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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 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 strategic priorities Download PDF Document: Support social-emotional learning, health, and safety. This document Download Word Document outlines the "heart" strategy in detail.

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 participated 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). This summary document Download PDF Document Download Word Document provides brief highlights of the Department's efforts to support SEL during our participation in the CSI and previews the direction in which we are headed.

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 has helped the Department begin 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.

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CASEL's website has a wealth of information about Social and Emotional Learning, including a 2011 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. A 2017 meta-analysis reviewed 82 school-based, universal SEL interventions. The study found that school-based SEL interventions continue to benefit students for months and even years to come.

Massachusetts districts may find CASEL's Collaborating Districts Initiative website to be a valuable source for SEL resources.

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.

The importance of a culturally responsive approach to SEL has been a recurrent theme in conversations with Massachusetts educators and with colleagues across the country. Department staff had heard the caution that SEL instruction that is not culturally responsive can risk becoming a source of acculturative stress for students who are not members of the dominant group. On a more optimistic note, Massachusetts educators have described the power of leveraging a culturally responsive SEL pedagogy to better engage and develop students from all backgrounds. In response to this theme, the Department is pleased to present the guidance and reflective tools found in Social and Emotional Learning for All: Access, Cultural Proficiency, and Cultural ResponsivenessDownload PDF Document  Download Word Document. We are deeply grateful to educators across Massachusetts, and the country, whose contributions were instrumental to the development of this guidance document.

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 Download PDF Document 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 practicesthat 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 SELUpdated November 2017
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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Professional Standards for Teachers
The Professional Standards for Teachers (PSTs) are used by educator preparation programs in designing their teacher preparation programs and in preparing their teacher candidates. The 2015 Guidelines for Professional Standards for Teachers include a Social and Emotional Learning Indicator: Employs a variety of strategies to assist students to develop social emotional competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.
SEL Guiding Principles in Math/ELA Curriculum Frameworks
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted unanimously in March, 2017 to adopt revised learning standards in math and in English language arts and literacy. Social Emotional Learning was included as a Guiding Principle in each.
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Resources to support SEL Guiding Principle for Math
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Resources to support SEL Guiding Principle for ELA/literacy
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Social and Emotional Learning for All: Access, Cultural Proficiency, and Cultural Responsiveness
The Department is pleased to present the guidance and reflective tools found in this document, focused on the critical intersection between SEL and culturally responsive teaching.
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Collaborating States Initiative
This summary document provides brief highlights of the Department's efforts to support SEL during our participation in the CSI and previews the direction in which we are headed.

Last Updated: July 27, 2018
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