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Developing social and emotional skills and attitudes and ecological assets.

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Abstract

There is an emerging consensus that areas of research and intervention described variously as social and emotional learning, character education and development, 21st century learning, life skills training, prosocial education, and positive youth development are tapping into competencies and characteristics essential for human health, accomplishment, and well-being. Among the various ways this domain has been defined, two conclusions can be stated with confidence. First, there is a recent and substantial body of evidence demonstrating positive effects of interventions and practices in this domain on academic, interpersonal, and mental health outcomes. Second, among these approaches, those focused on social and emotional learning (SEL) appear to have the largest and most rigorously evaluated body of supporting evidence.
DEVELOPING SOCIAL AND
EMOTIONAL SKILLS AND ATTITUDES
AND ECOLOGICAL ASSETS
Maurice J. Elias, Marc A. Brackett, Rose H. Miller, Stephanie M. Jones, Jennifer
Kahn,Joseph L. Mahoney, Roger P. Weissberg, and SooYun Chung
Recommended Citation:
Elias, M. J., Brackett, M. A., Miller, R., Jones, S., Kahn, J., Mahoney, J. L.,
Weissberg, R. P., & Chung, S. Y. (2019). Developing social and emotional
skills and attitudes and ecological assets. In D. Osher, M. J. Mayer, R. J.
Jagers, K. Kendziora, & L. Wood (Eds.), (Eds.), Keeping students safe and
helping them thrive: A collaborative handbook on school safety, mental
health, and wellness (pp. 185-209). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger/ABC-CLIO.
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CHAPTER 8
Developing Social and Emotional Skills and Attitudes and Ecological Assets
Maurice J. Elias, Marc A. Brackett, Rose H. Miller, Stephanie M. Jones, Jennifer Kahn,
Joseph L. Mahoney, Roger P. Weissberg, and SooYun Chung
<TXT>There is an emerging consensus that areas of research and intervention described
variously as social and emotional learning (SEL), character education and development, 21st-
century learning, life skills training, prosocial education, and positive youth development are
tapping into competencies and characteristics essential for human health, accomplishment, and
well-being (Brown, Corrigan, Higgins-D’Allesandro, 2012; Durlak, Domitrovich, Weissberg, &
Gullotta, 2015; Farrington et al., 2012). Among the various ways this domain has been defined,
two conclusions can be stated with confidence. First, there is a recent and substantial body of
evidence demonstrating positive effects of interventions and practices in this domain on
academic, interpersonal, and mental health outcomes. Second, among these approaches, those
focused on SEL appear to have the largest and most rigorously evaluated body of supporting
evidence (Jones & Bouffard, 2012).<\>
<H1>What Are the Skills?<\>
<TXT>Broadly speaking, SEL refers to the process through which individuals learn and apply a
set of social, emotional, behavioral, and character skills required to succeed in schooling, the
workplace, relationships, and citizenship. Looking across a variety of disciplines, organizing
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systems, and correlational and evaluation research, there are at least a dozen specific social and
emotional skills that are relevant for both students and the adults who teach and care for them,
including those in clinical and counseling roles (Jennings & Greenberg, 2009). These skills can
be grouped into three interconnected domains: <\> <NL>
1. Cognitive regulation can be thought of as the basic skills required to direct behavior
toward the attainment of a goal. This set of skills includes executive functions such as
working memory, attention control and flexibility, inhibition, and planning, as well as
beliefs and attitudes that guide one’s sense of self and approaches to learning and growth.
Children use cognitive regulation skills whenever faced with tasks that require
concentration, planning, problem-solving, coordination, conscious choices among
alternatives, or overriding a strong internal or external desire (Diamond & Lee, 2011)
all key skills for behavioral and academic success.
2. Emotional competencies are a set of skills and understandings that help children
recognize, express, and regulate their emotions, as well as engage in empathy and
perspective-taking around the emotions of others. Emotional skills allow children to
recognize how different situations make them feel and to address those feelings in
prosocial ways. Consequently, they are often fundamental to positive social interactions
and critical to building relationships with peers and adults.
3. Social and interpersonal skills support children and youth to interpret other people’s
behavior accurately, navigate social situations effectively, and interact positively with
peers and adults. Social and interpersonal skills build on emotional knowledge and
processes; children must learn to recognize, express, and regulate their emotions before
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they can be expected to interact with others who are engaged in the same set of processes.
Children must be able to use these social and interpersonal processes effectively in order
to work collaboratively, solve social problems, and coexist peacefully with others.<\>
<TXT>We fully expect readers to notice overlap in these areas and to identify at least a
few skills or attributes they would prefer to see explicated. However defined, drawing on
evidence from a range of disciplines and perspectives, social and emotional skills develop in a
complex system of contexts, interactions, and relationships (Capella, Blair, & Aber, 2016; Jones
& Bouffard, 2012; Nagaoka, Farrington, Ehrlich, & Heath, 2015). As such, the development of
SEL skills is influenced by multiple environmental factors and systems, including culture and
climate. When these factors and systems are aligned for positive contributions, they can be
considered ecological assets to healthy development; when they are not, they can be considered
ecological impediments.
Contexts influence the development and expression of SEL skills in many ways. First, the
physical and human resources available to a child may facilitate (or challenge) their SEL.
Research shows that children who have positive, contextually and developmentally appropriate,
reciprocal, reliable, and flexible relationships with adults, typically have more access to
interactions that support SEL (Brion-Meisels & Jones, 2012). Similarly, children who have
access to developmentally appropriate and engaging learning tools such as books, games, and
toys also benefit from these resources.
Correspondingly, students experiencing frequent acute or chronic adverse events must
overcome these developmental barriers to achieve at the same level as their more advantaged
peers. Second, specific settings can be more or less likely to influence the ease with which a
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child accesses and expresses SEL skills that he or she already possesses, particularly among
young children. For example, children are more likely to be able to pay attention to their teacher
and their school work in a classroom community where they are not simultaneously worried
about or distracted by peer aggression. Finally, contexts send messages to youth that shape their
attitudes, expectancies, and character in many ways. Some schools communicate to subgroups of
children that adults do not expect them to learn to the same degree as their peers; some
communities convey a differential appreciation for social and institutional participation among
certain populations; and attitudes internalized by parents about their children’s potential for
achieving particular career paths or educational outcomes become communicated in households.
