For Policymakers

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is gaining significant traction in federal and state policy. SEL is increasingly a key consideration in federal grants. A growing number of states have developed and adopted SEL standards, goals, or competencies.

“Academic learning can only occur when a student feels physically, emotionally, and mentally safe in their environment. SEL fosters that very environment to make academic learning viable.” - Lisa Ellis, President, SC for Ed


The State of South Carolina's Children

Growing up is tough. Growing up without the resources and the support you need is even tougher. State and national data shows our children are engaging in unhealthy behaviors and our students, our teachers, and our schools need our help. Our students are suffering. Schools are faced with discipline problems. Stress and burnout are causing teachers to leave the classroom in record numbers resulting in a critical teacher shortage.

The Problem

According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey of S.C. high school students:

  • 25% were currently drinking alcohol; 58% had tried alcohol
  • 19% were currently using marijuana
  • 15% had taken pain pills without a doctor’s prescription
  • 18% had carried a weapon
  • 24% had been in physical fight
  • 21% had been bullied on school property
  • 19% considered suicide
  • 11% attempted suicide
  • 33% felt hopeless
  • 4,979 dropped out of school


The Solution

Proven effective SEL programs teach students compromise, conflict resolution, problem solving, setting and achieving goals, responsible decision making helps them understand and manage emotions and builds empathy to help PREVENT school discipline problems, suicide, violence, and bullying.  EVERY CHILD needs these skills to succeed in school, form healthy relationships, and eventually excel in the workplace.

“Social and emotional wellness is an imperative part of student and adult learning. Placing an emphasis on social and emotional learning allows us to take a holistic approach to education.” - Erin Scherder, School Behavior Health Team, University of S.C.

213 rigorous studies of SEL practices implemented in schools demonstrated that students had:

  • Improved attitudes and behaviors: greater motivation to learn, deeper commitment to school, increased time devoted to schoolwork, and better classrooms
  • Better academic performance: achievement scores on average of 11 % higher than students who did not receive SEL instruction
  • Fewer negative behaviors: decreased disruptive class behavior, non-compliance, aggression, delinquent acts, and disciplinary referrals.
  • Reduced emotional distress: fewer reports of student depression, anxiety, stress, and social withdrawal.

SEL4SC Recommendations To Accelerate Ed Task Force

  1. Align SEL and Academic Content A.Embed SEL objectives into the curriculum in reading, writing, social studies, mathematics, the arts, and the other content areas to build and reinforce students’ experience of key SEL skills such as empathy, conflict resolution, and appreciating diversity. Implement SEL holistically throughout the school day, not limiting it to a specific class or activity

B.. School districts are shifting how they approach SEL—expanding their efforts beyond a specific program to infusing SEL into everything they do in classrooms, schools, district offices, out-of-school time, and family and community partnerships. This type of systemic implementation of SEL can be a long-term process and requires a close examination of all aspects of a district’s work, from planning and budgeting through school climate and instruction.

  1. Provide SEL in ALL Grades K-12

A. Social and emotional learning (SEL) is critical to students’ long-term success in and out of school, and it merits careful, sustained attention throughout K-12 education (Bridgeland et al., 2013; DePaoli et al., 2017; Weissberg et al., 2015).

B. Leading researchers and educators recommend that SEL programming will be most beneficial when it is implemented in planned, ongoing, systemic ways from preschool through high school (Berman et al., 2018; Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, 2017; Jones & Kahn, 2017; Weissberg et al., 2015).

  1. SEL K-12 Standards

Develop Standards for the development of specific SEL skills at each grade level (Dusenbury et al., 2015). 

  1. Provide Safe and Supportive School Environments                                                    There are no quick fixes or easy solutions to respond to the tragedies that have occurred in schools across the country—but there are evidence-based ways to change school environments so that students and teachers feel safer:
  • Safe and supportive schools create positive climates where students have strong social and emotional skills, feel physically and emotionally secure, are connected to and supported by their teachers, and consistently remain challenged and engaged in learning.

