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Strategies for Building Adult SEL
April 2019


What does the research say about effective strategies for building teachers' and other adults' social and emotional learning (SEL) to best support students?

Ask A REL Response

Thank you for your request to our Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Reference Desk. Ask A REL is a collaborative reference desk service provided by the 10 RELs that, by design, functions much in the same way as a technical reference library. Ask A REL provides references, referrals, and brief responses in the form of citations in response to questions about available education research.

Following an established REL Northwest research protocol, we conducted a search for evidence- based research. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, Google Scholar, and general Internet search engines. For more details, please see the methods section at the end of this document.

The research team has not evaluated the quality of the references and resources provided in this response; we offer them only for your reference. The search included the most commonly used research databases and search engines to produce the references presented here. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The research references are not necessarily comprehensive and other relevant research references may exist. In addition to evidence-based, peer-reviewed research references, we have also included other resources that you may find useful. We provide only publicly available resources, unless there is a lack of such resources or an article is considered seminal in the topic area.


Albrecht, N. J. (2018). Teachers teaching mindfulness with children: Being a mindful role model. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 43(10), 1–23.

From the Abstract:
"Mindfulness is taking a preeminent role in today's education system. In the current study the author explored how experienced MindBody Wellness instructors make sense of teaching children mindfulness. The methodology of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis combined with autoethnography was used to interview eight teachers from the United States and Australia teaching children mindfulness. In this article, the author discusses findings related to the theme of Being a Mindful Role Model. Participants, on the whole, felt that someone looking to teach children mindfulness needs first to connect deeply with the practices. They felt this connection was an elemental foundation in becoming a mindful role model and teaching children mindfulness. The experienced mindfulness instructors also found that cultivating mindfulness with children is enhanced by the creation of a mindful school culture. A number of recommendations are suggested, including the establishment of MindBody Wellness and mindfulness teacher training courses at the university level."

Benn, R., Akiva, T., Arel, S., & Roeser, R. W. (2012). Mindfulness training effects for parents and educators of children with special needs. Developmental Psychology, 48(5), 1476. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Parents and teachers of children with special needs face unique social–emotional challenges in carrying out their caregiving roles. Stress associated with these roles impacts parents' and special educators' health and well-being, as well as the quality of their parenting and teaching. No rigorous studies have assessed whether mindfulness training (MT) might be an effective strategy to reduce stress and cultivate well-being and positive caregiving in these adults. This randomized controlled study assessed the efficacy of a 5-week MT program for parents and educators of children with special needs. Participants receiving MT showed significant reductions in stress and anxiety and increased mindfulness, self-compassion, and personal growth at program completion and at 2 months follow-up in contrast to waiting-list controls. Relational competence also showed significant positive changes, with medium-to-large effect sizes noted on measures of empathic concern and forgiveness. MT significantly influenced caregiving competence specific to teaching. Mindfulness changes at program completion mediated outcomes at follow-up, suggesting its importance in maintaining emotional balance and facilitating well-being in parents and teachers of children with developmental challenges."

Boulware, J. N., Huskey, B., Mangelsdorf, H. H., & Nusbaum, H. C. (2019). The effects of mindfulness training on wisdom in elementary school teachers. Journal of Education, Society and Behavioural Science, 30(3), 1–10. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Aims: School teachers have hundreds of spontaneous interactions with students each hour, requiring frequent decision-making. Often these interactions require social understanding and emotional self-regulation, two constructs often identified with wisdom and mindfulness. Increasing mindfulness could aid wiser management of classroom demands. The present study evaluated effects of an online mindfulness course on measured wisdom in a sample of public elementary school teachers.

Study Design: This study used a pretest posttest design using data collected immediately before taking the online mindfulness course and after completion of the course. End of the school year follow-up data was analyzed for all teachers.Place and Duration of Study: Participants were enrolled from multiple cities across the United States including Boston, Columbus, Chicago, Milwaukee, Seattle, and San Diego between June 2014 and June 2015. Data were collected online and analyzed at the University of Chicago.