Because these influences are transactional, a developmental-systems approach is necessary to
ensure all children have equitable access to learning social-emotional competencies.
Although more research is required in this area, a growing body of evidence suggests two
overarching features of how SEL skills emerge and change over the first 10 years of life. First,
some skills act as building blocks: they serve as a foundation for more complex skills that
emerge later in life. This suggests that children must develop certain basic SEL competencies
before they can master others. Second, some skills are stage-salient: they enable children and
youth to meet the demands of a particular developmental stage or setting. In other words, as the
environmental contexts in which children learn, grow, and play change, so do the demands
placed on children to be successful, and some SEL skills are variably important at these different
times of development. There is reason to believe, then, that certain SEL skills should be taught
before others, and within specific grades or age ranges.<\>
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<H1>Links to Mental Health Outcomes<\>
<TXT>A substantial and rigorous body of evidence shows that across the school years, social
and emotional skills are related to positive academic, social, and mental health outcomes. This
makes eminently good sense. Children with strong social skills are more likely to make and
sustain friendships, initiate positive relationships with teachers, participate in classroom
activities, and be positively engaged in learning. Children with stronger social and emotional
competencies are also more likely to enter and graduate from college, succeed in their careers,
have positive work and family relationships, better mental and physical health, reduced criminal
behavior, and to become engaged citizens (Greenberg et al., 2017; Moffit et al., 2011; Weissberg
et al., 2015). Deficiencies in the ability to correctly label and manage strong emotions, listen
carefully and accurately to others, and problem solve effectively appear highly relevant to a
range of interpersonal difficulties, as well as behavioral and emotional disorders (Elias, 2004;
Elias, Gara, Rothbaum, Reese, & Ubriaco, 1987). It should not be surprising that interventions
focused on improving children’s social and emotional skills have produced reductions in
aggression, depression, and anxiety (Jones, Barnes, Bailey, & Doolittle, 2017).
In addition, social and emotional skills serve as important protective factors in the face of
negative life events or chronic stressors (Buckner, Mezzacappa & Beardslee, 2003, 2009) and
support general well-beingincluding job and financial security, and physical and mental
healththrough adulthood (Jones, Greenberg & Crowley, 2015; Moffitt et al., 2011). A
longitudinal study following more than 1,000 children found that early self-control predicted a
range of long-term outcomes, including better physical health and personal finances, and lower
substance dependence and criminal activity (Duckworth & Seligman, 2005; Moffitt et al., 2011).
Likewise, the inability to cope effectively with stress or regulate one’s emotions is associated
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with numerous diseases that influence the physiological response system. This is particularly
relevant for children exposed to chronic stress often associated with poverty, violence, and
substance abuse, conditions that have long-lasting consequences for learning, behavior, and
general physical and mental well-being (Center on the Developing Child, 2007; Jones & Kahn,
2017; Thompson, 2014).
A meta-analysis by Taylor, Oberle, Durlak, and Weissberg (2017) reviewed 82 school-
based, universal SEL interventions published through 2014 that involved 97,406 children in
grades K12. The study was grounded in a combined SEL-positive youth development
perspective that focuses both on strengths and asset promotion, and protection from negative
outcomes. A major aim was to determine whether such interventions sustain their initial findings
through analysis of follow-up effects on multiple positive and negative indicators of well-being.
Examining follow-up periods ranging from 56 to 195 weeks, Taylor and colleagues
(2017) found that SEL participants were significantly better adjusted in all seven categories of
outcomes considered: social and emotional skills; attitudes toward self, others, and school;
positive social behaviors; academic performance; conduct problems; emotional distress; and
substance use (effect size ranging .13 to .33 across categories). This held for all demographic
subgroups considered (i.e., white students, students of color, diverse student populations, low-
income vs. middle-to-high income). Moreover, interventions conducted within or outside of the
United States showed comparable, positive effects. Looking just at individual studies with long-
term follow-ups through adolescence and young adulthood, participants in SEL interventions
continued to show significantly more positive adjustment in areas such as graduating from high
school, attending college, fewer arrests, and fewer placements in special education, although the
statistical effect sizes for these long-term benefits were small.
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Taken together, supporting positive social and emotional development is highly valuable for the
success and well-being of individuals, schools, and society at large. Reductions in violence, drug
use, delinquent behavior, and mental health problemsas a result of stronger social and
emotional skills and competenciesare likely to lead to decreased need for government services,
and ultimately, less expenditure of public money (Jones, Greenberg, Crowley, 2015; Jones &
Kahn, 2017). Importantly, interventions designed to build social and emotional skills have been
shown to be effective for all children and youth, regardless of geographical setting (e.g., urban,
suburban, rural) or socio-demographic background (Bridgeland, Bruce, & Hariharan, 2013;
DePaoli et al., 2015; Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011; Jones & Kahn,
2017; Taylor et al., 2017). Importantly, this work is especially relevant for supporting students
who are low-income or experience other risk factors, , providing them with a set of skills that can
buffer exposure to adverse experiences or difficulty in school (Aber et al., 2003; Capella et al.,
2016).
Numerous studies identify benefits from SEL programming, with most sharing a social-
ecological developmental perspective (Durlak et al., 2011; Taylor et al., 2017; see detailed
listings at http://www.casel.org). The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional
Learning (CASEL) has taken a lead role in understanding the differences among these programs
to help schools match a particular approach to the context and population for which it will be
implemented. For example, some SEL programs focus on the integration of social and emotional
skills into the curriculum, others incorporate lessons that are separate from school-day activities.
In addition, some SEL programs focus on social justice issues to teach positive attitudes and
openness, whereas others rely on students’ individual experiences to guide lessons and practices.
Regardless, there is wide agreement that the effectiveness of programs is related less to their SEL
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content and more to the structural features of those programs (e.g., that they map onto the
acronym SAFE by being sequenced, active, focused, and explicit, CASEL, 2017), and the extent
to which they are implemented in contexts that are congruent with the messages being conveyed
in those programs and provide opportunities for students to authentically enact what is being
learned.