Research has shown that students and teachers perform better when their schools

  1. Provide SEL for Educators                                                                         The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, in partnership with CASEL, conducted a survey to unpack the emotional lives of teachers during the COVID-19 crisis. Over 5,000 U.S. teachers responded to the survey. The five most mentioned feelings among all teachers were: anxiousfearfulworriedoverwhelmed and sad. Anxiety, by far, was the most frequently mentioned emotion.
  2. Data Collection and Evaluation: Identify, Define, and Measure Social and Emotional Competencies Researchers and practice leaders need to move quickly to identify and develop supports for usable, equitable, and valid assessments of SEL and school climate implementation and outcomes. 

The first meta-analysis (which has received considerable attention from educators, policy makers, and the popular media) synthesized the findings from studies of 213 school-based, universal SEL programs, including outcomes data for more than 270,000 students from kindergarten through high school (Durlak et al., 2011). Two major findings stood out:

This review also indicated that SEL programs managed by teachers and other school staff consistently yielded positive results, and it highlighted the role of careful program implementation in ensuring positive student outcomes.

  1. Invest in Professional Development Building greater competence in SEL and improving the school climate begins with adults. Current and pre-service teachers must learn how to implement and lead SEL and school climate efforts and support systemic social and emotional development.
  • Develop a range of professional development activities for all levels and types of educators.
  • Teach the educators about their own social and emotional competence and biases and how these can influence their teaching and ability to support students.
  • Enhance everyone’s understanding of the impacts of trauma and the importance of trauma-sensitive and trauma-informed approaches.
  • Acknowledge and support the important role social workers and guidance counselors can play in SEL and school climate initiatives, especially for students who need more intensive supports.
  • Conduct more research on what type and quantity of professional development best promotes social and emotional skill-building in adults and children, creates greater equity, and improves trauma sensitivity
  1. Identify What We Know and Don’t Know                                                               A lot of Great SEL and school climate work is already happening across the state. Some schools and districts have been doing this work for years. We should learn from those efforts and determine what we don’t know.
  • Examine how some states already are adopting SEL or school climate standards and see how they are being used, implemented, and assessed.
  • Learn about what works in middle school and high school. For example, restorative practices are growing in secondary schools, but their impact is not yet well researched.
  1. Engage Partners

Acknowledge the many trusted adults who help support social-emotional learning. Families and caregivers, educators, and community partners like afterschool tutors and mentors all have a role to play in supporting students’ growth and social-emotional development.

A. Incorporate Student Leadership Integrate the interests, needs, and voices of students through authentic engagement in practice and policy decisions. Students should have agency, experience autonomy and authenticity, and be a key part of SEL and school climate efforts.

  • Engage students as co-leaders, co-learners, and co-designers.
  • Research how student voice can best be tapped to shape programming and improve outcomes.
  • Identify one or two key issues of importance to the student body (e.g., bullying) and have students focus and rally around them.
  • Consider hosting a national student forum to capture youth voices across the country on issues related to social and emotional development.

B. Involve Family and Community Young people spend at least half of their time outside of classroom instruction, so efforts to improve their social and emotional health must include adults who interact with students outside of the classroom. To involve families and communities, consider the following:

  1. Integrate School Climate and SEL Programs Rigorous evaluations of school climate and SEL approaches have provided some direct evidence that one can improve the other.
  • Schools have the potential to serve as powerful protective factors in students’ development. Schools are relatively self-contained environments and can be safe spaces for children and their families.
  • Schools can counteract alienation and isolation students may feel by actively fostering resilience-building interactions.
  • Schools that foster a sense of belonging can help reduce depression, increase self-efficacy, and provide opportunities to build self-confidence and relationship-building skills.
  • School level policies and initiatives such as anti-harassment policies, providing safe spaces for youth who are marginalized, and enlisting the resources of families and other community members from marginalized groups can reduce negative outcomes in young people.
  • At the heart of what it takes for students to thrive are supportive, respectful, trusting relationships. Overlapping components  of SEL support these relationships:
  • When students experience engagement and feel a sense of belonging and connection with adults and peers at school, they can build social capital and more readily use adults as social models, accept feedback, and navigate and persevere through challenges.
  • When students and staff feel safe, they are more willing to focus on learning from and with others and take academic risks.

Supportive relationships, engagement, safety, cultural competence and responsiveness, and academic challenge and high expectations create positive school climates that can help build social and emotional competence