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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 for Social and Emotional Learning that are also viable.

    Social Emotional Learning is a key part of one of the Department's five strategic priorities : Supporting social-emotional learning, health, and safety (also known as the "heart" strategy). Strengthening social and emotional competencies in students and adults also helps further all four themes in the Commissioner's Our Way Forward 2019 report to the Board: Deeper Learning for All; Holistic Support & Enrichment; Innovation & Evidence-Based Practice; and State as a Partner.

    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.

    This website includes information about the following topics. For more information about any of these resources, email achievement@doe.mass.edu.

    SEL website sections


    SEL Definitions and Approaches

    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 ).

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

    Five Core Competencies of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), with examples noted:

    • 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.

      For example:
      • Integrating personal and social identities
      • Identifying personal, cultural, and linguistic assets
      • Identifying one's emotions
      • Demonstrating honesty and integrity
      • Linking feelings, values, and thoughts
      • Examining prejudices and biases
      • Experiencing self-efficacy
      • Having a growth mindset
      • Developing interests and a sense of 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.

      For example:
      • Managing one's emotions
      • Identifying and using stress-management strategies
      • Exhibiting self-discipline and self-motivation
      • Setting personal and collective goals
      • Using planning and organizational skills
      • Showing the courage to take initiative
      • Demonstrating personal and collective agency

    • 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.

      For example:
      • Taking others' perspectives
      • Recognizing strengths in others
      • Demonstrating empathy and compassion
      • Showing concern for the feelings of others
      • Understanding and expressing gratitude
      • Identifying diverse social norms, including unjust ones
      • Recognizing situational demands and opportunities
      • Understanding the influences of organizations/systems on behavior

    • 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.

      For example:
      • Communicating effectively
      • Developing positive relationships
      • Demonstrating cultural competency
      • Practicing teamwork and collaborative problem-solving
      • Resolving conflicts constructively
      • Resisting negative social pressure
      • Showing leadership in groups
      • Seeking or offering support and help when needed
      • Standing up for the rights of others

    • 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.

      For example:
      • Demonstrating curiosity and open-mindedness
      • Identifying solutions for personal and social problems
      • Learning to make a reasoned judgment after analyzing information, data, facts
      • Anticipating and evaluating the consequences of one's actions
      • Recognizing how critical thinking skills are useful both inside & outside of school
      • Reflecting on one's role to promote personal, family, and community well-being
      • Evaluating personal, interpersonal, community, and institutional impacts

    SEL & Equity

    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.

    Four Strategies that help Strengthen Social and Emotional Competencies

    CASEL has identified four general approaches to SEL instruction in schools and other learning environments:

    • 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.

    Developing SEL Competencies — a tiered approach

    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.

    Multi-Tiered System of Support Logo

    National Commission on Social, Emotional, & Academic Development

    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:

    Collaborating States Initiative

    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:

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

    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.

    Examples of Department Guidance Documents, Resources, and PD

    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.

    • 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.

    SEL Focused Guidance Documents

    • 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-12Updated 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.

    SEL Related Expectations for School & District Staff

    • 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.

    SEL Integrated into Additional Guidance Documents

    Last Updated: March 28, 2022

     
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