Osher and colleagues (2016) laid out a framework for a well-designed SEL program,
namely that a program is: developmentally appropriate, culturally relevant, systemic,
comprehensive, evidence-based, and forward thinking. Whether or not a program is
developmentally appropriate might hinge on how many grade levels are incorporated into a
program, and whether materials corresponding to these differentiations account for variations in
learning styles of students of different ages. Cultural relevance can be judged based on how a
program is designed to reach students of different backgrounds in a socially responsible
manneran instance where values positions, noted earlier, are especially salient and require
explicit attention. Comprehensiveness refers to the extent to which a particular SEL approach is
deeply rooted in theory and inclusive of more, rather than fewer, SEL competencies. How
systemic a program is hinges on how widely its practices reach adults and other stakeholders in
the larger community and then is carried through into the life of the school. Evidence-based
refers to the research that has demonstrated the effectiveness of the SEL program. Finally, a
forward-thinking program is one that encapsulates the changing cultural tides in which the
program exists and prepares students for new and forthcoming opportunities in the larger world.
Next, we review the theoretical orientations, practices, and efficacy of six widely adopted
yet distinct approaches to SEL. These programs were chosen for the extent to which their theory
of action explicitly connects their SEL content and instruction to mental health outcomes. We
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present them alphabetically in order to avoid the appearance of favoring one program over
another.<\>
<H1>SEL Programs and Approaches<\>
<H2>4Rs<\>
<TXT>The 4Rs (Reading, Writing, Respect, and Resolution) Program uses
developmentally appropriate literature to teach students in pre-kindergarten through 5th grade
classrooms social and emotional skills focused on interpersonal relationships and conflict
resolution. The target skills of the program include actions like handling anger, listening,
cooperating, being assertive, celebrating differences, countering bias, and building community
(Brown, Jones, LaRusso, & Aber, 2010). The program’s theory of change focuses on altering
underlying processes that are related to aggressive behaviors during key developmental periods
so as to create lasting change (Jones, Brown, & Aber, 2011). Specifically, the program targets
students’ tendency to have an aggressive response to socially neutral stimuli (i.e., hostile
attributional biases, aggressive interpersonal negotiation strategies). 4Rs also aims to lessen
students’ display of affective symptomatology (i.e., depressive, and ADHD-related).
4Rs uses children’s literature as a jumping-off point for building supportive, emotionally
aware students, schools, and communities with a guideline of at least one 20- to 60-minute
lesson per week. Each teaching unit focuses on a single book and is made up of three sequenced
parts: Read Aloud, Book Talk, and Applied Learning (Jones et al., 2017). Every book is carefully
chosen based on its relevance to an SEL theme, and then is read aloud as a class before being
discussed by the group to highlight the major themes, and increase understanding of the
connection it has to the students’ lives. Finally, each unit concludes 3–6 applied learning
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activities that allow students to practice skills related to the lesson’s theme (The 4Rs Program,
2016).
One randomized controlled trial of 82 3rd grade classrooms from 18 urban public schools
found that 4Rs had a positive impact on teachers’ perceived emotional skills, which directly
impacted the emotional and instructional quality of the classroom at the end of the year. Results
indicated that at the end of the school year, classrooms that had incorporated 4Rs had higher
independent observer ratings of social processes than control classrooms, even when controlling
for teacher ratings of social-emotional functioning (Brown et al., 2010). Another experimental
investigation into the impact of 4Rs on the same cohort of classrooms found that students in 4R
classrooms had lower rates of hostile attributional bias and aggressive interpersonal negotiation
strategies, and a greater decline in ADHD and depressive symptoms than children in the control
classrooms. In terms of academic functioning, the study found that students who demonstrated
more behavioral risk factors at baseline showed greater improvements in their math and reading
achievement scores compared to students whose baseline behavioral risk was lower (Jones et al.,
2011).<\>
<H2>Facing History and Ourselves<\>
<TXT>Facing History and Ourselves is an SEL program designed to be infused into an
academic classroom setting in English, History, or Social Studies courses at the secondary school
level. The program uses relevant academic content to promote understanding about intergroup
conflict, racism, religious intolerance, and general prejudice. This civic learning approach strives
to educate students in a supportive classroom environment that melds historical knowledge with
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social- and self-awareness and respect for diversity, along with perspective taking and conflict
resolution (Facing History and Ourselves, 2017).
At the center of the program’s pedagogical approach is a focus on three major
components: intellectual rigor, emotional engagement, and ethical reflection. Facing History uses
self-exploration of individuals and groups to answer the questions “who am I?” and “who are
we?” Examining and discussing case studies taken from both historical and literary contexts,
students are encouraged to delve deeply into ideas about personal and group responsibility, and
to complete individual projects in which they explore the emotional and intellectual facets of
openness and tolerance (Facing History and Ourselves, 2017).
A 2015 randomized controlled trial of Facing History found that the program had a
significant positive impact on teacher self-efficacy and engagement, and a moderate positive
impact on students’ civic self-efficacy and feeling that the classroom was a respectful, open, and
tolerant environment. These results were especially notable given that only half of the teachers
reported full fidelity to implementation of the program (Barr et al., 2015). Another study showed
that eighth graders in classrooms where the program was implemented demonstrated increases in
relationship maturity levels as well as decreases in racist attitudes throughout the year (Schultz,
Barr, & Selman, 2001).<\>
<H2>PATHS<\>
<TXT>Promoting Alternative THinking Strategies (PATHS) focuses on the reduction of
problem behaviors and promotion of emotional and social skills in classrooms for children in
grades K6. Originally developed for use with deaf children, PATHS now aims to teach all
elementary-aged children emotional literacy, self-control, and social competence (PATHS
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Curriculum, 2012). Designed to be taught 23 times a week for at least 2030 minutes per
session, the PATHS program relies on high-quality implementation that focuses on emotion
knowledge, emotion expression, and interpersonal skill development (Jones et al., 2017). PATHS
covers five main domains of social and emotional development: self-control, emotional
understanding, positive self-esteem, relationships, and interpersonal problem-solving through
sequenced lessons that build upon one another with increasing developmental difficulty. PATHS
follows an affective-behavioral-cognitive-dynamic (ABCD) model of development that focuses
on active integration of affective and cognitive processes as they relate to social and emotional
competence (Greenberg & Kusché, 1993). The ABCD model takes into account that emotional
development occurs prior to most cognitive developmental processes. Therefore, the model
focuses on integrating affective processes into cognitive and linguistic understanding in a
developmentally appropriate manner (Kam, Greenberg, & Kusché, 2004). The PATHS program
is also compatible with and has been proven effective for Head Start classrooms (PATHS
Program Objectives and Goals, 2017).
