We find relatively few portraits of social and emotional learning in secondary schools, and even fewer that connect such learning to academic mastery. Here we offer a scan of some of the major players and frameworks in the SEL field at large. The selection arguably reflects WKCD’s own experience and perspective as a longtime advocate of “deeper learning” in our nation’s high schools.

There are four sections: Research, Practice, and Policy | Resources for Practitioners | Relevant Frameworks | Linked Organizations


Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)

CASEL is the nation’s leading organization dedicated to making evidence-based social and emotional learning an integral part of education from preschool through high school. It is possibly best known for its five social and emotional learning core competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Daniel Goleman’s landmark book Emotional Intelligence provides the theoretical foundation.

The CASEL Guide provides a systematic framework for evaluating the quality of classroom-based social and emotional learning programs in preschool and elementary grades. It applies this framework to rate and identify well-designed, evidence-based SEL programs with potential for broad dissemination. CASEL’s digital library is a continuously updated collection of resources related to social and emotional learning. Many items are provided free of charge.

In 2011 CASEL launched a national initiative aimed at supporting districts’ capacities to promote SEL for all students. The school districts include: Anchorage, AK; Austin, TX; Chicago, IL; Cleveland, OH, Nashville, TN; Oakland and Sacramento, CA; and Washoe County, NV.

At the federal, state, and local levels, CASEL advocates for policies that give SEL a priority in the curriculum and in assessing students’ learning of the basic SEL competencies. Nationally, it works with a bipartisan group of federal policymakers to advance legislation that promotes SEL across the United States (Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Act). At the state level, CASEL advocates for the inclusion of social and emotional learning in state standards. Locally, it recommends key strategies for sustaining SEL initiatives.



Edutopia is a website published by the George Lucas Educational Foundation (GLEF). Founded in 1991 by filmmaker George Lucas and venture capitalist Steve Arnold, the Foundation “celebrates and encourages innovation” in K-12 schools.

In a section devoted to social and emotional learning, Edutopia offers stories and practical tips for practitioners seeking to foster cooperative learning and character development among students—from working together on project teams to conflict resolution. In videos, articles, and blogs, national and local experts discuss how educating the whole child by including social and emotional skills with academics is critical for success in school and in life. The Edutopia site also includes profiles and research on K–12 schools, districts, and programs that are dramatically improving the way students learn using social and emotional learning. It reviews recent reports on the positive impact of social and emotional learning on students’ academic performance and helps practitioners make sense of the results.

Larry Ferlazzo’s Blog

Larry Ferlazzo teaches English at Luther Burbank High School, Sacramento's largest inner-city high school. On this popular education blog, Ferlazzo offers a cornucopia of links to websites and articles on a multitude of topics of interest to progressive educators. He examines social emotional learning from the inside out, highlighting what’s fresh and provocative, along with the best from the mainstream.

Ferlazzo’s five books connect his 19 years as a community organizer with his present work in the classroom. He has won numerous awards, including the Ford Foundation’s Leadership for a Changing World award and the International Reading Association’s Presidential Award for Reading and Technology. Ferlazzo writes a weekly teacher advice column for Education Week Teacher and a weekly post for The New York Times. His articles on education policy regularly appear in the Washington Post and the Huffington Post.


Character Education

In 1992, the nonprofit Josephson Institute of Ethics hosted a gathering of experts in ethics and character education to find ways to work together, primarily by developing a common language of core ethical values that transcend religious, political and socioeconomic differences. The Aspen Declaration on Character Education identified six “pillars of character”: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship.

The current interest in character education recognizes these virtues but also aims to untwine and promote a web of skills and habits linked to achievement. Journalist Paul Tough’s popular book How Children Succeed, for example, argues that the “hidden power” of character influences why some children succeed while others fail. He focuses on skills like persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence—and on the particular experiences of children at either end of the socioeconomic ladder.

The “character education movement”—and the Character Education Partnership, a national advocacy group—draws energy from a wide swath of initiatives, from moral education and service learning to school safety. “Character education is simply good education,” the Character Education Partnership argues. “It helps solve behavioral problems and improve academic achievement."

