George Lucas Educational Foundation

Selling SEL: An Interview with Daniel Goleman

The author of Emotional Intelligence speaks on the value of social and emotional learning.
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Daniel Goleman: What we’re calling today social and emotional learning actually has many of its roots back in the ‘80s when kids were having lots of problems with things like drugs, unwanted teen pregnancies, drop outs, violence in schools and the federal government mandated programs to prevent these things. There was a war on bullying, there was a war on drugs, there was a war on violence in schools and about the time I as a science journalist at the New York Times was looking around at what I ended up calling emotional intelligence.

About that time a foundation, the WT Grant Foundation funded study of all of these programs because people realized some of these programs work and a lot of them don’t and they want to know what’s working and so they did an analysis of the different components and so on and they realized that the programs that worked all shared a common set of ingredients and what were they? They’re helping kids become more self aware, they’re helping them manage their distressing feelings, they’re helping them be more empathic, control impulse, make sound social decisions like how can I say no to drugs and keep my friends and that essences has been extracted from those programs and brought to the classroom as social emotional learning.

Today they’ve completed a mega study of more than 200 independent analyses that look at kids who have these programs and kids who don’t, comparable kids and they find that if kid’s get the training in social emotional learning that all pro social behaviors, things like attendance, behaving well in class, liking school. They all go up about nine or ten percentile points and the things that they’re trying to prevent, the drug use, the violence in schools, the bullying, all of that goes down by the same margin and the real kicker I think is that academic achievement goes up, it’s eleven percentile points and if you look at the difference between groups of kids who don’t do well and groups who do, the difference in their achievement is about the same range. I mean this pretty much closes the achievement gap and it works best for the kids who need it the most.

So today I think that the social emotional learning movement has the ammunition to go to the next level, really to take it scale, to make it available to every kid, everywhere in the country. I think to get this kind of education for every kid we have to first get over our fixation on academic achievement tests as the end all and be all of education. We have to remember we’re educating the whole child and if you talk to people in companies as I often do, you find that they don’t just want bright kids with technical skills, they want bright skills with technical skills who know how to get along, who can cooperate, who can be good team mate members, who could relate well to customers, who manage their emotions well, who stay motivated, who take initiative. Those are social emotional skills. So what makes kids prepared for the work place is yes it’s the academics but it’s this too and I think that we need get over the mindset that sees this as something extra or something unnecessary.

Neuroscience is now telling us that children’s brains are plastic that is they’re shaped by repeated experience and if you’re going to help a child be prepared for life you want to give that child the repeated experiences that are going to help his brain or her brain be able to manage their anger, to calm down when they’re upset, to tune into other people, to get along and the best way to shape the brain we’re finding is through social emotional learning because it targets the very circuitry that’s taking shape through childhood that’s going to be your foundation for life, for better or worse on how well you can do those things. So this is not touchy-feely, this is very hard science now.

I think everyone should care about this, not just people who are parents, it’s not just I want this for my kid, I want this for my community because I want to be safe walking down the streets. I want my friends and neighbors to be safe and one of the strongest affects of this is it heads off criminal careers, it helps kids who otherwise might go down the wrong alley be able to manage their impulse, manage their anger, tune in to other people and get along better and I think it just makes the world a better place for all of us.

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Video Credits

Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Associate Producer:

  • Amy Erin Borovoy


  • Karen Sutherland

Camera Crew:

  • Orlando Video Productions

Daniel Goleman's interview was recorded on December 10, 2007, at the CASEL Forum, an event in New York City that brought together seventy-five global leaders in education and related fields to raise awareness about social and emotional learning (SEL) and introduce important scientific findings related to SEL.

Comments (12) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Wayne Leaver's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am responding to Cecile Wren. I too wonder when peopel will "get it" and realize that social skills drive nearly all non-voluntary movements and reactions made by humans. I think we need to down-play competition and create dialogue instead. I further agree with the idea of changing (NCLB)assessments and using some better barometers or indicators for this purpose.

I am a resource teacher in a low-income school in Southern California. The kids are just beautiful and I enjoy my job and the day to day growth I see the kids making. So many people comment on how kind the kids are in the RSP room. It makes me and the para-eduactor int he room proud to know we are teching kids to be decen tpeople and kind souls.

I think change occurs on two levels, local and global or national. We need to make every day in the classroom a POSITIVE experience as often as possible. We also need to change peoples perspective of kids with disabilities. My eye is on the next "Whitehouse" to make this happen. Local communities can do a lot to affect change. The big money comes from Washington.

