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Promoting Social and Emotional Learning

by Maurice J. Elias, Joseph E. Zins, Roger P. Weissberg, Karin S. Frey, Mark T. Greenberg, Norris M. Haynes, Rachael Kessler, Mary E. Schwab-Stone and Timothy P. Shriver

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. The Need for Social and Emotional Learning

It sometimes seems that everyone wants to improve schooling in America, but each in a different way. Some want to strengthen basic skills; others, critical thinking. Some want to promote citizenship or character; others want to warn against the dangers of drugs and violence. Some demand more from parents; others accent the role of community. Some emphasize core values; others, the need to respect diversity. All, however, recognize that schools play an essential role in preparing our children to become knowledgeable, responsible, caring adults.

Knowledgeable. Responsible. Caring. Behind each word lies an educational challenge. For children to become knowledgeable, they must be ready and motivated to learn, and capable of integrating new information into their lives. For children to become responsible, they must be able to understand risks and opportunities, and be motivated to choose actions and behaviors that serve not only their own interests but those of others. For children to become caring, they must be able to see beyond themselves and appreciate the concerns of others; they must believe that to care is to be part of a community that is welcoming, nurturing, and concerned about them.

The challenge of raising knowledgeable, responsible, and caring children is recognized by nearly everyone. Few realize, however, that each element of this challenge can be enhanced by thoughtful, sustained, and systematic attention to children's social and emotional learning (SEL). Indeed, experience and research show that promoting social and emotional development in children is “the missing piece” in efforts to reach the array of goals associated with improving schooling in the United States. There is a rising tide of understanding among educators that children's SEL can and should be promoted in schools (Langdon 1996). Although school personnel see the importance of programs to enhance students' social, emotional, and physical well-being, they also regard prevention campaigns with skepticism and frustration, because most have been introduced as disjointed fads, or a series of “wars” against one problem or another. Although well intentioned, these efforts have achieved limited success due to a lack of coordinated strategy (Shriver and Weissberg 1996).

Based on patterns of child development and on prevention research, a new generation of social and emotional development programs is being used in thousands of schools. Today's educators have a renewed perspective on what common sense always suggested: when schools attend systematically to students' social and emotional skills, the academic achievement of children increases, the incidence of problem behaviors decreases, and the quality of the relationships surrounding each child improves. And, students become the productive, responsible, contributing members of society that we all want. Perhaps the most important rediscovery is that working in classrooms and schools where social and emotional skills are actively promoted is fun and rewarding. As we allow the humanity, decency, and childishness of students (and ourselves, to some degree) to find a legitimate place in the learning environment, we rediscover our reasons for becoming educators.

Thus, social and emotional education is sometimes called the missing piece, that part of the mission of the school that, while always close to the thoughts of many teachers, somehow eluded them. Now, the elusive has become the center, and the opportunities to reshape schooling are upon us.

What Is Social and Emotional Education—And Why Is It Important?

Social and emotional competence is the ability to understand, manage, and express the social and emotional aspects of one's life in ways that enable the successful management of life tasks such as learning, forming relationships, solving everyday problems, and adapting to the complex demands of growth and development. It includes self-awareness, control of impulsivity, working cooperatively, and caring about oneself and others. Social and emotional learning is the process through which children and adults develop the skills, attitudes, and values necessary to acquire social and emotional competence. In Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman (1995) provides much evidence for social and emotional intelligence as the complex and multifaceted ability to be effective in all the critical domains of life, including school. But Goleman also does us the favor of stating the key point simply: “It's a different way of being smart.”

In recent years, character education has received a great deal of attention, including mention in President Clinton's 1997 State of the Union address. You might wonder about its relationship to social and emotional education. Without going into a lengthy discussion of character education (see Lickona 1991, 1993a), it is apparent that the best character education and social and emotional education programs share many overlapping goals. The Character Education Partnership in Alexandria, Virginia, defines character education as “the long-term process of helping young people develop good character, i.e., knowing, caring about, and acting upon core ethical values such as fairness, honesty, compassion, responsibility, and respect for self and others.” Whereas many character education programs promote a set of values and directive approaches that presumably lead to responsible behavior (Brick and Roffman 1993, Lickona 1993b, Lockwood 1993), social and emotional education efforts typically have a broader focus. They place more emphasis on active learning techniques, the generalization of skills across settings, and the development of social decision-making and problem-solving skills that can be applied in many situations. Moreover, social and emotional education is targeted to help students develop the attitudes, behaviors, and cognitions to become “healthy and competent” overall—socially, emotionally, academically, and physically—because of the close relationship among these domains. And, as you will see, social and emotional education has clear outcome criteria, with specific indicators of impact identified. In sum, both character education and social and emotional education aspire to teach our students to be good citizens with positive values and to interact effectively and behave constructively. The challenge for educators and scientists is to clarify the set of educational methods that most successfully contribute to those outcomes.

