SEL and School Discipline

What is SEL? According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), SEL stands for social emotional learning and involves a process where both children and adults learn how to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

How can SEL serve as an effective strategy to combat excessive school discipline usage?

The main premise of #SEL approaches involves the idea that fostering students’ social and behavioral competencies will help them learn how to follow school rules (Gregory & Fergus, 2017). By teaching these competencies, students will show an increase in knowledge of SEL skills and a decrease in conduct problems such as bullying, harassment, truancy, and physical aggression. SEL strategies can, therefore, be used both before problem behaviors arise or after a behavioral need has been identified, thus leading to a decrease in the need for school discipline over time.

Does it really work? Research indicates that a number of SEL interventions have the capability to effectively prevent and respond to behavioral concerns that frequently occur in the school setting. Increased positive social behavior, social and emotional knowledge, and school climate, along with reduced aggression, emotional distress, and school and classroom behavior concerns are some of the many outcomes of SEL implementation (Barnett et al., 2008; CASEL, 2016; Hall & Bacon, 2005; Hennessy, 2007; Lynch, Geller, & Schmidt, 2004; Pickens, 2009). SEL also contributes to increased academic achievement, with research indicating that students who participate in evidence-based SEL programs show on average an 11% point gain in academic achievement (CASEL, 2016)!

How can my school get started?

Before adopting SEL strategies in your school or classroom, it is essential to have a universal method of tracking student behavior and discipline data. There are many management systems that can do this such as PBIS Apps, Live School, and *Big Five Tech. It is up to your school to find a system that meets the needs of your school. Such a system will allow staff the capability to identify how often referrals are occurring, what the most prevalent infractions are, where they are occurring, when they are occurring, which students are receiving them, and which teachers are making them.

Frequent analysis of such data is essential because it allows for a structured SEL strategy to be systematically implemented based on the needs of your school. Further, continued analysis of behavior and discipline data allows staff to monitor the impact of SEL on the behavioral needs of your school both short and long term. Upon identifying the behavioral needs of your school, an evidence-based SEL program that targets those unique needs can be implemented.

Visit for more information on various evidence-based SEL programs and check out 6 Minute SEL at for an easy to implement curriculum!

Kelsie Reed, M.Ed., is the Chief of Research and Evaluation for Big Five, LLC. Kelsie is a school psychology doctoral student at Loyola University Chicago.

*Disclaimer - The authors of this article are affiliated with the Big Five Tech app.

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