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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Study: Promoting Students' Personal and Social Development Boosts Academic Outcomes, a Guest Blog by Joseph Durlak

Betty Ray

Director of Programming and Innovation

Editor's Note: Today's blogger is Dr Joseph Durlak, lead author of a recent study, "The Impact of Enhancing Students" Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions," published in the January-February 2011 issue of Child Development.

Joe Durlak

At a time when pressures on educators to improve students' academic achievement seem to have reached a boiling point, one program category, social and emotional learning, has produced academic gains that equal the results of many programs focused exclusively on academics.

Important Findings

This is one of the most important findings from a far-reaching review of social and emotional learning programs for which I was the principal investigator. I led the multi-year study, funded primarily by the W.T. Grant Foundation, as a professor of psychology at Loyola University Chicago. Working closely with me were Roger P. Weissberg, professor of education and psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), and graduate students at both Loyola and UIC. Dr. Weissberg is also president and CEO of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), a Chicago-based nonprofit focused on advancing research, practice, and policy in social and emotional learning. The study was published in the January-February 2011 issue of Child Development.1

Broad and Diverse Group

Our work consisted of a detailed review of the outcomes of 213 social and emotional learning programs involving a broadly representative group of 270,034 students from urban, suburban, and rural elementary and secondary schools. The common thread in all of them was a focus on developing young people's skills that promote social and emotional learning. Social and emotional learning refers to the process students go through in acquiring skills to recognize and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, appreciate the perspectives of others, establish and maintain positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle interpersonal situations effectively.

Multiple Benefits of Social and Emotional Learning

Our review found that students who participate in school-based social and emotional learning programs benefit in multiple ways. Compared to students who do not experience social and emotional learning programming, they improve significantly with respect to:

1. Achievement test scores and school grades, including an 11-percentile-point gain in academic achievement

2. Social and emotional skills

3. Positive social and classroom behavior

4. Conduct problems such as classroom misbehavior and aggression

5. Attitudes about themselves, others, and school

6. Emotional distress such as stress and depression

Academic Results

Many other highly touted and scientifically evaluated programs are designed to improve students' academic achievement. One of the most positive findings in our review was that the academic results of social and emotional learning programs were comparable to those of many well-known and carefully evaluated educational programs that focus exclusively on academic achievement.


An important caveat is that only 37 of the 213 studies (17%) we analyzed included academic outcomes. Nevertheless, the findings from these studies are consistent with what experienced educators already know: Positive social and emotional outcomes such as improved self-control, respect for others, and increased engagement in the learning process are related to improved academic achievement. Programming in social and emotional learning promotes these aspects of children's personal and social development, and they are worthwhile educational goals. All aspects of children's development are interrelated. Most educators know that and our work presents clear empirical evidence for it.

1Durlak, 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, 2011; 82 (1): 405-432.

Joseph A. Durlak, a retired professor of clinical psychology at Loyola University Chicago and the author of numerous books and articles on positive youth development research and programming.

Betty Ray

Director of Programming and Innovation

Comments (17)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Paul Bogdan's picture
Paul Bogdan
Student-Centered Secondary Math Teacher

Teachers complain (me included) about the crappy attitude that many of our students have. You say in the post that:

'Social and emotional learning refers to the process students go through in acquiring skills to recognize and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, appreciate the perspectives of others, establish and maintain positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle interpersonal situations effectively.'

This sounds like attitude adjustment to me and your study emphasizes how important it is. I don't do as much as I should, but on day one the students write half a page about what they want to do with their life. I record this info on the seating chart and I accidentally (on purpose) let them see that I do it. I have plans to do more at the beginning of the course, like show some short videos. This video about the YES academy in Texas shows the commitment, hard work, and positive attitude that it takes for a school and students to be incredibly successful.

I'm asking all readers to help me by commenting with the things that they do to fight the crappy attitude that hinders so many of our high school students. Thank you.