A randomized controlled trial of PATHS in 14 schools examined teacher- and self-reports
of different student social information processing (SIP) and social behavior outcomes. Students
in the PATHS condition exhibited less aggressive behavior and fewer conduct problems than
students in the control condition, in addition to showing stability in SIP outcomes while control
students’ behaviors trended more negatively (Crean & Johnson, 2013).
A separate study examining the efficacy of PATHS found significant positive effects of
the intervention on levels of aggression, prosocial behavior, and academic engagement, although
the main effects of the intervention were dependent on both student and school characteristics.
Specifically, the intervention showed greater impact in more disadvantaged schools (Bierman et
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al., 2010). Another study implemented a pilot version of PATHS for a sample of 133 students
with special needs in the 1st to 3rd grades. Researchers found that the PATHS curriculum had a
significant impact on children’s externalizing and internalizing behaviors, as well as on their
self-reported depression symptoms (Kam et al., 2004). The authors also found that these positive
impacts were sustained up to two years after implementation of the intervention.<\>
<H2>Responsive Classroom<\>
<TXT>Responsive Classroom (RC) is an evidence-based SEL teaching approach for
students in grades K8 that focuses on four key facets: engaging students in academics, positive
community building, effective classroom management, and developmental awareness (Rimm-
Kaufman, Larsen, Baroody, Curby, Thomas, J. B., . . . DeCoster, 2014). Using structured
classroom activities such as Morning Meetings, Energizers, Quiet Time, and Closing Circles, RC
places a high emphasis on building students’ attentional control and fostering positive
interpersonal relationships (Jones et al., 2017). RC focuses on teacher effectiveness and provides
educators the resources to encourage students to make meaningful choices about their learning,
to establish autonomy in class, and to create a sense of joyful community and shared purpose in
their school community. RC has six guiding principles that set the tone for the program, most
prominently that SEL learning is as important as academic learning, and that the way material is
taught is as important as what material is taught. Additionally, the program implies that social
interaction promotes cognitive change, that belief in positive expectations about students informs
how students act and are treated, and that families contribute meaningfully to social and
emotional growth (Rimm-Kaufman et al., 2014).
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In one quasi-experimental three-year longitudinal examination of the efficacy of the RC
approach, researchers found that students of teachers who implemented more RC practices had
higher social awareness and academic competence than students of teachers who used fewer RC
practices. The use of RC practices also positively impacted children’s perceptions of their
classrooms’ emotional climates, such that children’s perceptions of their classroom mediated the
relationship between the use of RC practices and their social and academic outcomes. In other
words, students in classrooms that implemented more RC practices had a more favorable view of
their school in general, and these positive views, in turn, impacted their social and academic
gains for the better (Brock, Nishida, Chong, Grimm, & Rimm-Kaufman, 2008).
Results from a three-year longitudinal, randomized controlled trial found that RC
practices link positively with achievement, and unexpectedly high implementation fidelity of RC
practices negatively impacted students’ math scores. This suggests that the nature of the
implementation is highly important, such that RC practices be equally distributed among
classroom lessons so as not to detract resources or time from other academic lessons (Rimm-
Kaufman et al., 2014). An earlier study posited that RC implementation practices positively
impacted fifth graders self-efficacy related to math and science, thereby reducing their anxiety
around performance in those subjects (Griggs, Rimm-Kaufman, Merritt, & Patton, 2013).
Together, these results suggest that the quality and quantity of RC lessons together affect student
outcomes.<\>
<H2>RULER<\>
<TXT>RULER is an empirically based approach to SEL rooted in both emotional
intelligence (EI, Salovey, & Mayer, 1990) and ecological systems theory (Bronfenbrenner &
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Morris, 1998). RULER teaches students and adults the skills to Recognize, Understand, Label,
Express and Regulate their emotions, which represent the RULER acronym (Brackett, Elbertson,
& Rivers, 2015). RULER implies that it is not enough to simply teach skillsthe classroom and
school environment must be supportive to foster positive outcomes among students and adults
(Brackett et al., 2015). A third theoretical component of RULER is the focus on helping adults
and students develop a “growth” rather than a “fixed” mindset regarding the development of
emotion skills and building classroom and school communities (Dweck, 2000).
RULER uses a phased approach, with the first phase aimed at garnering support from
adults and stakeholders in the educational community at hand. Using a train-the-trainer model,
phase one of RULER aims at professional development for adults. The second phase focuses on
teaching skills and strategies to students and families. The third phase focuses on integrating
RULER principles into broader policy efforts, including behavior management systems. RULER
teaches emotional intelligence through four sequentially taught Anchor Tools known as the
Charter, the Mood Meter, the Meta-Moment, and the Blueprint. By way of example, the Mood
Meter provides a framework for understanding emotions, building both self- and social-
awareness as educators and students practice checking in with their bodies and minds to
accurately identify their emotional experiences and learn strategies to manage them effectively.
At the elementary and middle school levels, RULER also embeds a Feeling Words Curriculum
that focuses on developing students’ self- and social-awareness, responsible decision-making,
and emotion regulation skills.
