-Quality Implementation

The success of evidence-based SEL programs and school-wide programming depends on high-quality implementation. Just selecting a strong program is not enough. Implementation and support for the program are critically important. When districts and schools support high-quality program implementation, program impact is strengthened. This is why CASEL advocates the use of evidence-based SEL programs within the context of “school-wide” and “district-wide” approaches.

Poor program implementation can undermine a program’s success and the extent to which it has an impact on student outcomes. School-wide factors such as discipline policies, structures and procedures influence children’s development directly and influence the implementation process of evidence-based programs.

Beyond the Classroom

Given these factors, it is important for school administrators to support the effective implementation of SEL programs and to modl the SEL language and practices established in the classroom. Administrators also need to endorse the use of SEL practices throughout the school building, and provide the necessary professional development.

  • “Teachers enter the profession to provide a well-rounded education and support the whole student, which includes social and emotional skills development. SEL is a critical part of every child’s growth, both as students and as contributing members of society. Teachers have shared with us how important this is — now it’s up to all of us to support them in this essential work.”

    — Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Regardless of approach, many SEL programs incorporate school-wide practices that are designed to promote more positive and supportive relationships among teachers, students and families and/or practices that facilitate integration and support to extend the impact of social and emotional learning programs beyond the classroom.

An Overarching Framework

Social and emotional learning can serve as an organizing principle for coordinating all of a school’s academic, youth development and prevention activities. It provides a common language and coordinating framework for communicating not just about SEL but about a wide range of programs and teaching approaches that schools normally provide. When systemic social, emotional and academic learning becomes the overarching framework for a district or school, the result is an organization whose integrated programming activities are greater than the sum of its parts.