Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in School Curricula

Library Resources | May 11, 2017

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Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions”.

It’s no secret that today’s schools are dealing with more than just rigor in the curriculum. Students now grapple with a host of social and emotional issues that include bullying, teen dating abuse, racism, gender bias, poverty, transgender issues, food insecurity, undocumented or minority students, student stress and anxiety, trauma and loss, and the opioid epidemic. To tackle these issues, schools are embracing Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) programs in hopes of improving students’ lives, helping them clear the way to accessing the curriculum and improving academic achievement.

Upon announcing a new cabinet-level position (believed to be the first in the nation), called the Assistant Superintendent of Social Emotional Learning and Wellness for the Boston Public Schools, Superintendent Tommy Chang claimed that, “Social emotional learning is key to a student’s academic success, and it needs to be incorporated into a child’s learning at a young age.” There’s little doubt that incorporating social and emotional learning has a positive impact on student learning at all grade levels. In their book, “Belonging and Becoming: The Power of Social and Emotional Learning in High Schools,” authors Barbara Cervone and Kathleen Cushman share the stories of five high schools that gained national reputations for infusing rigorous academics with social and emotional learning and documenting the benefits to students that resulted.

In 2011, Child Development published a scholarly article that analyzed 213 school-based, SEL programs involving 270,034 students in kindergarten through grade 12. Findings revealed that students who participated in SEL programming “demonstrated significantly improved social and emotional skills, attitudes, behavior, and academic performance that reflected an 11-percentile-point gain in achievement” (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor and Schellinger, p. 405).

How can EBSCO support SEL?

EBSCO offers a variety of resources that contain the crucial information educators need to implement successful classroom strategies that address student emotions, behaviors and decision making. Consumer Health Complete™ is a reference database that contains high-quality, evidence-based information written for the teaching professional or layperson, including fact sheets and pamphlets from sources such as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health; health news from more than 565 consumer health-related and alternative health-related periodicals; and a collection of articles that can be shared with parents who want help discussing important health topics with their teens.

Read-aloud books in the primary grades have been found to be effective tools in allowing students to express feelings about emotional situations. EBSCO offers hundreds of e-books that can serve as social and emotional learning resources. Some popular titles used in SEL programs include The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig (kindness); Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Anthony (respect); Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena (diversity); Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley (grief); Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall (self-esteem); The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney (empathy); and Jack’s Worry by Sam Zuppardi (fear and bravery). Our Children’s Core Collection™ database contains more information about these titles and more.

Another effective tool in SEL education involves the arts and humanities. Hundreds of ideas and resources are provided on the Hobbies & Crafts Reference Center™. These resources can support in-school or after-school activities that help students creatively express emotions and feelings through art, such as drawing, coloring as a form of meditation, or painting, sculpting, and scrapbooking to document events in students’ lives.

For secondary schools, Literary Reference Center™ Plus has been effective in incorporating SEL curriculum into classrooms using critical analyses of children’s literature such as The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss (behavior); Wonder by R. J. Palacio (looking different); The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis (racism); When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (social acceptance); The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney (adversity); The Story of Babar by Jean De Brunhoff (grief); Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina (managing frustration); StellaLuna by Janell Cannon (being different); and the Elephant and Piggie series (empathy and friendship) by Mo Willems. Learn more about these titles in EBSCO’s Children’s Core Collection™ database.

Finally, school media specialists or teachers looking to help students find books on SEL topics can consult NoveList® for recommended reading lists, grab-and-go book lists, and readers’ advisory articles. Search by keyword (e.g., bullying) and click on the “Lists & Articles” tab for everything from book lists to display ideas.


Cervone, B. & Cushman, K. (2015). Belonging and becoming: The power of social and emotional learning in high schools. Harvard Education Press.

Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405-432. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01564.x

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