Marilee's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


Your passion really comes through in your post, and it's contagious! You are right, we can make a change. Perhaps revamping the whole educational system starts with teachers like you!

In all that I do as a teacher, I find ways to incorporate my knowledge of social and emotional intelligences. Whether it's learning to share during a fractions lesson; understanding respect when we walk down the hallway quietly; or learning how to work together on the playground during a game of kickball, teachers need to recognize the importance of a child's social and emotional well-being.

As Goleman had said, it's not all about the academics. When it's time to go out into the world and be successful, many more qualities are needed than just knowing the academic side of a profession. Working with colleagues, being an effective communicator, understanding appropriate behavior -- it's all important and needed in order to be successful.

Very often we forget to look at the "whole child." With NCLB, we are driven to focus on test scores. In my district, we are under incredible pressure for high test scores (who isn't?!?). Months before the tests, I can see the anxiety and stress building in the students. As much as I try to limit the level of anxiety of my students, truth be told - I'm anxious too, so inevitably my feelings seem to "rub-off" on my students. The difference is, as a successful adult, I am old enough to understand these feelings; 8 and 9 year olds are not.

When thinking of the "whole child" during these few months before testing, what are we really teaching them? I understand that it's important for them to have proper test-taking skills, understand the importance of tests, etc. However, with the amount of pressure that is put upon them, I'm not sure that the positive effects of these tests out weigh the negative.

It's time for a change. Though there are millions of teachers and students around the world, we can start this change within our own classroom tomorrow. Each year I have 25 students, in four years from now I would have taught 100 students how to be successful citizens in society. Someday, they'll teach their children as I'm continuing to teach my students. The positive impact we have can, and will, spread faster than we know!

idsawindell, chas. s.c.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

In all my years of teaching high school, Middle school, and elementary school, and Technical College students in Early Childhood Education I have emphasized that emotional health is the area most neglected in our nation's children. My favorite thing to say is our children are fast becoming "an endangered species".
Children need to be loved and valued as human beings more than any thing else. All other learning follows is my stand. Ida Swindell

Dr. Kathryn  E. Patten's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a strong proponent of social and emotional literacy. I recently defended my Ph.D. thesis (Toward a neuropedagogy of emotion),that argues for the primacy of emotion in brain and body function, and advocates teaching meta-emotion in schools. If, as Dr. Antonio Damasio states in his book, Looking for Spinoza (2003), understanding human emotion is the key to improving human functioning, why is it such a struggle to get the AO's of education to examine programs on SEL and see their value?
For too long the focus has been on cognition, and Damasio and others present strong evidence that emotion can and does override cognition, that emotion influences attention, retention and recall; and others (i.e. Lyubomirsky) tell us that emotion greatly influences health and general well-being.
The ENGRAMMETRON, located at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, is the first educational neuroscience lab in Canada. See our website ( for more information about emotion and its influence, as well as the work we are doing there to provoke educators to re-think the curriculum.

Mn. Listew's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think that Daniel Goleman's "Primal Leadership" hits the nail on the head when it talks about Emotional Intelligence and making those you are leading feel good.

alexandr's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Daniel Goulman made the real furor, saying that more important role than IQ, plays a factor EQ - emotional intelligence measure, because control over your own emotions and the ability to perceive other people's feelings more accurately characterize the intelligence than the ability to think logically.

jake's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

goleman stole a lot of the concepts in his book

Michael's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I don't think he ever claimed to create anything really new, or do any original research - He is a psychologist and (was) a reporter. He pulled together research, made concepts come alive for the average reader (layperson) and became the voice or representation of a ton of info that needed to be made more popular and relevant to the public at large.

He is a very smart, articulate, "synthesizer."

Janet Fortune's picture

Using the term "Selling SEL" is especially appropriate in that we are being sold that which we already own.
We don't need programs or experts or even permission to teach children and adolescents empathy, self-control, reflection, cooperation etc.
Just do it.
We don't need an expert to tell us that these qualities are components of success in life - read a biography of a successful, contributing adult.

Mayus Chávez's picture
Mayus Chávez
Private School Owner and Principal

I am following the SEL program since last year, I started working with teachers and children this school year in my school with SEL, in order to change the way my societey thinks children must be educated based mostly in punishment, SEL helped transforming the way we understanding others. It has been successful among my whole community, changes in behavior not only in children but also in us as teachers and adults has been changing!!! We need to work for a better Mexico and a better world!!!

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