The Core Components of Evidence-Based Social Emotional Learning Programs


Implementing social emotional learning (SEL) programs in school settings is a promising approach to promote critical social and emotional competencies for all students. However, there are several challenges to implementing manualized SEL programs in schools, including program cost, competing demands, and content that is predetermined and cannot be tailored to individual classroom needs. Identifying core components of evidence-based SEL programs may make it possible to develop more feasible approaches to implementing SEL in schools. The purpose of this study was to systematically identify the core components in evidence-based elementary school SEL programs, using the five interrelated sets of competencies identified by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) as an organizing framework. We present the components that were identified, and the rates at which each component was included in the sample of evidence-based SEL programs. The core components that occurred most frequently across programs were Social Skills (100% of programs), Identifying Others’ Feelings (100% of programs), Identifying One’s Own Feelings (92.3% of programs), and Behavioral Coping Skills/Relaxation (91.7% of programs). These findings illustrate the feasibility of systematically identifying core components from evidence-based SEL programs and suggest potential utility of developing and evaluating modularized SEL programs.

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*Reference used to code SEL program

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This project was completed with funding from Baltimore County Public Schools, Consultant Contract Agreement No. JNI-748-16-02 with the University of Maryland Baltimore, as part of their Project AWARE efforts funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The work was partially supported by T32MH109433. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors.

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Correspondence to Gwendolyn M. Lawson.

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Lawson, G.M., McKenzie, M.E., Becker, K.D. et al. The Core Components of Evidence-Based Social Emotional Learning Programs. Prev Sci 20, 457–467 (2019).

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  • Core components
  • SEL
  • Social emotional learning
  • Universal interventions
  • Schools