Growth Mindset

The concept of “mindset” has gained increasing attention since Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck introduced it in her 2007 book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Those with a “fixed” mindset believe that people’s intelligence and abilities are static and outside their control—the widely accepted theory of cognitive development through the 1960s. In contrast, those with a “growth mindset” know that intelligence is dynamic. As neuroscience has now decisively shown, the brain does change based on one’s experiences and efforts.

Regardless of the research, all of us develop beliefs about our own intelligence, beginning in childhood. Some children worry that they don’t have enough. Others grow up thinking that they can do anything if they just work hard at it. These beliefs make a big difference in how children do in school, research shows. Even students who consider themselves “gifted” often avoid challenge, for fear they might lose status if they fail. But when we teach youth that intelligence is malleable, they more readily take on challenges, persist through difficulties, and experience intellectual growth. (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, & Dweck, 2007)

WKCD has assembled five short videos that provide a lively introduction to growth mindset and why it matters, for students as well as teachers. Brainology™, a blended learning program on the growth mindset for middle grades and high school students, draws upon the work of Carol Dweck and Lisa Blackwell.

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS)

“PBIS” is short for Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports. This language comes directly from the 1997 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). PBIS is used interchangeably with SWPBS, which is short for “School-wide Positive Behavior Supports.” PBIS is based on principles of applied behavior analysis and the prevention approach and values of positive behavior support.

The PBIS framework is intended to help school personnel: (a) adopt and organize evidence-based behavioral supports into an integrated continuum that enhances academic and social behavior outcomes for all students; and (b) improve their implementation of those practices. These supports include: (a) team-based leadership, (b) data-based decision-making, (c) continuous monitoring of student behavior, (d) regular universal screening, and (e) effective on-going professional development.

Resilience (and "Grit")

Psychological resilience is an individual’s tendency to cope with adversity. This coping may result in the individual “bouncing back” to “normal” or simply not showing harmful effects. A third, more controversial conception of resilience is sometimes referred to as ‘posttraumatic growth’ or ‘steeling effects,’ in which the experience of adversity contributes to improved functioning (akin to the way inoculation stimulates antibodies).

In all these instances, resilience is best understood as a process and not a trait. Most research now shows that resilience results when individuals can interact with their environments in ways that either promote well-being or protect them against the overwhelming influence of risk factors. These processes can be individual coping strategies or may be helped along by good families, schools, communities, and social policies that make resilience more likely to occur.

There’s a lot of talk recently about the role of schools in promoting resiliency and “grit”—including the skills associated with these processes and their importance for student success. Psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth (a 2013 MacArthur Fellow) has been a leading researcher in the field. Edutopia has created a curated list of resources to help educators and parents follow the discussion and create home and school environments that provide supports and opportunities to help students thrive.

Response to Intervention (RTI)

Response to Intervention (RTI) is a recent addition to our nation’s special education law (Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act or IDEA) and its schools. RTI is a process schools can use to help children who are struggling academically or behaviorally. One of its underlying premises is that a child’s struggles may be due to inadequacies in instruction or in the curriculum, whether at the moment or in the past.

There is no single or absolute definition of RTI. A quick descriptive summary, though, comes from the National Center on RTI: “With RTI, schools identify students at risk for poor learning outcomes, monitor student progress, provide evidence-based interventions and adjust the intensity and nature of those interventions depending on a student’s responsiveness, and identify students with learning disabilities or other disabilities.”

RTI provides two frameworks, one for academics and another for behavior. Both include three tiers: Tier I interventions address the needs of all students; Tier II provides targeted group interventions for at-risk students; Tier III involves intensive individual interventions for the highest-risk students.

Restorative Justice

Restorative justice programs, increasingly taking root in schools across the country, try to nip problems and violence in the bud by forging closer, franker relationships among students, teachers, and administrators. They present an alternative to exclusively punitive disciplinary actions (a.k.a. zero tolerance policies) that result in detention, suspension, and expulsion.

“Peace circles” encourage young people to come up with meaningful reparations for their wrongdoing while challenging them to develop empathy for one another through “talking circles,” which include all of the parties affected. During the “peer jury” process, a student who has broken a school rule sits in a circle with trained student jurors; together they discuss why the incident occurred and who was affected, then agree on a contract that spells out the actions the student will take to repair the harm. Restorative justice practices in schools can also include family group conferences and victim-offender mediations.

