Understanding and Cultivating Social Emotional Learning

April 2017
student being interviewed by a teacher

What Helps a Child Thrive?

Young people’s success in life depends on more than just academic knowledge and test scores. Educators understand that a child’s mindsets, skills, and habits are incredibly important for school success. Outside the classroom, employers are looking for hard-working team players who effectively manage projects, interact with demanding clients, solve problems creatively, and exhibit leadership.

In recent years, policymakers and researchers alike have begun to place increasing importance on the development of a child’s “nonacademic skills.” These are sometimes called soft skills, noncognitive skills, workplace essential skills, 21st century skills, social emotional development, or mindsets, essential skills, and habits (MESH). We refer to them here as social and emotional learning (SEL).

In an era of increasing studies, reports, white papers, and frameworks about SEL, this document was created as an easy-to-read, research-based primer for people just beginning to think in new ways about SEL. Teachers, coaches, after-school staff, and employers can use this resource to facilitate conversations about how young people can reach their full potential by developing nonacademic skills.

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