Social and Emotional Learning Programs in Schools

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Programs of social and emotional learning are strongly related to success in school and in life. The need for Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) programs is well recognized in current times and there is continuous growth of different types of SEL programs in school.  The 21st-century schools are serving students with different abilities and motivation for learning. Some of these students energetically engaged in academic and class activities and the others are less engaged hence achieving poorly. Many students become less engaged academically as they advance from kindergarten to high school. It is approximated that around 50 to 59 % of rural, suburban and urban high school students turn out to be less involved with academic activities while around 40% are engaging in various high-risk behaviors such as depression, sex, attempted suicide and substance use (Elias et al., 2017; Greenberg et al., 2013; Durlak et al., 2011).  These behaviors jeopardize the potential for life success of the students as well as interfering with school performance.  Also, some students don’t have social-emotional skills, tend to disrupt the educational experiences of classmates and believe their teacher does not care about them. Therefore, the aim of this paper is to conduct a systematic review, using a meta-analysis approach, to justify the impact of implementing school-based social and emotional learning programs in the schools.

A broad, balanced education is required to prepare students for their success. It ensures students have mastered the basic academic competencies and make them be responsible adults (Zins, 2014). It is necessary for the schools, communities and families to find and apply evidence-based strategies that boost emotional, social and educational involvement of the children and also enhance the growth in the early years of school. Various studies done in the past few years show that implementing social and emotional learning (SEL) programs in the schools is very important because it will help to reduce problem behaviors, promote academic performance and enhance positive adjustment. The SEL programs were evaluated across two different settings and time period, throughout the school time and after school, and two separate categories of the student population (Bear & Minke, 2016; Zins, 2014; Weissberg et al., 2013). Three different research literatures were used to examine the evaluation of programs that were carried out by 10 different independent researchers suggesting the impact of social and emotional interventions.

The three worldwide reviews of study used to evaluate the need for implementing SEL interventions in schools include the universal review, which examined the positive effect of universal school-based SEL programs. This means the programs are suitable for every student without any emotional or behavioral problems. The indicated review focused on the SEL programs that distinguish and operate with students who are revealing early traces of emotional or behavioral difficulties. After-school reviews considered SEL programs that were conducted after school activities, which mainly involve students without recognizable problems (Luter et al., 2017). The analyses were conducted for each review using a meta-analytic approach where the overall impact of programs across studies is summarized in a quantitative fashion. The results were based on 98 studies that comprised 2105 respondents.

The process of SEL programming provides attitudes, knowledge and skills to the children through understanding and handling their emotions, setting and attaining positive goals, creating and keeping positive relationships and demonstrating caring and concern for others. These social and emotional skills enable students to acquire abilities to resolve conflicts respectfully, to calm themselves when angry, initiate a friendship, contribute constructively to their community and make safe and ethical choices (Elias et al., 2017; Weissberg et al., 2013).  Zin  (2014) and Durlak et al. (2011) suggest that students who are realistic in appraising themselves and their abilities make good decisions about daily challenges, resolve interpersonal conflicts effectively, regulate their behavior and their feelings appropriately and interpret social cues accurately. Therefore, the short-term goal of social and emotional education programs is to enhance constructive feelings and social-emotional competencies to students, which consequently leads to improved academic performance and adjustment as reflected in less emotional distress, fewer conduct problems, positive social behaviors, achievement test score and better grades.

The seventy-five school-based studies included in the universal review involved 4543 students. The classroom-based programming was the most strategy used, which mainly took the set of lessons or form of a certain curriculum that aimed to establish social and emotional skills such as setting goals, identification of feeling and problem, interpersonal problem-solving skills and conflict-resolution strategies. In addition, some multi-component programs were taught in the classrooms to supplement classroom skills training with a community, school-wide or parent (Greenberg et al., 2013). There were 30 studies in the Indicated Review involving 1685 students. These reviews addressed the children who displayed indications of behavioral, social or emotional problem, but not in need of special education or diagnosed with a mental disorder. The programs that involved a single-intervention component were more than 60 per cent. An example of such programs includes small-group problem-solving sessions where teaching staff trained different emotional and social competencies such as how other should handle provocations and make friends and how students should recognize feelings in themselves. The rest of the studies involved several intervention components combining different classroom, group, individual and parent teaching support. After-School Review incorporated 42 reviews and engaged 2923 students. The goal of after-school programs is to develop one or more personal and social skills. The interventions had to be conducted outside of normal school periods during, at least, part of school years and be examined by grown-ups (Luter et al., 2017).  The after-school programs that addressed only the improvement of academic performance, summer camp, outside extracurricular or adventure programs were not eligible.

