Social, emotional learning interventions needed in schools

May 31, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Programs in social and emotional learning (SEL), when effectively implemented in schools, can lead to measurable and long-lasting improvements in children’s lives, according to Mark Greenberg, Edna Peterson Bennett Endowed Chair in Prevention Research at Penn State.

In an article written for a special issue of the journal The Future of Children, Greenberg recommends such programs as an ideal foundation for improving public health through education.

The special issue, titled “Social and Emotional Learning,” and published on May 31, examines the state of the science when it comes to SEL intervention and assessment, shedding light on how best to support SEL in schools and how teaching SEL in schools might affect important questions of education policy.

“Social and emotional learning focuses on developing five competencies that support caring and effective relationships. These competencies are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making,” Greenberg said.

“It is important for social and emotional learning programs to be integrated into schools because social and emotional learning can be taught like another content area, such as math or reading. All children should be nurtured to understand themselves and others, be able to resolve conflict effectively, and to focus their attention to have greater engagement in learning," he added.

Greenberg, professor of human development and psychology at Penn State, along with co-authors Celene Domitrovich, director of research and innovation at Georgetown University; Roger Weissberg, distinguished professor of psychology and education at the University of Illinois; and Joseph Durlak, professor of psychology at Loyola University, recommend SEL programs for three reasons.

First, schools are ideal sites for interventions with children. Second, school-based SEL programs can improve students’ competence, enhance their academic achievement, and make them less likely to experience future behavioral and emotional problems. Third, evidence-based SEL interventions in all schools could substantially affect public health, the authors say.

“Such interventions can positively impact public health as careful meta-analyses have shown that when quality SEL programs are implemented with quality, children show improvements in behavior, attitudes and academic success,” Greenberg said.

When implemented effectively, SEL programs can lead to measurable and potentially long-lasting improvements in many areas of children’s lives.

In the short term, the authors state, SEL programs can enhance children’s confidence in themselves; increase their engagement in school, along with their test scores and grades; and reduce conduct problems while promoting desirable behaviors.

In the long term, children with greater social-emotional competence are more likely to be ready for college, succeed in their careers, have positive relationships and better mental health, and become engaged citizens, according to the authors. 

The Future of Children is a collaboration of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and the Brookings Institution. Its mission is to translate the best social science research about children and youth into language accessible to the media, policymakers, advocates, practitioners, grant-makers and the educated public.

For more information on The Future of Children please visit:

  • Mark Greenberg

    Mark Greenberg

    IMAGE: Penn State

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated June 08, 2021