Student and Family Support (SFS)

Social and Emotional Learning in Massachusetts

Social and Emotional Learning News Headlines
06/15/2022 Webpage outlining mental and behavioral health supports from the Office of Student and Family Support
08/12/2021Thriving Minds: a series of learning opportunities that offer educators guidance and support on building comprehensive school mental health systems that address the holistic needs of students.
08/05/2021Promoting Student Engagement, Learning, Wellbeing and Safety — School Year 2021-2022 (Released Summer 2021)
07/02/2020 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
07/02/2020 MA Mental and Behavioral Health COVID-19 Related Resources
06/02/2020 Comprehensive School Mental Health Learning Network
05/29/2020MA Tools for Schools COVID-19 Resources

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

SEL website sections

SEL Definitions and Approaches

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.

Last Updated: June 17, 2022

Contact Us

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.