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Volume 30, Number 1
January/February 2014

Making School a Calmer Place to Learn

Schools integrate daily routines for social-emotional learning with academics


Hand signals and other routines are helping students learn self-control and other skills.

Like most children their age, first-graders at the Children’s Aid College Prep Charter School (CACPCS) get into arguments at recess. But rather than get mad and lash out, they are more likely to say things like, “I’m frustrated because I’m not being heard.” And when they get angry or anxious during class, they walk over to a designated Secure Corner and use a strategy called Stop and Stay Cool to calm down.

Since CACPCS opened in 2012, it has been using SECURe, a new schoolwide approach to social and emotional learning (SEL). CACPCS is located in the Morrisania section of the South Bronx, where the child poverty rate is 57 percent, trauma is common, and academic performance levels are some of the lowest in New York City. Before opening the school, Drema Brown, vice president of school-age programs at the Children’s Aid Society, knew that school staff needed an effective approach to building what she calls “life skills.” When she heard about SECURe, she liked how it folded SEL skills into the whole school day and building. “What sold me on it were the routines,” she says, referring to a set of structures that staff and students use to manage feelings, solve conflicts, and navigate other daily challenges so that teachers can keep teaching and students can keep learning.

An umbrella term for a broad set of skills from managing emotions to maintaining attention and focus—as well as a descriptor for programs that promote these skills—social and emotional learning has often been confined to discrete programs aimed at helping teachers deal with their number-one complaint: student behavior in the classroom. But armed with research linking effective programs to increased academic achievement, schools across the country are taking these lessons further, making SEL an integral feature of school life alongside, and in support of, academics.

A growing number of schools, like CACPCS, are experimenting with SEL routines that can be used at any time and in any part of the school. To support such efforts, a few districts have created SEL departments, and some are providing SEL coaching to teachers. States are getting involved, too. Seven states, including Illinois and Kansas, have stand-alone SEL standards or guidelines, and almost all states have embedded SEL in academic standards to some degree, according to a recent study by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), a nonprofit organization formed in the 1990s to advance the development of academic, social, and emotional competence. To further integrate SEL and academics, some districts, like Washoe County, Nev., are showing teachers how SEL standards support specific Common Core State Standards.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

CASEL Collaborating Districts Initiative

J. Durlak et al. “The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions.” Child Development 82, no. 1 (2011): 405–432.

S. M. Jones and S. M. Bouffard. “Social and Emotional Learning in Schools: From Programs to Strategies.” Social Policy Report 26, no. 4 (2012): 3–22.

“Social-Emotional Learning.” Practice to Policy Brief 1. Arlington, VA: National Association of State Boards of Education, 2013.

N. Yoder. Teaching the Whole Child: Instructional Practices That Support Social-Emotional Learning in Three Teacher Evaluation Frameworks. Washington, DC: Center on Great Teachers and Leaders, American Institutes for Research, 2013.