School-based social emotional instruction

Program basics

  • School-based instruction that focuses on self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making
  • Lessons help students recognize and manage emotions, set goals, understand others’ perspectives, etc.
  • Whole-class settings (rather than focusing only on at-risk students) have demonstrated better results

Strength of evidence

Evidence level: Proven (highest tier)

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Proven (highest tier)

Ranked as having the highest level of evidence by County Health Rankings and Roadmaps


Target population

All school-aged children

Program cost

Not available

Implementation locations

  • Nationwide

Dates active

Not available

Outcomes and impact

  • Strong evidence that social-emotional instruction improves high school graduation rates, academic achievement, self-confidence, motivation to learn, social emotional skills, and prosocial behavior
  • Demonstrated to reduce depression, anxiety, and social withdrawal
  • Interventions are effective in low-income communities
  • Effects tend to be strongest in younger children

Keys to successful implementation

  • Note: This content is under review
  • Programs can be designed for students of all ages but interventions that begin in earlier grades show stronger results over time.
  • Successful programs emphasize building staff capacity for cultivating their own social, emotional, and cultural competence and building collaborative and trusting relationships within the school environment. This enables staff to model SEL learnings to their students.
  • High-fidelity program design and execution, along with regular, independent measurement, are critical for ensuring successful outcomes.
  • Vocal support from local officials is essential in ensuring funding and advocacy for SEL programs in schools.
  • Partnerships with independent program evaluators are critical in measuring student progress and program success.
  • Partnerships with case management professionals can help students in need of mental health support or behavioral counseling access services.

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