The social and emotional education of children may be provided through a variety of diverse efforts such as classroom instruction, extracurricular activities, a supportive school climate, and involvement in community service. Many schools have entire curriculums devoted to SEL. In classroom-based programs, educators enhance students' social and emotional competence through instruction and structured learning experiences throughout the day. For example, the New Haven, Connecticut, public schools have outlined the scope of their K-12 Social Development Project, identifying an array of interrelated skills, attitudes, values, and domains of information that lay a foundation for constructive development and behavior (see Figure 1.1).

Figure 1.1. New Haven Social Development Curriculum Scope

Life Skills Curriculum Scope: Preschool through 12th grade



  • Self-monitoring
  • Self-control
  • Stress management
  • Persistence
  • Emotion-focused coping
  • Self-reward

Problem Solving and Decision Making

  • Problem recognition
  • Feelings awareness
  • Perspective taking
  • Realistic and adaptive goal setting
  • Awareness of adaptive response strategies
  • Alternative solution thinking
  • Consequential thinking
  • Decision making
  • Planning
  • Behavioral enactment


  • Understanding nonverbal communication
  • Sending messages
  • Receiving messages
  • Matching communication to the situation

Attitudes and Values

About Self

  • Self-respect
  • Feeling capable
  • Honesty
  • Sense of responsibility
  • Willingness to grow
  • Self-acceptance

About Others

  • Awareness of social norms and values—peer, family, community, and society
  • Accepting individual differences
  • Respecting human dignity
  • Having concern or compassion for others
  • Valuing cooperation with others
  • Motivation to solve interpersonal problems
  • Motivation to contribute

About Tasks

  • Willingness to work hard
  • Motivation to solve practical problems
  • Motivation to solve academic problems
  • Recognition of the importance of education
  • Respect for property



  • Alcohol and other drug use
  • Education and prevention of AIDS and STDs
  • Growth and development and teen pregnancy prevention
  • Nutrition
  • Exercise
  • Personal hygiene
  • Personal safety and first aid
  • Understanding personal loss
  • Use of leisure time
  • Spiritual awareness


  • Understanding relationships
  • Multicultural awareness
  • Making friends
  • Developing positive relationships with peers of different genders, races, and ethnic groups
  • Bonding to prosocial peers
  • Understanding family life
  • Relating to siblings
  • Relating to parents
  • Coping with loss
  • Preparation for marriage and parenting in later life
  • Conflict education and violence prevention
  • Finding a mentor


  • Attendance education and truancy and dropout prevention
  • Accepting and managing responsibility
  • Adaptive group participation
  • Realistic academic goal setting
  • Developing effective work habits
  • Making transitions
  • Environmental responsibility
  • Community involvement
  • Career planning

Source: Weissberg, R.P., A.S. Jackson, and T.P. Shriver. (1993). “Promoting Positive Social Development and Health Practices in Young Urban Adolescents.” In Social Decision Making and Life Skills Development: Guidelines for Middle School Educators, edited by M.J. Elias, pp. 45–77. Gaithersburg, Md.: Aspen Publications.

Copyright © 1991 by Alice Stroop Jackson and Roger P. Weissberg.

The goals of New Haven's Social Development Project are to educate students so that they

  • Acquire a knowledge base plus a set of basic skills, work habits, and values for a lifetime of meaningful work.
  • Feel motivated to contribute responsibly and ethically to their peer group, family, school, and community.
  • Develop a sense of self-worth and feel effective as they deal with daily responsibilities and challenges.
  • Are socially skilled and have positive relationships with peers and adults.
  • Engage in positive, safe, health-protective behavior practices.

To achieve these outcomes, school personnel collaborate with parents and community members to provide educational opportunities that (a) enhance children's self-management, problem-solving, decision-making, and communication skills; (b) inculcate prosocial values and attitudes about self, others, and work; and (c) inform students about health, relationships, and school and community responsibilities. Social development activities promote communication, participation in cooperative groups, emotional self-control and appropriate expression, and thoughtful and nonviolent problem resolution. More broadly, these skills, attitudes, and values encourage a reflective, ready-to-learn approach to all areas of life. In short, they promote knowledge, responsibility, and caring.