A 2013 randomized controlled trial of RULER’s efficacy that was completed across 5th
and 6th grade classrooms in 62 schools found that RULER schools had stronger emotional
climates present in their classrooms than control schools after one year (Rivers, Brackett, Reyes,
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Elbertson, & Salovey, 2013). A second study found that shifts in emotional climate were
maintained after two years, and that by the end of the second year of implementation
instructional and organizational climate of a school was positively impacted (Hagelskamp,
Brackett, Rivers, & Salovey, 2013). In one quasi-experimental study of fifth and sixth graders
from three different schools, evidence was found that students who received instruction in
RULER had higher end-of-year academic performance as well has higher teacher-rated social
and emotional competence (Brackett, Rivers, Reyes, & Salovey, 2012). One study investigating
the training and implementation quality of 28 teachers’ delivery of RULER found that for
teachers who were high- or moderate-quality implementers (i.e., demonstrated openness to the
program and taught material accurately) who attended more training and coaching sessions had
students with higher social problem-solving and emotional literacy scores than low-quality
implementers who attended the same number of trainings (Reyes, Brackett, Rivers, Elbertson, &
Salovey, 2012).<\>
<H2>Second Step<\>
<TXT>Second Step is a pre-kindergarten to 8th grade program designed to help students
develop skills to manage their emotions and behaviors so as to reduce aggression and violence.
For elementary school students, Second Step is divided into four major modules: Skill for
Learning, Empathy, Emotion Management, and Problem-Solving (Second Step, 2017). Each
grade level has a separate set of curricula to encourage developmentally appropriate lessons that
are relevant for each age group. Second Step provides teachers with a variety of teaching
materials to help make lessons interactive and engaging. Optional training involves workshops
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and coaching for parents, faculty, and school staff who provide instruction on all major domains
of the program in the year prior to schoolwide implementation (Jones, 2017).
A 2015 randomized control trial of Second Step in 61 schools across five districts found
that the benefits of Second Step were most pronounced for students who began the program with
their competence scores in the bottom half of the range for their age groups. Students whose
baselines scores for conduct problems and aggressive behavior were higher, and whose teacher-
rated scores of emotion management and problem-solving skills were lower showed the most
improvement in their competencies over the course of the school year (Low, Cook, Smolkowski,
& Buntain-Ricklefs, 2015).
A separate study of 4th and 5th grade classrooms found that students showed
improvements across main areas of the program (i.e., anger management, impulse control,
empathy) at post-test (Edwards, Hunt, Meyers, Grogg, & Jarrett, 2005). A study of the program’s
efficacy after one year of implementation in 11 Norwegian schools showed that fifth and sixth
graders demonstrated improvements in social competence and rates of externalizing behaviors
and hyperactivity. Another study of 1,253 2nd and 4th grade students found that students in
Second Step classrooms demonstrated more explicit prosocial goals and behavior than other
students (Frey, Nolen, Edstrom, & Hirschstein, 2005).
<line#>
SEL programs vary in their pedagogical approaches to teaching students and adults. Overall,
most programs share similar priorities, namely striving to help adults teach students the skills
they need to succeed inside and outside of the classroom. Most SEL programs include explicit
teaching of skills, regardless of whether lessons are integrated into a language-arts course, a
history course, or stand alone as a separate curriculum. Even sharing similar goals, when
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revisiting the six major criteria of which effective SEL programming should be composed, one
might notice that some programs address some benchmarks and not others. For example, 4Rs
aims to tailor its lessons and choice of literature based on the needs and experiences of students
of different ages, making it a developmentally appropriate program for each of its target
audiences. A program such as Facing History hits the benchmark for cultural relevance in
incorporating discussions about social justice and other topical issues heavily into SEL
instruction. PATHS’ focus on the ABCD theory of development shows a commitment to
comprehensiveness, while RULER’s demonstrated ability to hold up in the face of rigorous
experimental evaluation and focus on all stakeholders demonstrates its systemic approach to
teaching SEL. Each SEL program has a unique pedagogical approach, but all aim to equip
students with the same sets of skills in order to set them up for success. Covering a wide range of
competencies these differing SEL approaches all have qualities that have value and foster
academic, social, and emotional growth for students.
In discussing these, or any, programs as examples of SEL implementation, it is important
to acknowledge several points made earlier. First, virtually every SEL program has had instances
of failure as well as success; in Gager and Elias’s (1997) analysis of examples of SEL-related
programs carried out statewide in New Jersey, implementation factors were necessary, if not
sufficient, conditions for success among programs with empirical support of the kind noted in the
six examples just cited. Further, whether programs were sustainable over multiple years was
similarly determined by implementation and contextual factors (Elias, 2010).
Second, a meta-analysis of SEL studies (Durlak et al., 2011) supports the idea that the
most reliable gains from SEL programs come from multiyear, systematic implementation.
However, the majority of empirical studies, including RCTs, are no more than one year in
Volume 2, Chapter 6: Developing Social and Emotional Skills and Attitudes and Ecological Assets
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duration. This speaks to the larger issue of the extent to which empirical supports of SEL
adequately discuss the context of implementation, including when in the history of relationship
of program consultants and host settings a study is carried out. Three of the programs noted
aboveFacing History, RULER, and RCare perhaps best not thought of as discrete programs
implementing SEL-related skill lessons. They have a different relationship to their host
environment. Facing History must be adopted into existing Social Studies curriculum and
instruction; RULER requires strong systemic commitment prior to implementation, including
staff preparation and support; and RC focuses on changing pedagogy as well as increasing
student voice in the classroom. Typically, it is implemented in units, such as grade levels or
entire schools, which also provide a community of support for those carrying out the approach.
It would be most accurate to say that successful, multiyear, sustained SEL represents a
confluence of program and instructional factors, cultural and developmental tailoring, and
contextual implementation support (Wigelsworth et al., 2016). More and more, although the
empirical base of SEL is located in its studies of theory-guided relationships and impact of
programs, the practice base is holistically connected to settings larger than classrooms (Berman,
Chaffee, & Sarmiento, 2018). That is, SEL in practice is a school-level intervention within which
classrooms and other school settings are embedded; considering the impact of programs separate
from their context is unwise (Gager & Elias, 1997). Notably, three of the six SEL approaches
just described (Facing History, RULER, and RC) are not at all best characterized as “programs.”
