What the Research Says on Supporting the Social and Emotional Well-Being of Students

Date 

August 2018

Social 

Photo of kids on monkey bars

Research shows that programs that support students’ development in communicating effectively, negotiating conflict, practicing empathy understanding their own skills and abilities, managing their emotions and behavior and other social and emotional skills can lead to better academic and life outcomes.

Our librarians recently compiled this list of readily available studies and articles on programs and approaches that promote social and emotional learning. These resources can help practitioners learn interventions with a proven track record and support leaders’ decisions on the types of programs to pursue.

Enacting Social-Emotional Learning: Practices and Supports Employed in CORE Districts and Schools (2018)

This study looks closely at ten “outlier schools” in California’s CORE districts whose students report strong social-emotional learning outcomes compared to other, similar middle schools. The brief and infographic—based on a longer technical report—describe the breadth and variety of social-emotional learning practices found in these outlier schools, as well as commonalities in their approaches and implementation challenges that some are facing. The findings offer ideas and lessons learned that may benefit other schools and districts seeking to implement social-emotional learning at scale.

The Evidence Base for How We Learn: Supporting Students' Social, Emotional, and Academic Development. Consensus Statements of Evidence from the Council of Distinguished Scientists (2017)

The research brief presents a set of consensus statements—developed and unanimously signed onto by the Commission’s Council of Distinguished Scientists—that affirm the interconnectedness of social, emotional, and academic development as central to the learning process. The brief draws from brain science, medicine, economics, psychology, and education research to describe why it is essential to address the social, emotional, and cognitive dimensions of learning; how these dimensions together shape students’ academic and life outcomes; and how these competencies can be taught throughout childhood, adolescence, and beyond. The evidence outlined in this brief moves the nation beyond the debate as to “whether” schools should attend to students’ social and emotional development, to “how” schools can integrate social, emotional, and academic development into their daily work.

A Review of the Literature on Social and Emotional Learning for Students Ages 3-8: Characteristics of Effective Social and Emotional Learning Programs (2017)

This is the first in a series of four related reports about what is known about SEL programs for students ages 3-8. The report series addresses four issues raised by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Mid-Atlantic’s Early Childhood Education Research Alliance: characteristics of effective SEL programs (part 1), implementation strategies and state and district policies that support SEL programming (part 2), teacher and classroom strategies that contribute to social and emotional learning (part 3), and outcomes of social and emotional learning among different student populations and settings (part 4). This report identifies key components of effective SEL programs and offers guidance on selecting programs.

When Districts Support and Integrate Social and Emotional Learning (SEL): Findings from an Ongoing Evaluation of Districtwide Implementation of SEL (2016)

When social and emotional learning skills are intentionally taught, practiced, and reinforced in schools, students have better behavioral, social, and academic outcomes. Research on students who participated in some form of SEL instruction has found short-and long-term benefits in student outcomes, with most research focusing on elementary and middle grade programs. Although many preschool through high school teachers—as well as college faculty and administrators, employers, parents, and students themselves—understand the potential benefits of cultivating social and emotional development, few have the time or support to enable students to build social and emotional competencies. State, district, and school leaders should consider making SEL a priority. Doing so would entail implementing policies, standards, and guidance that support teachers and administrators to integrate SEL with academic instruction. Support is also extended to fostering best practices in behavior management, discipline, and school climate that promote healthy, safe, and nurturing environments for all students.

Oakland Unified School District Community Schools: Understanding Implementation Efforts to Support Students, Teachers, and Families (2015)

In 2010, Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) launched an initiative to transform all district schools into full service community schools. The community school design provides integrated supports to students and fosters a school climate conducive to academic, social, and emotional learning. Interventions span in-school and out-of-school time, and include students’ families, to ensure that all students have the supports needed to be ready to learn and to develop the skills, habits, and mindsets that provide a foundation for academic and social success. These supports are delivered in strategic partnerships with community-based organizations, and coordinated through various structures including a Community School Manager at each school. This report and four related briefs present findings from the first year of a planned three-year collaboration between OUSD and the Gardner Center to study the district’s community schools, drawing on qualitative interviews with key stakeholders in five community schools as well as analysis of district administrative data.

