Social emotional learning, or SEL, is the process through which all people acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions. In schools, SEL can help students thrive personally and academically, helping to advance educational equity and empower young people to lead healthy and rewarding lives.
There is evidence that social emotional learning strategies lead to a variety of positive results, including academic improvements. Using evidence-based SEL strategies can directly benefit your school community, improving relationships and promoting wellbeing of students, teachers, families, and community members. According to CASEL, the preeminent organization and collaborative for social emotional learning, evidence-based SEL programs are grounded in research, and are shown to produce positive student outcomes. However, implementing an SEL curriculum is not the only evidence-based strategy to implement social emotional learning at your school.
Here are five evidence-based SEL strategies to consider for you school:
1. SEL Curriculum
The traditional evidence-based approach to SEL in schools is implementing an SEL curriculum. There are many options available that offer social emotional learning programs catered to different grade levels, focused on different SEL strategies, and delivered in a variety of formats. For a mindsets-based approach to SEL, an option like 7 Mindsets might be the best for your school. Younger students can benefit from interactive SEL curricula, such as Quaver SEL, which offers music- and movement-focused lessons. Second Step is a great K-12 option for districts who want a holistic approach to SEL, building on previous SEL skills and knowledge as students move upward in school. Evidence-based SEL programs may even qualify for funding from COVID stimulus programs for education, like the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan.
Implementing SEL writing and journal prompts in the classroom can offer similar benefits to an SEL curriculum with less time and fewer resources needed. Research indicates that journaling in the classroom can support students in setting and achieving goals, improving communication skills, and reducing stress. These are all integral parts of SEL, and this practice is valuable whether you already have an SEL curriculum or journaling is the main SEL practice in your school. CASEL offers a comprehensive list of SEL journaling prompts for free, or you may consider selecting an SEL curriculum with a journaling component if this is a practice you’d like to implement at your school.
3. Mindfulness Practices
Practicing mindfulness and meditation has been shown to decrease stress and anxiety and promote empathy and self-compassion, leading to better quality of life for people of all ages. Mindfulness practices in the classroom are a great supplement or alternative to traditional SEL curriculum, offering students valuable social and emotional benefits, as well as improvements to mood and focus that support academic achievement. While mindfulness as a practice is supported by research and evidence, evidence-based mindfulness programs are also available, such as innerExplorer or Koru Mindfulness.
4. Community Building
There may not be time or funding to implement a full SEL curriculum at your school, but a good way to build a foundation in social emotional skills and behaviors is to fortify community connections and partnerships. When the entire school community is on the same page about social emotional learning, everyone can practice, model, and encourage SEL skills to support student growth and learning. Evidence suggests that effective school-community partnerships benefit all stakeholders, including students, parents, schools, and community partners.
5. Classroom Behavioral Management
If your implementation of SEL at your school is more focused on student behavior and classroom management, a behavior management strategy may be the most productive option for your school. SEL competencies including relationship-building and positive communication are both great strategies to address classroom behavioral management. Another option is to implement a classroom management program, such as Class Dojo, or an SEL program focused on positive behavior, such as Positive Action.
Adoption and implementation of evidence-based SEL strategies and programs at your school is the best way to address students’ SEL competencies and support your school community’s social and emotional needs. With these strategies, you can improve academic performance, decrease negative attitudes and behaviors, and reduce stress and anxiety, leading to a healthier, more connected school community.