Methodology: Public elementary school teachers (n = 12) were assigned to a mindfulness training or a matched wait-list condition (11 female, 1 male; age range 26 – 57 years). Teachers had a range of teaching experiences from 1 to 36 years (median =18 years) and taught grades K-4 at schools with 30%–50% Caucasian students with 40%–60% students receiving free and reduced-price lunches. We used standardized measures for mindfulness, wisdom, emotion regulation, compassion, theory of mind, state/trait anxiety, stress, burnout, and efficacy.

Results: Online mindfulness training produced a significant increase in mindful awareness and changes in cognitive wisdom implying increased understanding of inter/intrapersonal concerns. There was a significant increase in mindful attention in those who completed both pre- and post-class online evaluations (n = 10) solicited by Mindful Schools (t (9) = 2.738, p = .02) from 54.3 to 59.9 following training (ΔM= 5.6, SD = 6.5). Wisdom, measured with Ardelt's Three-Dimensional Wisdom Scale (n =12), demonstrated a significant change increase in the cognitive dimension of wisdom (t(11) = 2.39, p =.03) with a non-significant increase in the affective dimension (t(11) =1.38, p =.19) and a non-significant reduction in the reflective dimension of wisdom (t(11) =.96, p = .35) following mindfulness training.

Conclusion: Online mindfulness training may help develop wise decision making as a skill for teachers to aid classroom management and social problem solving."

Brackett, M. A., Reyes, M. R., Rivers, S. E., Elbertson, N. A., & Salovey, P. (2012). Assessing teachers' beliefs about social and emotional learning. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 30(3), 219–236. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Teachers are the primary implementers of social and emotional learning (SEL) programs. Their beliefs about SEL likely influence program delivery, evaluation, and outcomes. A simple tool for measuring these beliefs could be used by school administrators to determine school readiness for SEL programming and by researchers to better understand teacher variables that impact implementation fidelity and program outcomes. In a two-phase study, we developed and then validated a parsimonious measure of teachers' beliefs about SEL. In Phase 1, survey items were administered to 935 teachers and subjected to both exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis, resulting in three reliable scales pertaining to teachers' comfort with teaching SEL, commitment to learning about SEL, and perceptions about whether their school culture supports SEL. Phase 2 provided evidence for the concurrent and predictive validity of the scales with a subsample of teachers implementing an SEL program as part of a randomized controlled trial. The discussion focuses on the value of measuring teachers' beliefs about SEL from both researcher and practitioner perspectives."

Conroy, M. A., Sutherland, K. S., Algina, J., Ladwig, C., Werch, B., Martinez, J., et al. (2019). Outcomes of the BEST in CLASS intervention on teachers' use of effective practices, self-efficacy, and classroom quality. School Psychology Review, 48(1), 31–45.

From the Abstract:
"A growing body of research exists on the effectiveness of classroom-based intervention programs to prevent and ameliorate social, emotional, and learning difficulties demonstrated by young children at risk for emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD). Yet, little research has examined the influence of these targeted intervention programs on the teachers who are trained to deliver them. Impacts of the professional development associated with the intervention on teachers who implement the intervention are important to examine. Data from a 4-year study examining the efficacy of BEST in CLASS were used to examine the effect of BEST in CLASS on teachers' implementation of effective instructional practices, their sense of self-efficacy, and classroom quality. Using a multisite cluster randomized trial, a total of 186 early childhood teachers were included (92 assigned to BEST in CLASS and 94 assigned to a comparison group). Findings indicate BEST in CLASS positively impacted teachers' use of effective instructional practices, their sense of self-efficacy, and their overall classroom quality compared to teachers in the control condition. Future research and implications for professional development are discussed."