Dave's picture

As opposed to the 270,034 students that participated in 213 studies, how many students participated in the 37 studies that included academic outcomes, and how diverse was this subset?

Dr. Howie Knoff's picture
Dr. Howie Knoff
Director, Arkansas State Improvement Grant

We believe that social skills should be taught within the context of school-wide Positive Behavioral Support Systems. The ultimate goal of a Positive Behavioral Support System (PBSS) is to facilitate all students' social, emotional, and behavioral competency and self-management. In order to accomplish these goals, our Department of Education's State Improvement Grant uses Project ACHIEVE's evidence-based PBSS blueprint. This blueprint includes these six components: (a) Social Skills Instruction for all students; (b) building-wide Accountability processes; (c) staff and administrative Consistency; (d) a "Special Situations" process focusing on student behavior in the common areas of a school and as related to student teasing, taunting, bullying, harassment, and physical aggression; (e) school-based Crisis Intervention and Response Strategies; and (f) Community and Parent Outreach activities.

On our website (paste in: www.arstudentsuccess.org/intervention-tools-and-resources/positive-behav...), we have a number of resources. One resource is a Technical Assistance paper that discusses the evidence-based components of Positive Behavioral Support Systems, including the characteristics of effective social skills programs. It then describes how to teach social skills in the classroom, and reviews eight notable research-based social skills programs. The TA paper concludes with recommendations on ways for districts to select a social skills program for use across all of its schools.

The website also has a number of related PBSS implementation documents and tools, and links to four PBSS webinars that I presented this year (if you have problems, go to the webinar archive on the www.spectrumk12.com website).

We hope that these resources are helpful to you.

Amy Valens's picture
Amy Valens
retired teacher, Lagunitas School District Open Classroom

A major focus of our film "AUGUST TO JUNE Bringing Life To School" is the importance of social emotional learning. This feature length documentary follows one full year in an unconventional public school classroom where a variety of social emotional tools are used. There is no doubt in my mind after close to 40 years in the classroom that when children have these sorts of tools, and feel heard by their teacher and their peers, they are more engaged in all aspects of school. You can see the trailer for the film and learn more about it at http://www.augusttojune.com

Paul Bogdan's picture
Paul Bogdan
Student-Centered Secondary Math Teacher

School-wide is good. But, students deal with teachers most of the time. I am always looking for ways I can improve myself, and my techniques in ways that will improve the learning in my classroom. Student-Centered is by far the best improvement I made (see my post). The students that I am least successful with I describe as unmotivated. They are in dire need of social and emotional learning. Being student-centered frees me from fighting with them and confronting them. But, now I look for ways to improve their attitude, awaken their motivation, and get them to try (do, there is no try).

Arkansas seems to be into the behaviorist approach, which has limited effect in the high school and has negative side effects. This evaluation document is scary.

I can't wait to see August To June. This is exactly the place to find examples of what a teacher has to be in order to have an exemplary effect on a student's social and emotional learning. The clip was such a tease. The site says that the DVD is coming soon. Thanks Amy. Please make sure Netflix gets a few thousand.

Amy Valens's picture
Amy Valens
retired teacher, Lagunitas School District Open Classroom

August to June is out and available for community and institutional screenings, as well as individual purchases through our website!

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Hi Paul,
This is an interesting discussion. On the face of it, the study presented by Dr Durlak suggests that social and emotional learning has huge importance in schools - and that's certainly something that I'd agree with. However, I think that there has to be more to this kind of learning than attitude adjustment or positive behaviour management. Surely, this kind of study might be the first step in recognizing that learning is necessarily social - learning in complete isolation is rarely effective.

In order to answer you question regarding crappy attitudes, I find that often the key is meeting students halfway. By this, I mean it's important to recognize their starting points, and allow them some ownership over learning. In my experience, a lack of motivation is often symptomatic of students feeling powerless to have any agency over their own learning.

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