Social Emotional Learning Requires Choosing “Best Practices”

February 20, 2016

We know how important it is to have highly proficient teachers and principals in our schools. We know that when those teachers and principals are supported by school system leadership with the necessary resources to do a fantastic job, our children succeed academically and socially.  

Research has told us that highly proficient, caring teachers enable maximal academic achievement and social adjustment. Many school systems are now taking steps in preparing teachers to provide social skills instruction throughout the k-12 years. Like good reading, math and science instruction, this “social-emotional learning” (SEL) requires choosing the best programs and implementing them with fidelity. I have written about this in previous Zen postings.  Feedback from schools say that to achieve Grade A implementation requires both dedication and sustainable management.   

Teachers and school leadership remind us that sustaining quality SEL instruction through high school is not an easy task and like any instruction requires coaching, monitoring, and cooperation, buy-in from teachers. One discovery about implementation is that instructional best practice programs rarely are grounded in research across all grade levels. Some are geared to early childhood, and others are designed for secondary school grades. SEL best practices are generally not aligned across all age groups. Although conceptually compatible; the “language” of the instructional programs can vary. A good program for the primary grades may not “fit” a middle school or even an intermediate age group. Systems may need to weave their programs together so that they are aligned. Teachers and students need to know the fundamental of the language of SEL. One creative way of accomplishing this is to integrate SEL into the academic curriculums. Teachers and curriculum development specialists can help make this happen when school system leadership supports them. 



Kevin P. Dwyer, M.A., a Nationally Certified School Psychologist, is an education and child mental health consultant.  He recently served as a principal research associate for the American Institutes for Research. For over 30 years he practiced school psychology in public schools and held several local, state and national leadership positions in the fields of mental health and education, being responsible for the design, development, implementation and evaluation of programs and practices, for improving school climate, safety, and wellbeing for the education, and mental health of children.  He has helped school staff in many districts use data to inform decisions on improving caring and connectedness with students and professional peers.  His work, publications, presentations, and practices have influenced public policy and the development of efficient, family focused collaborative child service systems.  During his 30 years as a public school psychologist he worked directly with over 10,000 children and their families as well as trained over 6000 educators. He provided psychological services to children, including those with disabilities and those whose anxiety and mental health problems blocked learning and adjustment.  He assisted teachers and staff in supporting a caring, inclusive school climate for all children.  In 2007 the Maryland Coalition of Families awarded Mr. Dwyer and his wife for their work in making schools more family friendly.  He served as president of the National Association of School Psychologist and was given its highest honor, the Life-time Achievement Award.  In 2000 he received the Tipper Gore “Advocacy award for improving the lives and mental health of America’s children” from the National Mental Health Association.

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