SEL in schools across the nation: What's really happening?

Building a landscape of social and emotional learning in public elementary schools across the United States


In districts and schools across the nation, there is a great deal of interest in social and emotional learning (SEL), and in particular, programs and approaches that target this broad body of skills, competencies, attitudes, and beliefs. However, beyond broad surveys, high-level implementation data, and a select number of case examples – there is currently little research that describes with any depth what is actually happening in schools when SEL is being implemented. To deepen our understanding of SEL on the ground and grow our knowledge of the degree to which, and how, SEL is tied to and embedded in the instructional and culture/climate work of schools, we need a closer look at the perceptions and experiences of those engaged in and exposed to it. While some surveys have looked at traditional indicators of quantity (i.e., frequency, dosage, duration) and fidelity (i.e., degree of adherence to a program model), there has not yet been a large-scale survey of schools using a representative sample that explores and describes the landscape of SEL work across the country, nor has there yet been a systematic effort to observe and describe the “look and feel” of SEL as it happens on the ground and is experienced by those exposed to it.

To that end, this project aims to learn more about the landscape of SEL work across elementary schools in the United States. That is, what do principals, teachers, and school staff do to promote this set of skills and what are their perceptions of this work and its impact. We will begin with a national survey of public elementary schools that includes questions about the programs or activities schools are using, how they are being implemented, and the beliefs about the value and approach to this work. Once the survey is complete, we will follow-up with a series of on-site school visits and observations to learn more about what is actually happening in schools and what this work looks like in practice. This project will result in a report of major findings as well as a series of briefs and case studies that contribute to a deeper understanding of how SEL is understood and implemented on the ground, and ultimately add to a movement in the field that seeks to scale and spread SEL in a manner that is meaningful and sustainable.

To learn more about this project, please contact


William and Flora Hewlett Foundation