The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Social and Emotional Learning

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
April 15, 2016

The special meeting on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) on April 25 is intended to provide an opportunity for Board of Elementary and Secondary Education 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.

Definition of Social and Emotional Learning

Many terms and definitions are used to refer to social and emotional and related competencies and learning needs of students. Attachment 1 includes the definition referenced most frequently by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, as well as a selection of additional descriptors and definitions, including MESH: Mindsets, Essential Skills and Habits; and Agency: the capacity and propensity to take purposeful initiative.

The definition used frequently by the Department is from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL):

Social and emotional learning (SEL) 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.

Further, CASEL has identified five competency clusters that are interrelated sets of cognitive, affective, and behavioral competencies:


The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is committed to preparing all students for success in the world that awaits them after high school. One of our five core strategies to achieve that goal is supporting the social, emotional, and health needs of students and families. As noted in the Department's Strategic Plan Download Word Document (May 2015), in order to have opportunities to be successful after high school, students need to have healthy social/emotional skills. Furthermore, developing students' social and emotional competencies helps schools create safe learning environments that contribute to academic achievement for all.

Providing these supports, while challenging, is crucial to students' success. A variety of recent studies and policy documents have shown the importance of supporting students' social and emotional needs. For your information, attached are a position paper from the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents as well as several papers by speakers who will be joining us at the April 25 special meeting.

Next Steps

In Massachusetts and across the U.S., there is increasing interest in providing effective social and emotional learning support to students. Concurrently, through our organizational review, the Department will be giving more attention and focus to the fifth core strategy of supporting the social, emotional, and health needs of students and families, in service of our overarching goal to prepare all students for success in the world that awaits them after high school.

We have invited the following people to present at the special meeting on April 25 and engage in discussion with the Board.

To discuss policy and research:
  • Chad d'Entremont, Ph.D., Executive Director, Rennie Center
  • Linda Dusenbury, Ph.D., Research Consultant, CASEL
  • Ronald F. Ferguson, Ph.D., Professor and Achievement Gap Initiative Co-Chair and Director, Harvard University; Co-Founder, Tripod
  • Sara Bartolino Krachman, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Transforming Education
To share examples of practice in Massachusetts schools:
  • Meg Mayo Brown, Superintendent, Fall River Public Schools
  • Dana Brown, Principal, Malden High School
  • Audrey Jackson, 5th grade teacher, Joseph P. Manning School; 2016 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year

Rachelle Engler Bennett, Director of the Department's Office of Learning Supports and Early Learning, will help provide context. I look forward to discussing this important topic with the Board.


Select research and policy articles and reports by Board meeting presenters (and colleagues):

Additional Related Information: