What makes Social and Emotional Learning Programs Work

Resource - Rocky View Schools - This webpage outlines the factors required to implement a successful Social and Emotional Learning Program.

What Works in Social and Emotional Learning Program Implementation

Only programs and interventions characterized as “S.A.F.E.” achieved significant gains. S.A.F.E. programs and interventions:

  • Use a Sequenced set of activities to develop social and emotions skills in a step-by-step fashion;
  • Use Active forms of learning, such as role-plays and behavioral rehearsal that provide students with opportunities to practice social and emotional skills;
  • Focus attention on social and emotional learning, with at least eight sessions devoted to skill development; and
  • Explicitly target particular social and emotional skills for development, with skills identified in lessons’ learning objectives.

Other Success Factors

More intense programs of longer duration (multiyear) have greater effect than shorter, less intense programs. Social and emotional learning should be started in preschool and continued through high school.

Leadership (principal, district-level) support is a critical factor in high-quality implementation. Such support means that schools will likely have the resources and ongoing professional development they need to implement programs and that social emotional learning is an integral part of overall school improvement efforts.

Social and emotional competencies improve more when classroom teachers are the primary implementers (as opposed to outside researchers or community agencies).

Programs that focus on changing behaviors tend to be more effective when addressed in multiple settings, for example, school, home, and community.

Linking school programs to community locations and including parent training/information enhances the success of social and emotional learning programs.

Students achieved significant gains across all of the outcome areas studied only when the social and emotional learning program was well implemented and measured and research-based. Program effectiveness is compromised if staff do not conduct parts of the intervention, or new staff members arrive and are not prepared to deliver the program.


After completing the program, 80 percent of children who had previously showed signs of anxiety disorder no longer did.

For children who are not clinically anxious, social and emotional learning programs significantly increases their level of self-esteem and reduces worry.

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