Dolev, N., & Leshem, S. (2017). What makes up an effective emotional intelligence training design for teachers? International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research, 16(10), 72–89. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Recently there has been a growing interest in ways in which Emotional Intelligence (EI) can be enhanced among teachers. However, although it has been noted that effective teaching requires high levels of EI, little is known about effective methods to develop teachers' EI. The current qualitative study followed a two year EI development training for 21 teachers in one school in Israel. Main emerging themes related to the training design included the focus on teachers' own development, the combination of personal and group processes, flexibility and self direction, long-term in-school training, and leadership support. Implications for future teachers' EI training design are discussed. The findings advance our understanding of possible mechanisms for promoting high-quality EI professional development for teachers."

Emerson, L. M., Leyland, A., Hudson, K., Rowse, G., Hanley, P., & Hugh-Jones, S. (2017). Teaching mindfulness to teachers: A systematic review and narrative synthesis. Mindfulness, 8(5), 1136–1149. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"As school-based mindfulness and yoga programs gain popularity, the systematic study of fidelity of program implementation (FOI) is critical to provide a more robust understanding of the core components of mindfulness and yoga interventions, their potential to improve specified teacher and student outcomes, and our ability to implement these programs consistently and effectively. This paper reviews the current state of the science with respect to inclusion and reporting of FOI in peer-reviewed studies examining the effects of school-based mindfulness and/or yoga programs targeting students and/or teachers implemented in grades kindergarten through twelve (K-12) in North America. Electronic searches in PsychInfo and Web of Science from their inception through May 2014, in addition to hand searches of relevant review articles, identified 312 publications, 48 of which met inclusion criteria. Findings indicated a relative paucity of rigorous FOI. Fewer than 10% of studies outlined potential core program components or referenced a formal theory of action, and fewer than 20% assessed any aspect of FOI beyond participant dosage. The emerging nature of the evidence base provides a critical window of opportunity to grapple with key issues relevant to FOI of mindfulness-based and yoga programs, including identifying essential elements of these programs that should be faithfully implemented and how we might develop rigorous measures to accurately capture them. Consideration of these questions and suggested next steps are intended to help advance the emerging field of school-based mindfulness and yoga interventions."

Hoare, E., Bott, D., & Robinson, J. (2017). Learn it, live it, teach it, embed it: Implementing a whole school approach to foster positive mental health and wellbeing through Positive Education. International Journal of Wellbeing, 7(3), 56–71. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Schools provide unique environments for the implementation of interventions to support the mental health and wellbeing of young people. While promising as an intervention setting, the school system is inherently complex, and any successful intervention or program must account for, and adapt to, such complexity. Whole-school approaches that comprise multi-components and promote collaborative and collective action across the school system appear promising for accounting for these complexities. This paper reports the updated implementation processes of one whole-school approach, the Geelong Grammar School Applied Model for Positive Education, for fostering positive mental health and wellbeing among the school community. Drawing upon existing frameworks and from successes observed in the fields of Social and Emotional Learning, mental health prevention, and health promotion, adapted to meet the goals of Positive Education, we propose four interconnecting, cyclical processes; Learn it, Live it, Teach it, Embed it. In combination, these processes assist schools in designing and reviewing ongoing implementation. This study extends the literature to date by synthesizing organizational, systems change, education, and anecdotal evidence to identify barriers to implementation and subsequent outcomes of missed, or poorly executed processes. While schools will be unique in factors such as context, specific needs, and available resources, it is envisaged that reporting these processes and potential barriers to success may assist schools with their own future implementation endeavours."


Keywords and Search Strings: The following keywords, subject headings, and search strings were used to search reference databases and other sources: Teachers, Adults, Social-emotional, Social and emotional, Competencies

Databases and Resources: We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and EBSCO databases (Academic Search Premier, Education Research Complete, and Professional Development Collection).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

Date of publications: This search and review included references and resources published in the last 10 years.

Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority was given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, as well as academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, and Google Scholar.

Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references:

  • Study types: randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, and policy briefs, generally in this order
  • Target population and samples: representativeness of the target population, sample size, and whether participants volunteered or were randomly selected
  • Study duration
  • Limitations and generalizability of the findings and conclusions

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by stakeholders in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest. It was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0009 by REL Northwest, administered by Education Northwest. The content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.