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Curriculum and Instruction

Social and Emotional Learning in Massachusetts

This website is an introduction to Social and Emotional Learning in Massachusetts Public Schools. The Department commonly uses the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL's), definition of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL): SEL is the process of developing students' and adults' social and emotional competencies—the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors that individuals need to make successful choices. There are a range of other definitions Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document for Social and Emotional Learning that may also be viable.

Social Emotional Learning is a core component of one of the Department's five core strategies: Support social-emotional learning, health, and safety

Research and experience demonstrate that preparing all students for success (in school, the workplace, civic life, and more) includes attending to their social-emotional and health development. Furthermore, academic and social-emotional competencies are mutually reinforcing. Key levers in this work include safe and supportive school climate and culture, and effective family engagement. The Department is committed to building out supports and policies in partnership with practitioners in the field and other state agencies to advance this work in the Commonwealth, both in and out of school. It is our goal to promote systems and strategies that foster safe, positive, healthy and inclusive learning environments and address students' varied needs in order to improve educational outcomes for all students.

In April of 2016, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) held a special meeting on Social and Emotional Learning to provide an opportunity for members to hear a number of key ideas, information, and examples from experts in research, policy, and practice, and have the opportunity to discuss the topic of SEL. Resources from that meeting are available on the BESE website.

This website includes information about:

  • CASEL's Collaborating States Initiative
  • Developing SEL Competencies
  • Additional Department Guidance

For more information about any of these resources, or to share work that your organization is involved with, please email

Collaborating States Initiative

Massachusetts is participating in the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL's) two-year Collaborating States Initiative (CSI). The CSI is an inter-state partnership on the development of policies, learning standards or goals, and guidelines to support statewide implementation of social and emotional learning (SEL).

While the needs and approaches of supporting social and emotional outcomes vary from district to district, the Department intends to partner with our stakeholders to establish a common language and shared vision of positive social and emotional competencies for all students. Partnership with CASEL and other participating states will allow the Department to achieve those goals by:

  • Engaging with our stakeholders, especially our teachers, administrators, and specialized instructional support personnel (SISP);
  • Integrating SEL principles with existing policies, resources, and initiatives; and
  • Building useful, well-aligned resources.

To receive occasional updates about the progress of this initiative or to submit comments about social and emotional learning in Massachusetts, fill out this short form.

CASEL's website has a wealth of information about Social and Emotional Learning, including a meta-analysis of 213 school-based, universal SEL programs which showed that, 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.

Developing SEL Competencies

Triangle divided in three levels reading All, Some, and Few.

The Department recommends a tiered approach to SEL, where all students get high quality instruction in core competencies of SEL, some students will need supplemental supports for these core competencies, and a few students will need intensive supports for these core competencies. The distinction between supplemental and intensive supports will vary based on need and student population.

Cultural Competency

The Department strongly recommends sustained professional development and collaborative learning around issues of cultural competency and Social and Emotional Learning. Developing students' social emotional competencies can provide an opportunity to develop a sense of positive self-worth in connection to a student's race, color, sex, gender identity, religion, national origin, and sexual orientation. Educators are encouraged to develop examples and illustrations of these competencies that are congruent with the social and cultural experiences of their students. In addition to contributing to academic success, SEL programs can also support the development of students' sense of autonomy, agency, and social justice.

CASEL has provided the following descriptions of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) as core instruction for all students.

Circle divided into five sections: Self Management, Self Awareness, Responsible Decision Making, Relationship Skills, Social Awareness

Five Core Competencies of SEL:

  • Self-awareness: The ability to accurately recognize one's emotions and thoughts and their influence on behavior. This includes accurately assessing one's strengths and limitations and possessing a well-grounded sense of confidence and optimism.
  • Self-management: The ability to regulate one's emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations. This includes managing stress, controlling impulses, motivating oneself, and setting and working toward achieving personal and academic goals.
  • Social awareness: The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures, to understand social and ethical norms for behavior, and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.
  • Relationship skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. This includes communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, resisting inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict constructively, and seeking and offering help when needed.
  • Responsible decision making: The ability to make constructive and respectful choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, the realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and the wellbeing of self and others.

Four Approaches to SEL Instruction

CASEL has identified four general approaches to SEL instruction in the classroom:

  • Free-standing lessons that provide explicit, step-by step instructions to teach students social and emotional competencies across the five core competency clusters;
  • General teaching practices that create classroom and school-wide conditions that facilitate and support social and emotional development in students;
  • Integration of skill instruction and practices that support SEL within the context of an academic curriculum; and
  • Guidance to administrators and school leaders on how to facilitate SEL as a school-wide initiative.

Department Guidance

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PreK-K Standards
These Standards were developed as a collaborative initiative with the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) and the University of Massachusetts/Boston with funding from the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge Grant. The standards bring attention to critical areas of development and learning that positively impact student outcomes and can be used to guide efforts to strengthen curriculum, instruction, assessment, professional development and family engagement.
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Guidelines on Implementing SEL
This document contains guidelines for schools and districts on how to effectively implement social and emotional learning curricula for students in grades K-12. The information provided relates to leadership, professional development, resource coordination, instructional approaches, policies and protocols, and collaboration with families.
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Guidebook for Inclusive Practice
Created by Massachusetts educators, this Guidebook includes tools for districts, schools, and educators that are aligned to the MA Educator Evaluation Framework and promote evidence-based best practices for inclusion following the principles of Universal Design for Learning, Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, and Social and Emotional Learning.
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Recommendations for SEL Guiding Principles in Math/ELA Curriculum Frameworks posted for public comment
The Department consulted with PK-12 educators, curriculum specialists, and others to identify possible improvements to the Massachusetts ELA/literacy and mathematics standards based on lessons learned during implementation since 2011. A review panel analyzed this stakeholder input and recommended needed changes. Social and Emotional Learning was included in the recommended ELA standards as Guiding Principle 9 Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document and in the recommended Math standards as Guiding Principle 7 Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document. Interested parties may submit comments through February 17, 2017.

Last Updated: December 7, 2016
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