Creating a Common Understanding around Social Emotional Learning: The First Step Toward Coordinated Local Action

Ellen Chernosky Johnson, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Many local schools are failing to graduate students with the skills they need to enter college or the local workforce. The current research implies that the traditional public school system may not be developing the core skills students need to succeed in school or the workplace. Schools emphasize academic content, without intentionally developing students’ social-emotional skills. An increasing amount of evidence links social-emotional competencies to improved academic and behavioral outcomes. Universal Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) benefits all students in becoming better learners. The current research urges both researchers and practitioners to move from asking “Why?” to the question of “How?”. Because SEL emerged from a number of different research disciplines, there is not clarity around how social-emotional skills should be categorized. In response to this lack of clarity, the following critical literature review aims to provide practitioners with an update on the current research and begin to craft a vision of what SEL initiatives could look like across local districts. The review includes a comparison of five practice-oriented frameworks and strategies to begin implementation at the school level and the community level. Key themes across the five sample SEL frameworks emerged: 1) SEL should be consistent across contexts and in both formal and informal teaching moments; 2) Schools need to vertically align SEL across grade levels; 3) Schools should focus on teaching skills that are meaningful to learning, malleable, and measurable; 4) Self-regulation is a key SEL skill; 5) Measurement tools are still in development; and 6) A consensus does not yet exist around terminology or constructs. Emergent strategies to get started include 1) Adopting a framework in which to ground implementation; 2) Developing an integrative approach that embeds SEL into the mission of the school; 3) Educate school leadership about the importance of SEL to academics, and 4) Emphasize SEL in teacher and school personnel professional development. The review concludes with a discussion of how the Diffusion of Innovations Theory can help frame next steps for wider dissemination of SEL at the local level.

Subject Area

Education|Public health|Developmental psychology

Recommended Citation

Chernosky Johnson, Ellen, "Creating a Common Understanding around Social Emotional Learning: The First Step Toward Coordinated Local Action" (2018). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI10790566.