Can People Succeed Without Social and Emotional Skills?

Is it possible to attain true academic and personal success without addressing SEL skills? The accumulating evidence suggests the answer is no. Studies of effective middle schools have shown that the common denominator among different types of schools reporting academic success is that they have a systematic process for promoting children's SEL. There are schoolwide mentoring programs, group guidance and advisory periods, creative modifications of traditional discipline procedures, and structured classroom time devoted to social and emotional skill building, group problem solving, and team building (Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development 1989). Of course, they have sound academic programs and competent teachers and administrators, but other schools have those features as well. It is the SEL component that distinguishes the effective schools.

The importance of SEL for successful academic learning is further strengthened by new insights from the field of neuropsychology. Many elements of learning are relational (or, based on relationships), and social and emotional skills are essential for the successful development of thinking and learning activities that are traditionally considered cognitive (Brendtro, Brokenleg, and Van Bockern 1990; Perry 1996). Processes we had considered pure “thinking” are now seen as phenomena in which the cognitive and emotional aspects work synergistically. Brain studies show, for example, that memory is coded to specific events and linked to social and emotional situations, and that the latter are integral parts of larger units of memory that make up what we learn and retain, including what takes place in the classroom. Under conditions of real or imagined threat or high anxiety, there is a loss of focus on the learning process and a reduction in task focus and flexible problem solving. It is as if the thinking brain is taken over (or “hijacked,” as Goleman says) by the older limbic brain. Other emotion-related factors can be similarly distracting (Nummela and Rosengren 1986, Perry 1996, Sylwester 1995).

Sylwester (1995) highlights ways in which SEL fosters improved performance in schools (see Figure 1.2). He points out that

we know emotion is very important to the educative process because it drives attention, which drives learning and memory. We've never really understood emotion, however, and so don't know how to regulate it in school—beyond defining too much or too little of it as misbehavior and relegating most of it to the arts, PE, recess, and the extracurricular program. . . . By separating emotion from logic and reason in the classroom, we've simplified school management and evaluation, but we've also then separated two sides of one coin—and lost something important in the process. It's impossible to separate emotion from the other important activities of life. Don't try (pp. 72, 75).

Figure 1.2. Brain Research and Social and Emotional Learning

Robert Sylwester outlines six areas in which emotional and social learning must come together for the benefit of children and schools:

  • Accepting and controlling our emotions
  • Using metacognitive activities
  • Using activities that promote social interaction
  • Using activities that provide an emotional context
  • Avoiding intense emotional stress in school
  • Recognizing the relationship between emotions and health

He also points out that the multiple intelligences are socially based and interrelated: “It's difficult to think of linguistics, musical, and interpersonal intelligence out of the context of social and cooperative activity, and the other four forms of intelligence are likewise principally social in normal practice.”

Source: Sylwester 1995, pp. 75–77, 117.

The basic skills of SEL are necessary for students to be able to take full advantage of their biological equipment and social legacy and heritage. As schools provide the conditions that allow even the students most at risk of failure to become engaged in the learning process, new possibilities open up and new life trajectories become available to students. We know from resilience research that even in the worst conditions, such as decaying inner cities, we still find some children emerging in positive ways. Wherever one looks at children who have remained in school, one will find that SEL was provided to these children by at least one or two caring people, often in the schools.

Social and emotional issues are also at the heart of the problem behaviors that plague many schools, communities, and families, sapping learning time, educators' energy, and children's hope and opportunities. Effectively promoting social and emotional competence is the key to helping young people become more resistant to the lure of drugs, teen pregnancy, violent gangs, truancy, and dropping out of school. Consider, for example, the current interest in the character education movement, which follows years of attention to the violence prevention movement, the values education movement, the citizenship education movement, and the drug abuse education movement. All of these movements have common objectives: to help children acquire the skills, attitudes, values, and experiences that will motivate them to resist destructive behaviors, make responsible and thoughtful decisions, and seek out positive opportunities for growth and learning.

