School & District Management Opinion

How Social and Emotional Learning Fits in the Classroom

By Learning Forward & Elizabeth Foster — June 28, 2018 3 min read
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Elizabeth Foster

Educators seeking new information to improve teaching strategies and connections with students know that it can be a challenge to integrate new ideas into existing routines and day-to-day practices.

While social and emotional learning may seem like a new development to be studied and adopted, it isn’t about adding one program or strategy. Rather, it’s an approach to teaching and learning that spans grade levels and content areas -- one that has positive impact on students and therefore important implications for professional learning. Research shows the importance of infusing social and emotional learning into the daily work of schools (CASEL, 2018; Jones & Kahn, 2017).

Understanding social and emotional learning and how it helps to support all students is an important equity issue. When educators understand the social and emotional learning contexts and needs of students, their ability to make the curriculum accessible to every student improves.

Such an understanding is one of a range of strategies to personalize learning and differentiate in the classroom. Awareness of social and emotional learning can be an important tool in diagnosing and understanding student learning challenges, addressing common misconceptions, and being responsive to student contexts.

In addition, particular social and emotional learning strategies relate directly to culturally responsive teaching, such as developing a deep understanding of cultural norms related to problem solving, authority, and discipline. These are important considerations in creating supportive learning environments for all students -- and adults.

According to CASEL, social and emotional learning is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Professional learning focused on these aspects of student development can help educators better diagnose when students are struggling to master academic content because of an emotional or engagement challenge rather than a purely academic challenge and respond with appropriate strategies.

Learning Forward recognizes that many educators have long embraced the strategies described in the new research as a way to effectively teach the curriculum. When educators incorporate ways to consider students’ home lives, build on nontraditional strengths, or design strategies that help students manage frustrations as they engage with new academic concepts or materials, this is teaching that supports and encourages social and emotional learning.

Therefore as we embrace the new research and learning emerging about the importance of social and emotional learning, we are thinking a lot about how it all maps to what we know about effective professional learning.

There are many articles and studies related to social and emotional learning that have yet to be mined for their professional learning implications and vice versa -- studies about professional learning that have social and emotional learning concepts embedded within but not explicitly drawn out in ways that make the connection.

We would love to hear from you about how you are learning about and integrating strategies related to social and emotional learning into your own classroom or professional learning. How do you think about social and emotional learning as it relates to your lesson designs, or your role as an instructional leader or coach? How do you support your own social and emotional learning as an educator? What professional learning opportunities do you provide (or plan to provide) related to the emerging field of social and emotional learning?


CASEL. (2018). SEL impact. Available at //casel.org/impact/.

Jones, S.M. & Kahn, J. (2017, September 13). The evidence base for how we learn: Supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic development. Washington, DC: The Aspen Institute.

Elizabeth Foster (elizabeth.foster@learningforward.org) is Learning Forward’s associate director of standards, research, and strategy.

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