Each defines its context of use differently, and implicitly or explicitly calls for significant
preparation necessary for implementation, including commitments at the school level. There are
processes involved in creating consensus and an overall facilitative environment within which
SEL becomes implemented.<\>
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<H1>The Role of Teachers and Parents<\>
<TXT>Attention increasingly turns to the influence of children’s teachers, including their first
teachers (i.e., parents), in systematic attempts to improve children’s social-emotional
competence. Bar-On (2003), while focusing on teachers, makes the point that there is a cycle of
competence that begins with having emotionally and socially intelligent individuals educating
others in becoming more emotionally and socially intelligent: It is logical to assume that these
people will be the best teachers . . . [and] if we succeed in raising and educating more
emotionally and socially intelligent children, we will contribute to building more effective and
productive organisations, communities and societies (Bar-On, 2003, p. 13).
There is a small, but growing, body of evidence supporting this perspective. Interventions
addressing teacher-specific social and emotional competencies result in improvements in a
variety of indicators of teacher well-being including reductions in stress and burnout, which can
reduce rates of teacher and administrator turnover. Teachers also report greater job satisfaction
when their students are more engaged and successful, and student motivation and engagement
are linked to experiences with instructional content and approaches that reflect students’ social
and emotional worlds. Williford and Wolcott (2015) made the point that engaged teachers, in
turn, engage students in both learning and in positive relationships in schools and classrooms.
Although evidence is still preliminary, it seems reasonable that in such contexts, SEL skills will
also be more likely to thrive (Cantor, Osher, Berg, Steyer, & Rose, 2018). Thus, there seems to
be a movement toward school-based interventions for teachers that promote their mindfulness
and stress management; however, research on these topics is in its early stages, with a paucity of
long-term studies.
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From an ecological-developmental-systems perspective, the challenges of being an
effective teacher are many, and the likelihood of simple interventions being effective is small
(Cantor et al., 2018). Teachers’ well-being is directly or indirectly influenced by their
effectiveness in a number of areas: (a) using instructional practices and classroom management;
(b) school scheduling; (c) relationships with diverse students, professional peers, support staff,
and administrators; and (d) communication and contact with parents. Also relevant are the
overall climate of their buildings, involvement of community members and leaders, and macro-
systemic factors such as attitudes and resources provided to teachers. We also should not ignore
the hassles discussed daily in teachers’ lounges: availability of safe and accessible parking,
functioning of microwaves at lunchtime, and the quality of climate control in classrooms and
buildings. Relying on individual coping in the context of so many systemic factors seems to be
an error of logical typing and risks “blaming the victim” with regard to why teachers are not
functioning “better” and thereby imparting more knowledge and SEL to their students.
Similarly, the same perspective is helpful for understanding the role of parents. As Eli
Bower (1972) pointed out, among the many socializing influences on the development of
children, parents are most critical. Many decisions made by the time a child reaches school at age
3, 4, or 5 set into motion powerful trajectories. These include with whom to partner to have a
child (with its genetic implications), how to live, where to live, maternal lifestyle before and after
the child’s birth, and access to and use of the health care system throughout. One way of
understanding parents influence from an ecological perspective (Belsky, 1984) is to consider
how they navigate their children’s relationships through all the microsystems that are most
directly influential on their development and which serve as arenas for the growth of SEL skills:
households, childcare, playgroups, camps, after-school activities, religious settings, health care
Volume 2, Chapter 6: Developing Social and Emotional Skills and Attitudes and Ecological Assets
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systems, to name a few. Parents’ own social-emotional competenciesas well as the nature of,
access to, and resources within those microsystemsstrongly determine the nature of children’s
experiences within them. So it is not unreasonable to say that there would be a strong
relationship between the social-emotional competence parents display each day in contexts
highly salient to their children, and the corresponding skills their children develop through
modeling and indirect instruction (Stern & Elias, 2007).
We are living in times of change in family composition and diversity (McGoldrick,
Giordano, & Garcia-Preto, 2006). There is increasing inequity, resulting in stress due to such
ongoing processes as racial prejudice, socioeconomic disadvantage, family disruption,
immigration threat, and inadequate access to quality health care. These processes frame the
ecological and developmental context described above and create a functional imperative for
parent-school partnerships to foster children’s social-emotional competence.
There is some empirical evidence that the social and emotional skills, drive, and
competencies of parents and families can greatly affect outcomes. If, for instance, parents lack
efficacy in terms of their ability to help their children, they may be less likely to be involved in
their children’s education and in promoting their children’s social, emotional, and behavioral
outcomes (Cantor et al., 2018; Garbacz, Swanger-Gagne, & Sheridan, 2015; Hoover-Dempsey,
Bassler, & Brissie, 1992; Osher et al., 2016). Home environment, or more specifically the extent
to which learning is stimulated in the home, significantly affects students’ academic and social
development, including prevention ofor promotion ofproblem behaviors (Elias, Bryan,
Patrikakou, & Weissberg, 2003).
For these reasons, Garbacz, Swanger-Gagné, and Sheridan’s (2015) evaluation of SEL
programs that actively engage families and promote a school-family partnership is particularly
Volume 2, Chapter 6: Developing Social and Emotional Skills and Attitudes and Ecological Assets
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salient. SEL programs that “work” seem to foster positive social and emotional outcomes (i.e.,
self-management, social awareness, responsible decision-making) through meaningful family
engagement (i.e., partnership-centered meetings and consultations between teachers and parents
or caregivers, schoolwide modules that engage parents and children in activities at home).
Patrikakou and Weissberg (2007) recommended selecting SEL approaches that systematically
include parents. Specifically, they suggested educators look for interventions that feature:<\>
<NL>
1. Communication between home and school: two-way communication between home
and school is the most important factor promoting children’s social competence.
2. Parent involvement at home: CASEL Select Programs provide specific strategies and
support through which teachers can involve parents, such as activities and materials that
reinforce and extend classroom learning at home.
3. Parent involvement at school: Given the demands of modern life, involving families at
school presents greater challenges than involvement at home. Often, both parents work
extended hours and struggle to attend school meetings or activities. Nevertheless,
accessible invitations should be made, including meetings that accommodate diverse
parent schedules, and a clear sense of welcome and participation must be
communicated.<\>
Because each child and family’s path to social and emotional competence has innumerable
influences, systematic intervention with parents related to SEL has been fleeting and, when
present, difficult to prove potent or to empirically derive the most salient elements. Nevertheless,
Volume 2, Chapter 6: Developing Social and Emotional Skills and Attitudes and Ecological Assets
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there is some strong consensus from the practice literature regarding parenting practices, ideally
in concert with the school but not necessarily, most likely to foster students social-emotional
and character development. They include parental self-reflection, to improve modeling, parental
observation, to improve parent-child interaction, and contextual considerations, including the
role of culture (Whitcomb & Elias, in press).
