When Districts Support and Integrate Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)

Nick Yoder

Students need more than just academic knowledge to succeed in college, careers, and personal and public life. They need to understand their own skills and abilities, manage their emotions and behavior, communicate effectively, negotiate conflict, care about others, and make responsible decisions. Social and emotional skills undergird student success—and build better citizens. When such skills are intentionally taught, practiced, and reinforced in schools, students have better behavioral, social, and academic outcomes.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is increasingly accepted by educators and researchers as a process to cultivate life skills that foster personal development, academic achievement, and a more empathic school climate. SEL has been integrated into classes and taught in many schools, but the challenge for educators and policymakers is to better understand the most effective strategies for districtwide implementation.

This policy brief outlines the lessons learned from a multi-year evaluation of the Collaborating Districts Initiative in Austin, TX. 


Although many preschool through high school teachers—as well as college faculty and administrators, employers, parents, and students themselves—understand the potential benefits of cultivating social and emotional development, few have the time or support to enable students to build social and emotional competencies.

State, district, and school leaders should consider making SEL a priority. Doing so would entail implementing policies, standards, and guidance that support teachers and administrators to integrate SEL with academic instruction. Support is also extended to fostering best practices in behavior management, discipline, and school climate that promote healthy, safe, and nurturing environments for all students. Based on findings from this study and others, even modest investments in SEL can pay off for individuals, schools, and society.