Committee for Children Blog

SEL Success Through Effective Implementation

Research has consistently shown that well-designed and well-implemented social-emotional learning (SEL) programs are associated with positive academic, behavioral, and emotional outcomes for youth.  So what does “good implementation” look like?

In a recent issue of Social Policy Report, Stephanie Jones and Suzanne Bouffard offered insight into this question by showing that a good program is only one part of effective implementation if the goal is to have long-term effects. They suggest that schools cannot fully teach and reinforce SEL skills in a short lesson once a week and expect children to apply the newly learned skills in their daily lives across varying social situations. Their report shows the importance of incorporating the teaching and reinforcement of SEL skills beyond the lessons and into daily interactions.

Many people report lack of time as the main reason for low implementation of SEL programs, but teaching SEL as an integrated approach does not need to be time-intensive or costly. There are many ways to integrate SEL meaningfully through daily interactions and school practices; a good SEL curriculum will have ways to support this integration outside of lesson time, including integration into academic subjects:

  • Set aside SEL time in the daily schedule.
  • Make teaching of SEL a core part of your educational mission.
  • Plan how to support SEL beyond the classroom, such as in bathrooms, hallways, during lunch, and on the playground.
  • Give regular reminders and tips for using the skills.
  • Build skill use into daily routines and use them consistently throughout the building and across the school day.
  • Capitalize on opportunities for teachable moments/apply and extend lessons to other contexts.
  • Academic and SEL skills develop and work together, so promote them at the same time.

Jones and Bouffard also reveal the powerful role administrators have in taking a systems-approach rather than a classroom-only approach to promoting SEL. Administrators can:

  • Learn to infuse attention to SEL skills into the daily work of schools—for example, show how to connect the teaching of SEL with academics and give examples of how to incorporate SEL into different aspects of the school day
  • Set up conditions for supportive school cultures and climate
  • Provide opportunities for teachers to collaborate in using and reinforcing SEL skills
  • Continue the program from one year to the next. Skills develop sequentially and build upon one another, so support should span all age ranges
  • Provide ongoing training and support for staff

Good implementation considers the fact that SEL skills develop across contexts, and it involves incorporating SEL into daily educational practices. It involves using an effective, evidence-based SEL program and then complementing it with an array of supports and daily routines and structures. Jones and Bouffard’s report encourages us to consider that SEL does not develop in isolation. It grows across contexts when connected with ongoing, consistent, and predictable experiences over time.


Jones, S. M., & Bouffard, S. M. (2012). Social and emotional learning in schools: From programs to strategies. Social Policy Report, 26(4), 1–22. Retrieved from