Sign-up to receive the DESE Holistic support and enrichment, SEL, health and safety newsletter and/or information about opportunities to strengthen comprehensive school mental health efforts
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 through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions…It can help all young people and adults thrive personally and academically, develop and maintain positive relationships, become lifelong learners, and contribute to a more caring, just world. There are a range of other definitions for Social and Emotional Learning that are also viable.
Holistic Supports and Enrichment: Strengthening Social Emotional Competencies, Health & Safety are goals woven throughout the Department's five core strategies and the Commissioner's Our Way Forward 2019 report. Furthermore, Cultivating Safe and Healthy Learning Environments can help facilitate social emotional learning and is included in Commissioner Riley's Fiscal Year 2023 goals .
Several years ago (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. More recently (September 2022) the Board heard a presentation about supporting students' mental health and wellness , which included discussion with representatives from two districts using Social Emotional Learning (SEL) & Mental Health Grant funding to support promising practices and challenges they continue to face during this school year.
This website includes information about the following topics. For more information about any of these resources, email email@example.com .
SEL website sections
Expand All Sections
The following descriptions of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) are from CASEL. They address five broad, interrelated areas of competence and provide examples for each: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. These competencies can be taught and applied at various developmental stages from childhood to adulthood and across diverse cultural contexts, to articulate what is helpful to know and be able to do for academic success, school and civic engagement, health and wellness, and fulfilling careers. For more information, see CASEL's framework (in English or Spanish ).
Self-Awareness: The abilities to understand one's own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts. This includes capacities to recognize one's strengths and limitations with a well-grounded sense of confidence and purpose.
Self-Management: The abilities to manage one's emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations. This includes the capacities to delay gratification, manage stress, and feel motivation & agency to accomplish personal/collective goals.
Social Awareness: The abilities to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, & contexts. This includes the capacities to feel compassion for others, understand broader historical and social norms for behavior in different settings, and recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.
Relationship Skills: The abilities to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups. This includes the capacities to communicate clearly, listen actively, cooperate, work collaboratively to problem solve and negotiate conflict constructively, navigate settings with differing social and cultural demands and opportunities, provide leadership, and seek or offer help when needed.
Responsible Decision-Making: The abilities to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations. This includes the capacities to consider ethical standards and safety concerns, and to evaluate the benefits and consequences of various actions for personal, social, and collective well-being.
This country has a long and devastating history, perpetual struggle, and continued experience with institutional racism against Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC); and this is compounded by additional forms of oppression and inequity (often intersecting) based on ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, and more. In order to work towards disrupting inequities and building equitable schools and educational institutions, it is imperative for all working in education to proactively engage in professional development and collaborative learning around issues of equity, including racial equity; culturally responsive and sustaining practices; and Social and Emotional Learning.
Strengthening students' and adults' social-emotional competencies can provide an opportunity to acknowledge and buffer trauma experienced by multiple forms of oppression and systemic inequities; strengthen a sense of positive self-worth and social awareness in connection to race, color, sex, gender identity, religion, national origin, and sexual orientation; and contribute towards dismantling systemic racism and other forms of inequity. With this in mind, educators can continually learn about goals, interests, and experiences of students and their families, and support the development of social-emotional competencies, including sharing examples and illustrations, 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.
As CASEL notes, Transformative SEL can be a process whereby young people and adults build strong, respectful, and lasting relationships that facilitate co-learning to critically examine root causes of inequity, and to develop collaborative solutions that lead to personal, community and societal well-being.
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 perpetuating or exacerbating current inequities and 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 strengthen skills with students from all backgrounds, and to more effectively work together to dismantle racism and other forms of systemic inequities. In response to this theme, the Department offers guidance and reflective tools found in Culturally Responsive Social-Emotional Competency Development . We are deeply grateful to our educators across Massachusetts, and the country, whose contributions were instrumental to the development of this guidance document.
CASEL has identified four general approaches to SEL instruction in schools and other learning environments:
Many schools have been working to implement multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) to meet students' academic, social-emotional, and behavioral needs. In line with this, DESE updated its MTSS Blueprint to incorporate a tiered approach to SEL. In a tiered approach, educators provide high quality SEL instruction (free-standing as well as integrated into other subjects) and general practices that support universal SEL, to help all students develop SEL core competencies (tier one). Educators and support staff also use data to inform when additional efforts are needed, and provide (or help access) supplemental supports based on individual students' social and emotional needs and strengths (tier two). Additionally, more intensive supports are provided for individual student needs that are more urgent and/or intensive (tier three). Tier one SEL will generally occur in whole-school, whole-class settings, while tier two and three supports may be provided through targeted group instruction, embedded within a classroom setting, in individualized work with students, in counseling sessions, or in other settings as appropriate.
Similarly, a school and district-level tiered approach can be helpful for strengthening adult social-emotional leadership skills and competency development, e.g., offering professional learning and support for all adults' competency development, and more focused and intensive learning, coaching, and supports where helpful in ways that are equity-focused, and proactive as well as responsive. The role of adults is critical in numerous ways, including but not limited to modeling skills; selecting and implementing evidence-based culturally responsive practices and approaches; using competencies to build relationships and enhance supports and understanding of students, staff, and families; reflecting on biases and taking productive actions towards dismantling systemic inequities and advancing equity, including racial equity; and continually strengthening competencies that help adults be able to more effectively help students develop skills.
The Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development (NCSEAD Commission) was created to engage and inspire communities in re-imagining learning to include its social, emotional, and cognitive dimensions so that all students can succeed in school, careers, and life. In January 2019, the NCSEAD Commission released its final report and accompanying recommendations. Drawing on input from more than 200 scientists, youth and parent groups, educators, and policymakers, the Commission's final report, "From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope," (Executive Summary available too) includes recommendations for researchers, educators, and policymakers. Numerous accompanying resources are also available, including:
Massachusetts is participating in the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL's) 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 provides brief highlights of the Department's efforts to support SEL during our initial years of participation in the CSI and notes that we are in process of revising the 1999 Massachusetts Comprehensive Health Curriculum Framework .
Learning from CASEL and other participating states has helped the Department further our efforts to:
CASEL's website has a substantial amount 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. Additionally, 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. Moreover, a Columbia University report found that every $1 invested in SEL programming produced on average an $11 return.
Massachusetts districts may find CASEL's Collaborating Districts Initiative website to be a valuable source for SEL resources.
Also Note: In June 2021, CASEL released an updated Program Guide, informed by enhanced criteria . This resource is designed for states, districts, and schools to support evidence-based, equity-focused, systemic SEL.
In July 2020, CASEL made available a resource for schools and districts, Reunite, Renew, and Thrive: Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Roadmap for Reopening School . This resource can be used in combination with state guidance found on the Department's COVID-19 Information and Resources pages.
Note: To receive periodic information about updates and offerings related to holistic supports & enrichment, including efforts to help strengthen social emotional competencies, health & safety, you can sign up for the DESE newsletter: Holistic support and enrichment, SEL, health and safety.
Resources shared by the Office of Student and Family Support that help foster social emotional, behavioral, and mental health and wellness with students, staff, families, and partners.
Collaborating States Initiative
This summary document provides brief highlights of the Department's efforts to support SEL during our initial few years of participation in the CSI and includes next steps.
PreK-K Standards on SEL and Approaches to Play and Learning (APL)
These Standards were developed in June 2015 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.
Guidelines on Implementing SEL Curricula, K–12 — Updated 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.
Culturally Responsive Social-Emotional Competency Development
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.
Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Grade 1–3 Resources
These resources provide evidenced based and developmentally appropriate performance indicators for 1st through 3rd grade students, as well as suggested activities and supportive practices aligned with all twelve Massachusetts PreK–K Standards for Social Emotional Learning, and (currently) one of the standards for Approaches to Play and Learning (APL).
Social and Emotional Learning Indicator System (SELIS) pilot project
Since 2020-2021, the Department has been partnering with several districts to pilot the SELIS tool. The tool is a self-report, strength-based assessment of students' core social and emotional (SE) competencies that produces data to help educators support students' identities; leverage students' social and emotional strengths; and plan supports for students' social and emotional competency skill development.
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.
Educator Effectiveness Teacher and School Administrator Rubrics
Revised versions include increased alignment to SEL.
Acceleration Roadmap for the 2021-22 School Year
This resource is based on the idea that every student is capable of accessing grade-appropriate work with the right supports and interventions. The Classroom Educator Edition & the Building Leader Edition are organized around three priorities for the fall: fostering a sense of belonging, monitoring student understanding, and ensuring access to grade-appropriate work with the appropriate scaffolds. The roadmap is not a guide to adoption of new programs; it is a guide to supporting daily classroom instruction in the fall, given the diverse needs exacerbated by the pandemic.
Promoting Student Engagement, Learning, Wellbeing and Safety — School Year 2021-2022 (Released Summer 2021)
This document is designed for districts to use to continue to engage with students and their families, and to connect students and families with additional supports they may need during remote and hybrid learning. The document compiles excerpts of previously released as well as new Department guidance, resources, and recommendations.
Guidebook for Inclusive Practice and Foundations online courses for Educators and Administrators
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.
MTSS Blueprint and related resources
Focused on academic, behavior, and SEL
Supports integration of SEL within Inclusive Instruction / PBIS
MA Tools for Schools
This site is a clearinghouse of resources to support sustainable school improvement in Massachusetts. Also, the MA Tools for Schools COVID-19 Resources page contains links to local and national resources for implementing multi-tiered systems of supports during this time, including slides and links mentioned on COVID-19 related webinars.
Integrating Early Childhood Positive Behavior Supports (PBS) through the Pyramid Model in Inclusive Preschool CommunitiesIncludes SEL related PD and resources
My Career and Academic Plan (MyCAP)
Student planning tool including personal/social growth
Safe and Supportive Schools
Framework/Tool, Grants and PD, Commission — integrated approach, including SEL
Leading Educational Access Project
Incorporates SEL focus into PD and support
Last Updated: October 31, 2022
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
75 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148-4906
Voice: (781) 338-3000
TTY: (800) 439-2370
Disclaimer: A reference in this website to any specific commercial products, processes, or services, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporation name is for the information and convenience of the public and does not constitute endorsement or recommendation by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.