How to implement social and emotional learning at your school

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Photo credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Editor’s note: This piece is co-authored by Maurice Elias, Larry Leverett, Joan Cole Duffell, Neil Humphrey, Cesalie Stepney, and Joseph Ferrito, and adapted from the Handbook of Social and Emotional Learning, now available from Guilford Press.

Every school in the United States, and indeed, every school in the world, addresses the social-emotional and character development of the students who pass through its doors. It is impossible to bring adults and children together for long periods of time and not influence children’s skills and the kinds of people they will become when putting those skills to use.

These processes, for many years, have been informal and haphazard. For many schools, social and emotional learning (SEL) programs are disconnected and uncoordinated, and can be associated with the negative effects and fragmentation on staff morale and student engagement and learning (Elias, 2009). Ideally, however, SEL is comprehensive, coordinated, and linked to academics, parents, and community involvement (including after-school programming). In such schools, students understand that they need academic and SEL competencies to accomplish valued goals; to contribute to the greater good, as well as their own good; and to strive to be persons of sound character and health. Correspondingly, the educators in those schools understand that for students to build their SEL skills, it is necessary not only to coordinate what happens within that school, but also to connect with the efforts of other schools in the district and of parents, after-school programs, and community partners.

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