Social and emotional learning (SEL)—the process through which individuals understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions (Collaborative on Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, 2020)—can help students do better in the classroom and in life. K-12 education leaders are increasingly attuned to the role that SEL can play in supporting positive school climates and conditions for learning, improving student outcomes, and advancing equity.

Efforts to support SEL work best when they are coordinated and aligned with other programs and initiatives. Increasingly, states, districts, and schools are working to integrate SEL into multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS). Embedding SEL as a universal (i.e., Tier 1) approach to supporting student well-being within MTSS encourages ongoing attention to all students’ social and emotional development and creates a framework of support that considers the whole child.

In addition, there are targeted and intensive supports (Tiers 2 and 3) that are designed to focus on specific areas of need related to social and emotional development. Another approach to SEL involves integrating practices into the delivery of targeted and intensive academic or behavioral interventions. For example, students receiving more intensive academic interventions often have more complex feelings because of repeated failures. SEL provides language, tools, and skills students can use to navigate their feelings, increase confidence, and persist in their academic goals.

Educators can support their SEL efforts by engaging in ongoing data collection and use to inform decision-making and continuous improvement. SEL-focused assessments can enable educators to understand (1) educator readiness to implement SEL practices; (2) the climate, conditions for learning, and quality of implementation that supports social and emotional development; and (3) whether and how young people are developing key social and emotional competencies.

AIR experts support state and local systems in integrating SEL and other whole child approaches into tiered systems of support. AIR conducts research and evaluation activities and provides technical assistance, consultation, and communication activities regarding whole child approaches—including SEL, school climate, and conditions for learning—in K-12 education and other youth-serving settings. AIR’s SEL Solutions team works closely with state, district, and school staff to create the conditions—vision, leadership, engagement, skills, measurement, and coaching and support—required to promote the skills students need to master academic content and enhance their well-being. In states, AIR builds the capacity of leaders to implement an MTSS framework that integrates SEL. Our work with districts includes the integration of SEL and culturally sustaining practices to achieve more equitable outcomes for all students.