There are strong and consisted of support for the significance of implementing social and emotional learning programs in the three reviews of research evaluated. Various scholars indicated that students in SEL programs showed in several capacities of their academic, social and personal lives.  Also social and emotional learning interventions promoted positive impacts on student’s academic performance, social behavior, social-emotional attitudes and skills toward school, self and others, emotional distress and conduct problems (Elias et al., 2017; Zins, 2014). SEL programs have, particularly, produced an average improvement on success tests scores of 12 to 20 percentile points. The involvements of SEL were successful in both students with and without identifiable problems and for the school and after-school setting. The programs were also successful across the children between 5 and 13 years of age, which is from elementary to eighth grade, for schools in rural, suburban and urban setting as well as culturally and racially varied student bodies. Researchers from the Indicated reviews and Universal reviews suggested that when SEL programs supervised by the school staff were successful and they can be integrated into regular academic practice. We found that in the two reviews, After-school and Universal, there are programs that recommended skill training because they were sequenced, active, focused and explicit. These programs were more operative than those programs that failed to adhere to these recommended practices for skill training (Luter et al., 2017).  Putting recent results in the context of earlier studies provide enough justification for SEL implementation. Relating the results in our evaluations to outcomes found in a review of evidence-based programs carried out by other scholars we find that SEL interventions are among the effective programs ever presented to school going people. The results show that social and emotional learning programs implemented by teachers, student support personnel and so on, in the school, enhance children’s academic achievement, attitudes toward school and behaviors (Johnson et al., 2018; Klem & Connell, 2014). Therefore, there is a need to implement well-designed SEL programs in the schools, having given these broad positive effects that simultaneously foster students’ academic, social and emotional growth.

The data obtained from the Universal review shows that the students who involved themselves in SEL programs demonstrated a high level of social-emotional abilities in test situation such as communication, self-control, problem-solving skills and ability to make decision. They had more positive attitudes toward self and others such as liking and feeling connected to school, self-concept, pro-social attitudes toward aggression and self-esteem.  The students demonstrated more positive social behaviors such as cooperating with others and daily behavior associated with matching with others. They were also observed to have fewer behavior problems, decreased emotional difficulty and improved performance in academics such as achievement test score and school grades. These results show that SEL programs are connected with positive impact in various capacities of children’s lives, including better academic achievement. Other main results found in the Universal Review show that in the schools where school staffs were able to carry out SEL programs successfully, there was a significant improvement among students in academic performance as opposed to where community members instigated SEL programs (Johnson et al., 2018).  The interventions that utilized the four suggested practices of skill training, which are explicit targeting of specific social-emotional skills, active learning strategies, sequenced instructions and a focus on developing social-emotional abilities, were more effective compared to the programs that did not apply these four recommended approaches.  Diekstra & Gravesteijn (2008) agrees that there are positive results achieved when the programs apply the four strategies. Also, there is a relationship between t the implementation of effective programs and better results.

According to Diekstra & Gravesteijn (2008), implementation of the effective program is the situation in which the program developer conducts key components of the recommended programs as intended. The programs offered in rural, suburban and urban schools setting were successful for students of different ages. Indicated Review replicated several discoveries from the Universal Review showing that SEL programs for students manifesting initial traces of difficulties were able to reduce negative conducts and feeling of stress and anxiety and improve school performance, pro-social behaviors and attitudes among them. Other major findings found in the Indicated Review demonstrate that school staffs were as successful in conducting programs of social and emotional learning as community members.  Interventions were similarly efficient for students with various difficulties when they first participated in the intervention. The program was helpful for the students showing difficulties with peer relationships, conduct problems and signs of emotional distress. Also, the programs offered in schools were effective for students of a different stage of development in rural, urban and suburban settings and for the schools that mainly serves ethnically and socio-economically diverse student bodies.

It was possible to evaluate findings separately in the After-School Review about how students felt about themselves, about school or how SEL programs impacted school attendance. However, we were not able to report finding in this group for the After-School Evaluation since a small number of these programs examined social-emotional proficiencies independently evaluating how students conduct themselves daily. The results from the After-school Review showed that the programs that followed the four recommended practices of skill training were more effective compared to the programs that failed to follow these strategies (Luter et al., 2017). When after-school SEL programs offered in schools in urban and rural areas, positive results were achieved for youths of diverse ages, socio-economic and racial-ethnic groups.

In conclusion, the three large-scale reviews of research examined indicate that implementation of SEL programs in school is significant because the programs have a positive impact on raising school grades and improving student’s educational achievement. The benefits of SEL programs in schools have been realized among students with early difficulties and those without any sign of behavioral or emotional problems and for students that are socio-economically and ethnically diverse.  The programmatic and systematic consideration to the training of social and emotional competencies in schools has universal significance. SEL programs promote academic achievement, prevent developmental problems and improve the overall development of children and youngsters. However, further investigation is required to increase the value of future training regardless of a rising association of research that bolsters the effectiveness of SEL programs in schools. For example, a combination of the SEL program designed for student population would give better gains than applying a single program. Nonetheless, the results have shown that SEL programs are among the most effective youth-development programs ever presented in the schools.



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Diekstra, R. F., & Gravesteijn, C. (2008). Effectiveness of school-based social and emotional education programmes worldwide. Social and emotional education: An international analysis, 255-312.

Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). Enhancing students’ social and emotional development promotes success in school: Results of a meta-analysis. Child Development, 82(1), 405-32.

Elias, M. J., Zins, J. E., Weissberg, R. P., Frey, K. S., Greenberg, M. T., Haynes, N. M., & Shriver, T. P. (2017). Promoting social and emotional learning: Guidelines for educators. Ascd.

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Klem, A. M., & Connell, J. P. (2004). Relationships matter: Linking teacher support to student engagement and achievement. Journal of school health, 74(7), 262-273.

Luter, D. G., Lester, J. N., Lochmiller, C. R., & Kronick, R. (2017). Participant Perceptions of a UACS Afterschool Program: Extending Learning beyond the Classroom. School Community Journal, 27(1), 55-82.

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Zins, J. E. (Ed.). (2014). Building academic success on social and emotional learning: What does the research say?. Teachers College Press.

August 14, 2023



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