Can any of these movements succeed without teaching social and emotional skills? Clearly not. In fact, the programs that lack such instruction are notoriously ineffective. Among the least successful substance abuse prevention programs are those that provide students information about the dangers of illicit drug use without helping them understand the social and emotional dimensions of peer pressure, stress, coping, honesty, and consequential thinking (Dusenbury and Falco 1997). Indeed, such information-oriented prevention programs have sometimes been blamed for increases in substance abuse rates! The truth is, such programs have not been found effective. But this unfortunate outcome cannot be any more surprising than, say, the poor performance of a car with a one-gallon gas tank. Without adequate fuel, neither will get very far. We cannot educate children about the reality of drugs without preparing them for the social and emotional struggles they will confront when exposed to media images about drug use and to opportunities to use drugs.

Some existing prevention efforts do incorporate skills for refusing drugs and other enticements, skills for resisting peer pressure, ways to focus on one's goals, techniques for time management, and steps for making thoughtful, calm decisions—all of which are important skills that prevent problem behaviors. But typically these prevention efforts fail to address the missing piece: feelings that confuse children so that they cannot and do not learn effectively. Children's emotions must be recognized and their importance for learning accepted. By meeting the challenges implicit in accomplishing this goal, we can clear the pathways to competence.

The Significance of Caring

Can children become caring members of a school community without attention to the social and emotional dimensions of their lives? Again, the answer seems obvious. Caring is central to the shaping of relationships that are meaningful, supportive, rewarding, and productive. Caring happens when children sense that the adults in their lives think they are important and when they understand that they will be accepted and respected, regardless of any particular talents they have. Caring is a product of a community that deems all of its members to be important, believes everyone has something to contribute, and acknowledges that everyone counts.

We work better when we care and when we are cared about, and so do students. Caring is a spoken or an unspoken part of every interaction that takes place in classrooms, lunchrooms, hallways, and playgrounds. Children are emotionally attuned to be on the lookout for caring, or a lack thereof, and they seek out and thrive in places where it is present. The more emotionally troubled the student, the more attuned he or she is to caring in the school environment.

At-risk kids are most vulnerable for growing up without caring. It is caring that plays a critical role in overcoming the narrowness, selfishness, and mean-spiritedness that too many of our children cannot avoid being exposed to, and that replaces these attitudes with a culture of welcome. Caring, the value that most Americans seem to agree is most necessary in adult life, is rooted in the social and emotional development of childhood.

Social and Emotional Skills Matter Beyond the Classroom

If the goal of helping children become knowledgeable, responsible, and caring is a central element of social and emotional development and schooling, then institutions other than schools should be interested in fostering these qualities as well. Ironically, social and emotional skills, attitudes, and values have been embraced most enthusiastically in the boardrooms of corporate America. Moreover, businesses of all sizes have come to realize that productivity depends on a work force that is socially and emotionally competent. Workers who are capable of managing their social and emotional interactions with colleagues and customers, as well as their own emotional health, are more effective at improving the bottom line and at making workplaces more efficient. In light of new knowledge about social and emotional development, captains of industry and the moms and pops of neighborhood businesses are rushing to update their techniques for selecting and training workers, organizing the work environment, and developing managers and leaders. They understand that social and emotional competence may be more important than all of the institutions attended, degrees earned, test scores obtained, and even technical knowledge gained. More focus is being placed on problem solving, reflection, perceptive thinking, self-direction, and motivation for lifelong learning—characteristics that are useful no matter what the job (Adams and Hamm 1994). To illustrate this point, Figure 1.3 describes the skills that employers believe teenagers should have.

Figure 1.3. What Employers Want for Teens: 1980s U.S. Department of Labor, Employment, and Training Administration Research Project

  1. Learning-to-learn skills
  2. Listening and oral communication
  3. Adaptability: creative thinking and problem solving, especially in response to barriers/obstacles
  4. Personal management: self-esteem, goal-setting/self-motivation, personal career development/goals—pride in work accomplished
  5. Group effectiveness: interpersonal skills, negotiation, teamwork
  6. Organizational effectiveness and leadership: making a contribution
  7. Competence in reading, writing, and computation

The report notes that the seventh skill, while essential, is no longer sufficient for workplace competence.