Table 8.1 summarizes the reflective questions parents can ask to build both awareness of
and competence in SEL. Parents can ask a parallel set of questions when observing and
interacting with their children. For example, for self-awareness: How does your child experience
emotions? How well, and with how much variety and nuance, is your child able to name feelings
or describe them? What seems to trigger your children’s strongest emotions? How well are they
able to explain their feelings when you ask about them?
<Insert Vol 1 Table 8.1 here>
There are many contextual considerations, including developmental, ability and
disability, sibling issues, and family, school, and community context and culture (Canor et al.,
2018). Hence, there are many factors that make it challenging for parents to be the sole primary
role models and SEL teachers of their children, particularly in a globalized world. This creates an
imperative for the idea of parent-school-community partnership for building SEL in upcoming
generations as being, de facto, how those skills will be developed (Patrikakou & Weissberg,
2007). The challenge that remains largely unaddressed, both in practice as well as in research, is
how to do this effectively across contexts and in ways that will reach all parents equitably.<\>
<H1>Conclusion and Future Directions<\>
Volume 2, Chapter 6: Developing Social and Emotional Skills and Attitudes and Ecological Assets
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<TXT>Supporting positive social and emotional development is highly valuable for the success
and well-being of individuals, schools, and society at large. Reductions in violence, drug use,
delinquent behavior, and mental health problemsas a result of stronger social and emotional
skills and competenciesare likely to lead to decreased need for government services, and
ultimately, less expenditure of public money (Jones et al., 2015). Importantly, interventions
designed to build social and emotional skills have been shown to be effective for all children and
youth, regardless of geographical setting (e.g., urban, suburban, rural) or socio-demographic
background (Bridgeland et al., 2013; DePaoli et al., 2015; Durlak et al., 2011; Taylor et al.,
2017). This work is especially relevant for supporting low-income or at-risk students, providing
them with a set of skills that can buffer exposure to adverse experiences or difficulty in school
(Aber et al., 2003; Capella et al., 2016). There also has been a strong convergence around what
might be considered best practices, including, as noted earlier, the need to shift from a program
perspective more to schools as ecological contexts, themselves nested in wider ecologies, in
which SEL skills are continuously developed (Berman et al., 2018).
That said, the strength of empirical, longitudinal, developmental, and cross-contextual
evidence for these contentions varies. As noted earlier, Rowe and Trickett (2017) pointed out the
stark imbalance of research conducted with what might be labeled advantaged, majority groups,
versus others. Although the theoretical base is strong, the nomological net has not been extended
empirically to all the contexts in which implementation of SEL is taking place in practice, or is
being called for. For the future, two key recommendations are to (1) expand the focus on
populations and settings being studied; and (2) begin to bring SEL into new settings using the
best available evidence from current practice and taking an action-research approach to make
modifications in a spirit of continuous improvement (Elias & Leverett, 2011).
Volume 2, Chapter 6: Developing Social and Emotional Skills and Attitudes and Ecological Assets
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An additional continuing challenge is the organization of research. Although there are
now many follow-up studies showing sustained effects of SEL programs, the significance of a
developmental approach to programming itself involving continuous and integrated SEL from
pre-kindergarten through young adulthood has received only modest attention. The
methodological conundrum is that the programming rigor and continuity required of the
strongest, “gold standard” research designs is least likely to be attainable in the maelstrom of
under-resourced school contexts over extended periods of time. Further, the general model of
individual researcher-initiated and grant-funded efforts is likely to result in a continued
hodgepodge of findings and significant gaps in coverage of populations and settings. The SEL
field will need to address the research future in concert with funders, journal editors, and large
research labs and organizations, and create associations and affiliations with cadres of relevant
individual research and research teams to allow for coordinated investigations.
There are other research issues, beyond what we can address here, that create limits to
both existing findings and future work, particularly with regard to assessment. However, the final
issue we will raise is the relative neglect in research, theory, and intervention of the ways in
which what we might refer to as a moral compass relates to specific competencies. The SEL field
uses words such as character, values, and virtues to a limited degree. Some efforts have begun to
explicate these concerns, under the rubric of social-emotional and character development and
prosocial education (Brown et al., 2012; Elias, 2009, 2013; Hatchimonji, Linsky, & Elias, 2017).
This is a necessary step, because the SEL field implicitly assumes SEL skills give positive
direction and energy to learning, mental health, and general social functioning and competence.
However, this is not an inevitability. SEL skills, as skills for competence, can be used for ill as
well as for goodwith those terms being open to subjective interpretation. Although the SEL
Volume 2, Chapter 6: Developing Social and Emotional Skills and Attitudes and Ecological Assets
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field has long relied on detailed analyses of consequencesshort and long term, for self and
others, direct and indirectto lead to prosocial actions, this is an assumption that is no longer
viable in a culturally sensitive, diverse world, in which the role of school-parent-community
partnerships is seen as essential. The future of SEL is connected to the direction that the moral
compass is pointing, and that should be the subject of explicit future theorizing, research, and
practice.<\>
Volume 2, Chapter 6: Developing Social and Emotional Skills and Attitudes and Ecological Assets
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... Social and emotional learning refers to the process through which individuals learn and apply a set of social, emotional, behavioral, and character skills required to succeed in schooling, the workplace, relationships, and citizenship (Elias et al., 2019). ...
... Emotional competencies are a set of skills and understandings that help children recognize, express, and regulate their emotions, as well as engage in empathy and perspective-taking around the emotions of others. Emotional skills allow children to recognize how different situations make them feel and to address those feelings in prosocial ways (Elias et al., 2019). ...
