School-based Social Emotional Learning (SEL)


Meeting the social and emotional needs of students in foundational to successful academic outcomes (U.S. Department of Education, 2021).Schools can intentionally grow social and emotional skills. In classrooms, students can learn and apply SEL skills and use these skills to connect with the content they are learning. In schools, SEL skills can be practiced and modeled by students and school staff. SEL competencies can be used to inform school-wide policies that contribute to a positive school climate.


Integrating SEL with Academic Instruction

Integrating SEL into academic instruction provides the opportunity for schools to braid SEL competencies with academic standards thereby simultaneously building academic and SEL skills and fostering stronger connections between the students and what they learn (CASEL, 2020). Integrated SEL is rooted in relationships between the teacher and his/her students; between the students as peers; and between the students and the learning content. CASEL (2020) divides SEL integration into academic instruction in three categories:

1. Academic mindset: How students think about their own learning

Teachers can encourage a positive academic mindset in their students by using their own social and emotional skills, to show care and concern for students and by encouraging their academic growth. These SEL skills can be strengthened through professional development and a positive school climate. Teachers can foster a positive relationship between students and the learning process by creating a supportive environment and positive relationships with peers.

2. Aligned SEL and academic objectives: The content students learn

Meaningfully structuring lessons that incorporate SEL skill development with academic objectives can be accomplished through class activities such as journaling and class meetings. Connecting academic content to students’ lived experiences can align SEL and academic objectives. Class activities, such as journaling, and providing the opportunity to reflect on learned content and connect that content to their own lives are practices to increase alignment.

3. Interactive pedagogy: How students learn

Interactive pedagogy involves classroom activities that actively includes students in the learning process. This can include facilitated classroom discussions, partner and group work, and student-directed learning.

Implicit and Explicit SEL

School-based SEL can be delivered in schools and classrooms implicitly or explicitly. Teachers can, and already are, implicitly strengthening social and emotional skills by weaving SEL opportunities into their instruction design and delivery. For example, teachers may ask students to connect what they are learning with their own lived experiences in age appropriate ways through asking open ended questions that generate personal reflection and response, or by providing opportunities for student-lead learning (CASEL, 2019). Explicit SEL instruction happens when a teacher provides a free-standing lesson in one or more SEL competency areas. For example, a teacher leads students in lessons focused on labeling feelings, developing empathy, managing stress, or setting goals (CASEL, 2019).

Explicit SEL instruction is often delivered with evidence-based or promising SEL practices. Research shows the most effective SEL happens with explicit instruction delivered by trusted adults paired with opportunities for students to put the lesson into practice (CASEL, 2019). The ability to practice the SEL skill taught inside and outside of the classroom setting is why school-wide SEL and partnerships with families/caregiver and community organizations are critical to maximizing the benefits of school-based SEL (see the Foundational Areas for Implementing School-based SEL for more information).

Delivering SEL through a Multi-tiered System of Support

In the same way students will have varying levels of mastery and need for further instruction to meet academic competencies/standards, students will have varying levels of social and emotional skill development and need for support. The OPI’s SEL Competencies can help identify student SEL needs and progress. A multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) should be used to deliver school-based SEL to help meet the varying and changing needs of students as they develop and become competent in SEL. See the Montana Office of Public Instruction’s framework Integrated Multi-Tiered System of Support Approach for Social Emotional Learning for more information and a visual representation of this model. Additional information on this approach is featured in the SEL Foundational Areas of Implementation: Collect and share data on continuous improvement.

Effectiveness of School-based SEL

Research on SEL has shown that SEL programs are among the most effective youth-development programs available for school-aged children (CASEL, 2008). The positive outcomes of school-based SEL have been observed in students from diverse backgrounds, especially in students residing in low-income households. School-based SEL has been shown to improve student’s attitudes towards school and academic achievement. School-based SEL has also been shown to improve students’ abilities to form positive relationships with others and reduce emotional distress in students resulting in fewer conduct problems.