Goleman (1995) provides insights into this shift of priorities. In contrast to other skills, employers believe their workers show the greatest shortage in the social and emotional areas, and they recognize that businesses are ill-equipped to train employees in these areas. Thus, young people must be prepared for the new workplace with more than the technical and content-specific skills of traditional schooling. Business has made it clear that new qualities are being sought in employees. The accent is on being a flexible thinker, a quick problem solver, and a team player capable of helping the organization adjust to ever-changing markets. Employees are expected to have the basic knowledge necessary to manage the task at hand, but they are also expected to be able to learn quickly and regularly on the job, adapt to new demands and environments, collaborate with others, motivate colleagues, and get along with a variety of people in different situations. In other words, working smarter is now the complement to working harder.

Increasingly, competence in recognizing and managing emotions and social relationships is seen as a key ability for success in the workplace and for effective leadership. Moreover, both health professionals and workplace managers acknowledge that the social and emotional status of an individual may be a substantial factor in determining the person's capacity to resist disease and even to recover from illness (and we suspect school nurses would heartily agree). As educators increasingly recognize the critical role that social and emotional skills play in fostering productive, healthy workers, state departments of education have established core curriculum content standards emphasizing their development (see Figure 1.4).

Figure 1.4. Excerpts from Core Curriculum Content Standards for New Jersey (May 1996)

Cross-Content Workplace Readiness Standards

  • All students will use critical-thinking, decision-making, and problem-solving skills.
  • All students will demonstrate self-management skills.
  • All students will develop career planning and workplace readiness skills.

Health and Physical Education Standards

  • All students will learn health-promotion and disease-prevention concepts and health-enhancing behaviors.
  • All students will learn health-enhancing, personal, interpersonal, and life skills.
  • All students will learn the physical, mental, emotional, and social effects of the use and abuse of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.

These standards show the central place of social and emotional skills in the context of workplace skills that go across all areas of traditional academic content, and as the centerpiece of comprehensive health education. This is a precursor of future nationwide educational trends.

Issues of SEL have also influenced political writers on democracy and citizenship (Boyer 1990, Parker 1996). Responsible members of a democracy are constantly challenged by changes in technology, communication, and cultural demographics and must filter and integrate large amounts of information from increasingly sophisticated political operatives, electorate pulse-takers, and opinion shapers. Parker asserts that civil competencies cannot fully develop with family influence only, and he calls for civic education in schools and other settings where children learn and grow. The skills of reflective problem solving and decision making, managing one's emotions, taking a variety of perspectives, and sustaining energy and attention toward focused goals are among many that are called upon at every level, from pulling the lever in the voting booth to enacting laws in state legislatures, making judicial decisions, and issuing directives from the Oval Office. And, it takes a similar array of skills to successfully run a classroom, school, or school district.

How Have Educators Responded to Calls for SEL?

For educators in U.S. schools, the response to the renewed awareness about the importance of social and emotional development has been mixed. In some circles, this task is still seen as solely the responsibility of families. The reasoning sounds traditional: the family should be the place where the child learns to understand, control, and work through emotions; social and emotional issues are essentially private concerns that should be left at the door when a child enters a school to go about the business of acquiring academic knowledge. This thinking has an appealing nostalgia: the school, like the workplace, was always an environment where the agenda was not supposed to be interpersonal relationships, but the task at hand. There is learning to be done—what does this have to do with “feelings”?

On the other hand, educators have always understood on a general level the implications of social and emotional issues for children's learning and development. The best teachers have always been adept at helping children develop socially and emotionally, and many teachers are naturally gifted at promoting the skills, attitudes, and values of competent social and emotional development. It is easy for most people to recall a teacher who made students feel capable of managing the challenges of learning, or who ran the classroom so that everyone understood the importance of respecting one another and resolving problems cooperatively. We would venture to say that the vast majority of readers share with the authors the experience of having such a teacher or being in such a school, and that these experiences—and the feelings associated with them—are part of why we are dedicated to children and to schooling.

Given the growing lack of civility and the related problems educators see around them, it is not surprising that they increasingly acknowledge the importance of addressing social and emotional issues in school. At the same time, some educators believe they are “doing that already.” Perhaps this is true. But just as we know instinctively that it makes sense to identify the most effective practices to teach a subject such as mathematics, take those practices and structure them into a sequenced curriculum, and implement that curriculum with trained professionals during dedicated classroom time, we must recognize now that the same effort must be mustered if we are to succeed in the social and emotional domains. It simply makes sense that if we are to expect children to be knowledgeable, responsible, and caring—and to be so despite significant obstacles—we must teach social and emotional skills, attitudes, and values with the same structure and attention that we devote to traditional subjects. And we must do so in a coordinated, integrated manner.