A small but growing body of research suggests that restorative action-based practices in schools contribute to safer and more productive learning environments for both staff and students. Edutopia features a directory of restorative justice resources for educators. The Advancement Project works to end extreme and unfair school disciplinary measures that push children off the academic track and onto a track to prison. RestorativeJustice.org provides a clearinghouse of information including research tools, bibliographies, training, tutorials and expert articles.

At Chicago's Fenger High School, one of WKCD's five case study schools, restorative justice has been central to the school's turnaround. See our WKCD feature story, "Talk It Out Peacefully: Restorative Justice at Chicago's Fenger High School."

Student-Teacher Relationships

Strong student-teacher relationships in the service of learning are one of the most potent but least studied elements in nourishing robust social, emotional, and academic learning. Students, most of all, say that those relationships are the glue that holds everything together. Teachers who care, who communicate to students that they matter and they can, are worth their weight in gold.

For more than a dozen years, WKCD has put strong student-teacher relationships at the center of our storytelling, national projects, and research. Our book Fires in the Bathroom: Advice for Teachers from High School Students by Kathleen Cushman and the students of What Kids Can Do (The New Press, 2003) has won wide acclaim, as has its sequel, Fires in the Middle School Bathroom (The New Press, 2008). Our “Just Listen” video series includes over 50 clips of students speaking, in their own words, about the ways strong relationships with their teachers push them to do their best.

The central role played by positive student-teacher relationships appears throughout Learning by Heart: Five American High Schools Where Social and Emotional Learning Are Core. It is also the connecting theme in our paper for the Nellie Mae Foundation’s Students at the Center initiative, Teachers at Work: Six Exemplars of Everyday Practice (Jobs for the Future, 2012).


Educators for Social Responsibility

Educators for Social Responsibility (ESR) helps teachers create safe, respectful, and productive learning environments and helps young people develop the social skills, emotional competencies, and qualities they need to succeed in school and beyond.

ESR’s Student Advisory Programs support staff members to create peer cohorts in which students learn social, emotional, and learning competencies in support of their academic development and post-school success. Its Schoolwide Discipline and Student Support program partners with districts and schools to assess, refine, and adopt disciplinary policies, protocols, and interventions that maximize opportunities to learn and ensure that all students are treated fairly and equitably. ESR also offers programs for peer mediation, countering bullying and harassment, and the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program (grades 6-8).

Expeditionary Learning

Over the course of its 18-year history, Expeditionary Learning (EL) has grown from a small and adventurous group of ten schools into a network the size of a substantial urban school district. The research-based EL model, which many regard as a complete school design for social and emotional learning:

One of our five case studies of “high schools that make social and emotional learning core” documents daily practice at the Springfield Renaissance School, a grades 6–12 Expeditionary Learning school in Springfield, MA ("A System of Working Parts").

Facing History and Ourselves

For more than 30 years, Facing History has believed that education is the key to combating bigotry and nurturing democracy. Through a rigorous investigation of the events that led to the Holocaust, as well as other recent examples of genocide and mass violence, students in a Facing History class learn to combat prejudice with compassion, indifference with participation, and myth and misinformation with knowledge.

At the heart of its work is the resource book Facing History and Ourselves: Holocaust and Human Behavior, which explores the consequences of hatred. Facing History’s 55 resources and original publications help students and educators learn to recognize bigotry and indifference. Students are introduced to individuals who have shown courage and compassion throughout history in the face of injustice, and see that their own daily choices can have major impacts and perhaps even provide a critical link to a safer future.

Another one of WKCD's case studies of high schools where SEL is core examines the East Side Community School in New York, NY ("Developing Agency Through Community"). Facing History has been a critical partner in the work—and success—of this school.

National School Climate Center

The National School Climate Center promotes positive and sustained school climate: a safe, supportive environment that nurtures social and emotional, ethical, and academic skills. In doing so, it seeks to enhance student performance, prevent dropouts, reduce physical violence and bullying, and develop healthy and positively engaged adults. NSCC helps translate research into practice by establishing meaningful and relevant guidelines, programs, and services that support a model for whole school improvement with a focus on school climate.

Search Institute

For more than 50 years, Search Institute® has been a leader and partner for organizations around the world in discovering what kids need to succeed. It focuses on deepening understanding and working with partners to improve the lives of young people in three critical areas: