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Student and Family Support (SFS)

Social and Emotional Learning in Massachusetts

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Social and Emotional Learning Updates
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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 .

SEL website sections

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.

SEL Focused Guidance Documents and Initiatives

  • 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.

  • 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.

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 1, 2024

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Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
135 Santilli Highway, Everett, MA 02149

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.