Parallel arguments in academic areas abound. For example, all would agree that quantitative skills, like skills for SEL, develop naturally. But few would argue that just because quantitative reasoning skills develop without formal instruction, there consequently is no need to offer systematic instruction in mathematics. Nonetheless, that is precisely the refrain heard frequently about social and emotional competence: it should be handled intuitively, it should be gleaned from other subjects, it should emerge on its own.

In today's world, and in what we can foresee as we enter the 21st century, nothing could be further from the truth. Reflect for a moment on how the world has changed in just the past five decades. Today, most children grow up in urban and suburban settings in a high-tech, multimedia world that provides constant stimulation, and sends largely unregulated messages about material goods and experiences that few youngsters experience directly or within their families. Many share a classroom with students of diverse cultures and perspectives and various abilities and disabilities.

In this world, millions of good and decent children find that school is but one institution among many influences in their lives. It competes with peer groups, social service institutions, the media, the culture of competition, the pressure to conform, the need to be different, the tug of religious ties, the lure of risk, the fear of loneliness, and the complexities of family relationships in an age on the move. Youth who grow up in this world are all of our children. They come from every ethnic, economic, social, and geographic corner. Their teachers are accustomed to watching them struggle with the pressures and challenges of growing up. Learning at school is but a fragment of these challenges. For this learning to take place effectively, so that classroom lessons become life lessons, students need significant adults and peers in their lives to work with them as part of a community of learners. Only in such supportive contexts can they begin to piece together answers to the sometimes overwhelming social and emotional dilemmas they face.

In a time when our youth need more support than ever to master the tasks of development, we see ironically that the economic and social changes of the last 40 years of the 20th century have reduced those supports (Postman 1996). Many families can make ends meet only when both parents work outside the home—and sometimes at more than one job. Extended families, which once provided a child-care safety net, have all but disappeared. And close-knit communities, once sources of caring adults who guided children and served as role models, are today neighborhoods of strangers.

Schools have become the one best place where the concept of surrounding children with meaningful adults and clear behavioral standards can move from faint hope to a distinct possibility—and perhaps even a necessity.

In our hearts, we know that the outcomes for too many children are negative. Those who drop out, those who go to out-of-district placements, those who get through school thanks to waivers or reduced standards, those who are in alternative schools—all these students are not quite fully visible to us. We often do not know what becomes of those who leave our particular class or school or community. But others know. In every ethnic group, in every geographic region, in every economic bracket, children are letting us know that the vise grip of growing up in a world that diminishes the importance of their social and emotional lives is just too tight.

We will not repeat here the litany of statistics of social breakdown in the lives of children. Read your newspapers and magazines. Look at the stream of books and articles put out by child advocacy agencies. We should no longer need numbers to make us bemoan current conditions. (For statistics about changes in families and communities, see Weissberg and Greenberg 1997, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 1996.)

The facts spell out a serious message: We should do more to prepare youngsters for the challenges of life in our complex and fast-paced world. In particular, these facts must be a wake-up call for educators in every classroom, at every grade level, and in every school district in the United States: These are our children, and we must teach them in ways that will give them a realistic chance of successfully managing the challenges of learning, growing, and developing.

How Does This Book Contribute to Efforts to Help Children Learn and Grow?

This book suggests a practical, well-developed, defensible strategy to help educators answer the wake-up call. The strategy is to create programs for comprehensive and coordinated social and emotional learning from preschool through grade 12. Such efforts will be benchmarked by at least three main goals:

  1. The presence of effective, developmentally appropriate, formal and informal instruction in social and emotional skills at every level of schooling, provided by well-trained teachers and other pupil-services personnel.
  2. The presence of a supportive and safe school climate that nurtures the social and emotional development of children while including all the key adults who have a stake in the development of each child.
  3. The presence of actively engaged educators, parents, and community leaders who create activities and opportunities before, during, and after the regular school day that teach and reinforce the attitudes, values, and behaviors of positive family and school life and, ultimately, of responsible, productive citizenship.

These three benchmarks should be assessed along with outcomes in other domains to ensure that schools are playing their part in giving young people the best possible chance to become knowledgeable, responsible, and caring adults. Specific guidelines for reaching these goals and monitoring these benchmarks are identified in the subsequent chapters of this book. They describe social and emotional education efforts that are integrated, comprehensive, and coordinated—qualities lacking in many of today's programs (see Figure 1.5). They lead to students who are ready and motivated to learn, increased academic performance, active learning in the classroom and on the playground, greater respect for diversity, better preparation for today's society, and more effective teachers and administrators.