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Background: The aim of this study was to investigate the effectiveness of the 16 weeks educational program of emotional skills in physical education classes on development of emotional skills among 15–16-year-old adolescents in physical education classes. Study hy-pothesis – the application of 16 weeks educational program would allow expecting more de-veloped emotional skills among 15–16-year-old adolescents in physical education classes. Subjects and methods: Participants in the study were 51 pupils of the ninth grade (15.15±0.36). Experimental group consisted of 25 and the control group of 26 adolescents. The measures of emotional skills were evaluated using Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire – Short Form (TEIQue – SF), Social Emotional School Readiness Scale (BUSSESR), and self-confidence methodology, developed by Stolin (Пантилеев, Столин, 1989). Educational experiment was used as a method to verify the eficiency of the educational program. Repeated measures (RM) multivariate analysis of variance (2 × 2 (Group × Time) MANOVA) was used in order to analyze the effects of the educational program. Results: After the 16-weeks educational program (structural physical education classes), a significant improvement was found in emotional skills scores for the experimental group compared with the control group, which had a statistically significant effects: adolescents in the experimental group had more developed self-awareness (F (1,49) = 5.86; p < .05; η 2 = .11), self-confidence (F (1,49) = 5.28; p < .05; η 2 = .10) skills, and the abilities to express emotions (F (1,49) = 5.95; p < .05; η 2 = .11) in physical education classes. These results indi-cated that the structural physical education classes had a positive influence on adolescents’ emotional skills. Conclusions: It was found that during the 16 weeks educational experiment the applied mea-sures of educational impact had a statistically significant effect on the components of exper-imental group 15–16-year-old adolescents’ self-awareness, self-confidence skills, and the abilities to express emotions in physical education classes.
... This migration might be accompanied by great frustration, especially when the teacher is required to incorporate distance teaching, namely teaching that demands different skills than those needed in the traditional teaching process (Luthra & Mackenzie, 2020). This is especially true during times of crisis such as the outbreak of the corona pandemic, when the teacher also takes on the important role of strengthening the students' psychological wellbeing (Elias et al., 2019). ...
... Perhaps the lower level of access among the elementary school children in the Arab sector causes difficulties among them, which is connected to the lower use of online learning. The scarcity of online learning in elementary schools in the Arab sector, which in times of emergency is not only to teach, but also to provide emotional response to the students as well as a social-educational support framework, might affect the wellbeing of the students (Elias et al., 2019). In addition, it might widen the educational gaps between the strong students and the underprivileged students and the Jewish society and the Arab society. ...
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... Possibly the skills teaching approach used in the S4L program did not sufficiently reflect the intersection of students' low educational achievements with their family's minority background and low socioeconomic status and therefore did not provide all the students included in our study with (equal) opportunities to develop the social-emotional skills they need at home, at school, and at work (Nagaoka et al., 2015;Jagers et al., 2019). Establishing equal opportunities for students requires collaboration between schools, students, and parents to understand differences in their perspectives on social-emotional skills development and tailor SEL programs accordingly (Elias et al., 2019;Jagers et al., 2019). ...
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Beginning as early as preschool, race and gender are intertwined with the way US schools mete out discipline. In particular, black students and male students are much more likely than others to be suspended or expelled-punishments that we know can hold them back academically. These disparities, and the damage they can cause, have driven recent reforms, including some that incorporate social and emotional learning (SEL) practices. Anne Gregory and Edward Fergus review federal and state mandates to cut down on punishments that remove students from school, and they show how some districts are embracing SEL in their efforts to do so. Yet even in these districts, large disparities in discipline persist. The authors suggest two reasons current discipline reforms that embrace SEL practices may hold limited promise for reducing discipline disparities. The first is that prevailing “colorblind” notions of SEL don’t consider power, privilege, and cultural difference-thus ignoring how individual beliefs and structural biases can lead educators to react harshly to behaviors that fall outside a white cultural frame of reference. The second is that most SEL models are centered on students, but not on the adults who interact with them. Yet research shows that educators’ own social and emotional competencies strongly influence students’ motivation to learn and the school climate in general. Gregory and Fergus describe how one school district is striving to orient its discipline policies around a conception of SEL that stresses equity and promotes both adults’ and students’ SEL competencies. Although such reforms hold promise, they are still in the early stages, and the authors call for rigorous empirical work to test whether such efforts can substantially reduce or eradicate racial and gender disparities in discipline.
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This chapter summarizes the results of nearly 100 years of research on school-based social and emotional learning (SEL). The SEL field has grown out of research in many fields and subfields with which educators, researchers, and policymakers are familiar, including the promotion of social competence, bullying prevention, prevention of drug use and abuse, civic and character education, emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, social skills training, and 21st-century skills. The chapter begins with a historical summary of theoretical movements and research trends that have led to today’s inclusion of SEL as part of many schools’ curricula, policies, and practices. Contemporary approaches that represent current policy and societal concerns are discussed in comparative terms. Based on the converging research evidence, this chapter identifies design elements and implementation quality characteristics of effective approaches to SEL. Recommendations for future practice, policy, and research are provided.
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There’s a strong case for making social and emotional learning (SEL) skills and competencies a central feature of elementary school. Children who master SEL skills get along better with others, do better in school, and have more successful careers and better mental and physical health as adults. But evidence from the most rigorous studies of elementary-school SEL programs is ambiguous. Some studies find few or no effects, while others find important and meaningful effects. Or studies find effects for some groups of students but not for others. What causes such variation isn’t clear, making it hard to interpret and act on the evidence. What are the sources of variation in the impacts of SEL programs designed for the elementary years? To find out, Stephanie Jones, Sophie Barnes, Rebecca Bailey, and Emily Doolittle examine how the theories of change behind 11 widely used school-based SEL interventions align with the way those interventions measure outcomes. Their central conclusion is that what appears to be variation in impacts may instead stem from imprecise program targets misaligned with too-general measures of outcomes. That is to say, program evaluations often fail to measure whether students have mastered the precise skills the programs seek to impart. The authors make three recommendations for policy makers, practitioners, and researchers. The first is that we should focus more on outcomes at the teacher and classroom level, because teachers’ own social-emotional competency and the quality of the classroom environment can have a huge effect on students’ SEL. Second, because the elementary years span a great many developmental and environmental transitions, SEL programs should take care to focus on the skills appropriate to each grade and age, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach. Third, they write, measurement of SEL skills among children in this age range should grow narrower in focus but broader in context and depth.