Making a Case for Core Components: New Frontiers in SEL Theory, Research, and Practice

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Although Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is seen to benefit children and youth, evidence is largely built on summative trials of programmes, with little comparative insight into the specific approaches that underpin SEL. The current study sought to highlight a hitherto underutilized approach in identifying common SEL practices through the identification of “core components”. Both instructional (“how” SEL is taught) and practice-based (“what” SEL is taught) elements were examined across 13 elementary level evidence-based programmes through a method of distillation of skills and practices. Findings showed a discrepancy between theorized SEL and identified components, consistent with emergent literature. Further, the study is the first to cross-examine practice and instruction elements, linking prevalent pedagogical approaches to specific SEL skills. The implications for core components as an approach are discussed in respect to a refinement of theory, considerations for teaching practices, and recommendations for the design of future research in SEL evaluation. Impact Statement This paper is an early step in addressing what “key ingredients” may underpin effective SEL provision in respect to the “what” and “how” of content and its associated pedagogy. In doing so, the paper highlights some novel findings, including the extent to which specific competencies are typically presented in SEL programming in comparison to theory, and what instructional practices are related to specific competencies in practice. This has implications for the specificity of programme design and flexibility in delivery, alongside important enhancements to SEL theory and research, maximising the benefit of SEL.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSchool Psychology Review
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jan 2022


  • SEL
  • Tyler Renshaw
  • core components
  • social and emotional learning
  • universal intervention


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