Using Social-Emotional and Character Development to Improve Academic Outcomes: A Matched-Pair, Cluster-Randomized Controlled Trial in Low-Income, Urban Schools (2013)

School-based social-emotional and character development programs can influence academic-related outcomes. This study evaluated the impact of one program, Positive Action, on educational outcomes among low-income, urban youth and found the program significantly improved growth in academic motivation and mitigated disaffection with learning. There was a positive impact on absenteeism and marginally significant impact on math performance of all students and favorable program effects on reading for African American boys and cohort students transitioning between grades 7 and 8, and on math for girls and low-income students.

The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions (2011)

This article presents findings from a meta-analysis of 213 school-based, universal social and emotional learning (SEL) programs involving 270,034 K–12 students. Compared to controls, SEL participants demonstrated significantly improved social and emotional skills, attitudes, behavior, and academic performance that reflected an 11-percentile-point gain in achievement. School teaching staff successfully conducted SEL programs. The use of 4 recommended practices for developing skills and the presence of implementation problems moderated program outcomes. The findings add to the growing empirical evidence regarding the positive impact of SEL programs.

The Effects of a Multiyear Universal Social-Emotional Learning Program: The Role of Student and School Characteristics (2010)

This article examines the impact of a universal social-emotional learning program, the Fast Track PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies) curriculum. Modest positive effects of sustained program exposure included reduced aggression and increased prosocial behavior and improved academic engagement. Peer report effects were moderated by gender, with significant effects only for boys. Most intervention effects were moderated by school environment, with effects stronger in less disadvantaged schools, and effects on aggression were larger in students who showed higher baseline levels of aggression.A major implication of the findings is that well-implemented multiyear social-emotional learning programs can have significant and meaningful preventive effects on the population-level rates of aggression, social competence, and academic engagement in the elementary school years.

Efficacy of Schoolwide Programs to Promote Social and Character Development and Reduce Problem Behavior in Elementary School Children (2010)

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and the Division of Violence Prevention in the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collaborated to conduct a rigorous impact evaluation of programs aimed at improving students’ behavior. For this evaluation, such programs were termed Social and Character Development (SACD) programs. Seven programs were evaluated, and all were coherent in that their activities were integrated and logically organized based on a theory of action (that differed among the programs), school-based in that they were implemented in the schools by school personnel, and universal in that they were to be implemented for all students in all elementary classrooms in a school. This report provides the results from the evaluation of the seven SACD programs on one cohort of students as they moved from third through fifth grades starting in fall 2004 and ending in spring 2007.

The School Environment and Adolescent Well-Being: Beyond Academics (2008)

Adolescents spend a large proportion of their day in school or pursuing school-related activities. While the primary purpose of school is academic development, its effects on adolescents are far broader, also encompassing their physical and mental health, safety, civic engagement, and social development. Further, its effects on all these outcomes are produced through a variety of activities including formal pedagogy, after-school programs, caretaking activities (e.g., feeding, providing a safe environment) as well as the informal social environment created by students and staff on a daily basis. While most reports focus on a particular aspect of the school environment (e.g., academics, safety, health promotion), this brief looks at schools more comprehensively as an environment affecting multiple aspects of adolescent development. This brief is designed to be of particular interest to school principals, district staff, and others. It should also be useful to those focusing on a narrower range of school functions (e.g., academics, health and safety, civic development) who want a better sense of how their concerns fit into the larger environment.

The Positive Impact of Social and Emotional Learning for Kindergarten to Eighth-Grade Students: Findings from Three Scientific Reviews (2008)

This report summarizes results from three large-scale reviews of research on the impact of social and emotional learning (SEL) programs on elementary and middle-school students. Collectively, the three reviews included 317 studies and involved 324,303 children. SEL programs yielded multiple benefits in each review and were effective in both school and after-school settings and for students with and without behavioral and emotional problems. They were also effective across the K-8 grade range and for racially and ethnically diverse students from urban, rural, and suburban settings. SEL programs improved students’ social-emotional skills, attitudes about self and others, connection to school, positive social behavior, and academic performance; they also reduced students’ conduct problems and emotional distress. Comparing results from these reviews to findings obtained in reviews of interventions by other research teams suggests that SEL programs are among the most successful youth-development programs offered to school-age youth. Furthermore, school staff (e.g., teachers, student support staff) carried out SEL programs effectively, indicating that they can be incorporated into routine educational practice. In addition, SEL programming improved students’ achievement test scores by 11 to 17 percentile points, indicating that they offer students a practical educational benefit.