Why are guidelines needed? Why, in the crowded schedule of our school day, must we attend systematically to this task as well? We cannot afford to make social and emotional education a fad; the work of Howard Gardner (1983), Daniel Goleman (1995), James Comer (Comer, Haynes, Joyner, and Ben-Avie 1996), and Carol Gilligan (1987), among others, tells us why. The skills areas these writers have identified are the fundamentals of human learning, work, creativity, and accomplishment. Social and emotional development and the recognition of the relational nature of learning and change constitute an essential missing piece in our educational system. Until it is given its proper place, we cannot expect to see progress in combating violence, substance abuse, disaffection, intolerance, or the high dropout rate.

This book is rooted in the idea that academic and social success are not limited to those of good fortune or privileged upbringing; we can create the conditions for achievement for all children. Success does not occur only through large programs; the necessary conditions are created in families, in individual classrooms, and through relationships with special people in our lives. Here, we provide guidelines to foster these conditions in schools, programmatically and systematically, so that their existence for all children is left less to chance than is now the case.

This, then, is a book about how to promote social and emotional learning in schools—how to promote knowledgeable, responsible, and caring children and adults. In our day, the real challenge of educating is no longer whether or not to attend to the social and emotional life of the learner. The real challenge is how to attend to social and emotional issues in education. This book suggests a course of action for the “how” questions. It is a clarion call, a shofar blast, a wail from a minaret, a church bell ringing. We ask educators to rethink the ways in which schools have addressed or failed to address the development of the whole child, and to do so with an eye toward models that have demonstrated success. We ask readers to examine what goes on in their classrooms, schools, and districts, to determine how they can respond best to the opportunities described in this book.

More than anything, this is a book about common sense in education, or perhaps the uncommon sense needed to recognize the missing piece in schooling: enhancing the social and emotional life of each student is part of the educational responsibility of adults. We must remember that

the democratic way of life engages the creative process of seeking ways to extend and expand the values of democracy. This process, however, is not simply an anticipatory conversation about just anything. Rather, it is directed toward intelligent and reflective consideration of problems, events, and issues that arise in the course of our collective lives (Beane and Apple 1995, p. 16).

An Overview of What Follows

This book reviews the essential elements underlying the effective development, implementation, and evaluation of SEL programs in a straightforward, practical, and systematic manner. In the next chapter we ask you to begin thinking about the social and emotional education efforts already under way in your classroom, school, or district. Doing so will help to make the remaining content more applicable and meaningful for your specific setting.

The following three chapters present fundamental information for social and emotional education. Chapter 3 provides a more in-depth examination of what social and emotional education is, as well as a discussion of its place in our schools. This chapter provides the background information needed for Chapter 4, which explains how teachers can help students develop social and emotional skills in their individual classrooms. In Chapter 5, important contextual issues related to creating an organizational climate supportive of social and emotional educational programs are examined.

Chapter 6 gets down to practical issues involved in starting and continuing a program. Chapter 7 outlines ways in which social and emotional education efforts can be evaluated to determine whether they are achieving their goals and to provide guidance regarding changes that may be necessary to make them more effective.

Most of the material in Chapters 3 through 7 is presented in a series of concise guidelines that describe the development, implementation, and evaluation of social and emotional education programs. The guidelines have a strong scientific basis and are based on many research investigations and relevant theory. They represent the combined expertise of program developers, researchers, trainers, and practitioners in this field.

In Chapter 8, the self-reflection process is revisited to provide a starting point for you to get your social and emotional education program under way.

This book also includes three appendixes. The first has a social and emotional education curriculum scope, and the second a list of the guidelines presented throughout the book. These are followed by Appendix C, which is a list of programs that emphasize comprehensive approaches to social and emotional education. Under the leadership of Maurice Elias, CASEL conducted on-site visits to schools that have implemented each of the programs included at the beginning of Appendix C. Incidentally, we have included examples throughout the book to give you snapshots of what occurs in SEL programs. Most of the examples were provided in response to questions posed by the site visitors or were developed through observation. Staff at the other programs listed in Appendix C, which were not visited, have indicated to CASEL that they include a strong emphasis on social and emotional education strategies. You can gain additional firsthand knowledge about social and emotional education efforts by contacting or visiting the programs listed.


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