George Lucas Educational Foundation
Subscribe to RSS

Support for Implementing Social, Emotional Learning

Maurice J. Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

Everyone carrying out some kind of social, emotional learning (SEL) or related program encounters a common set of problems while trying to adapt even proven program materials to their unique and often fast-changing reality. And all program developers realize that their ability to support those using their programs is ultimately at least as essential as their actual materials.

When you add in the desire to scale up, particularly nationally or internationally, the challenges of providing support multiply. Many program developers are addressing these concerns and are looking to electronic media as a tool for accomplishing this. Among those who have the widest geographic dispersion of their program and who have committed time, creativity, and resources to addressing the support issue, the Second Step program stands out. The Second Step program is developed by Committee for Children (CfC), located in Seattle, Washington.

I'd like to share a bit of background about CfC and the Second Step program, and in my next post, I will report on some of their web-based efforts to provide implementer support.

How Second Step Works

The Second Step program is an evidence-based, CASEL SELect program for children from preschool through middle school. Each grade level features developmentally appropriate and sequenced ways to teach social, emotional skills such as self-regulation, empathy, emotion management, problem solving, and executive function skills.

Second Step has translations into multiple languages and has used the research on brain-friendly learning to create a powerful pedagogy developed through extensive implementation and feedback. Key elements include:

  1. Embedding varied instructional and management strategies into lessons designed to support student engagement and learning, including calling on students at random, giving students think time, modeling, choral response, physical movement, nonjudgmental responses, role playing, nonverbal responses, attent-o-scope, and similar self-tracking mechanisms, and partnering students
  2. Attending to principles of Universal Design for Learning by presenting content to students in a number of ways: visually (using photographs, videos, and visual aids), orally, in writing, and through songs
  3. Emphasizing opportunities for reinforcement outside of lesson time, including with families at home and integration into academic subjects and the broader school culture and climate

A perusal of social skills shows the array of materials available to assist implementers. These include not only instruction-related supports, but attempts to provide a deeper understanding of the program, theory and research supporting its use, and ways to help integrate the Second Step program into one's local context. The Self-Regulation White Paper is an excellent resource for anyone wishing to implement SEL and related programs into early childhood settings. There is a parallel document for K-5, as well. Anyone struggling with integrating SEL with PBIS or RTI will find this document to be of great value.

Yet beyond these and other written materials is the reality that when situations arise, materials may or may not be adequate to resolve a specific problem, such as when there is unexpected diversity in a classroom with regard to background in a program or level of SEL skills, or changing school mandates, like the Common Core, which may compete with the Second Step program for instructional time.

Within one's school building, colleagues may all be at the same level of implementation knowledge and may struggle to overcome such challenges. Or one might be the only kindergarten or seventh grade teacher implementing at one's school, and so there are limited resources available to help.

The best source of support is not written material but another person, ideally someone who has faced and overcome the same or similar problems. Recognizing this problem, CfC has piloted the creation of communities of learners and problem solvers related to Second Step implementation. In my next blog, I will take a look at the ways in which they do this and provide some examples.

Was this useful?

Maurice J. Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (

Comments (7) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Abby L's picture

I agree that supporting both social and emotional is important to teach to students in order to connect empathy and emotional management in their daily lives. Making connections to life outside of school such as their culture and climate will help students understand what emotions are and how they feel.

Virginia Largent's picture
Virginia Largent
Director of the Virginia Beach School of the Arts

It begins in the brain!
Yes, it's wonderful that there are such great resources for helping students be aware of others. If you would allow me to offer insight into the human brain where empathy, social skills and executive functions lie... Only when there are fully developed connections from the cerebellum to the prefrontal cortex can impulse control, proper judgement, patience and kindness be exhibited in the human. Caring for others is a function of the limbic system in the mid brain. If the mid brain is underdeveloped not only will kindness NOT be the general attitude of dealing with others, but emotional outbursts, extreme selfishness, revenge and meanness will be exhibited frequently. We cannot put the cart before the horse. We cannot expect desired results if the machine we are working with (the brain) is chemically, electrically and biologically INCAPABLE of providing the correct desired response 100% of the time. When the neurological connections between the brain stem, cerebellum, mid brain and pons are fully connected, the desired responses of compassion, thoughtfulness, empathy, good judgement, self control and executive functions will happen naturally for the person's entire life. Expecting a particular output and physical manifestations from an underdeveloped brain is like expecting modern day computer processing speeds from a computer made in 2002. A student who needs to develop these brain connections can receive the finest education from the most wonderful educators in the world, but if the child does not have someone who knows how to get his whole brain connected, the results will ALWAYS be less than desired and the student will live their life not being able to live up to their full potential. If you would like to know how to get their entire brains connected, please message me. I am VERY concerned for the future of our country.

Cristen Minori's picture


What an interesting article! I never heard of this program before. Thank you for sharing this information and resources. I was particularly interested in the use of technology, varied instructional strategies, and the reinforcement with families outside of school. I look forward to reading your next blog. Have you personally had experiences with this program or do you know anyone who has successfully implemented this?

Cristen Minori

Maurice J. Elias's picture
Maurice J. Elias
Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (

Cristen, Second Step is being used by school literally around the world. If you go to their web site, you can see some examples of this, and if you contact them about your particular grade level/population of interest, they will be happy to respond. Reinforcement with families outside of school is all part of the issue of fostering generalization. A number of settings use the book, Emotionally Intelligent Parenting, with parents to support their SEL-related work in the schools, as it tells parents how to bring more emotional intelligence into their households in very practical ways. Regarding technology, if you go to, you will see another example of how to move SEL-related professional development to an on-line format, to foster scaling up and to create networks of implementation support that are virtual but no less responsive (and in some cases a lot more responsive!) than live networks.

Selena Martin's picture

This article was good insight to what it is like to help with teaching for emotional learning. Would someone be able to use this program towards higher grades/adults?

Annmarie's picture

This program is being suggested for our school next year, however, they have suggested that it be taught by P.E. teachers. Do you think this would be an appropriate instructor for this program? I also question how this relates to special education and individual students IEP goals and Behavior Plans. Could you provide your thoughts on this as well please?

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.