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Culturally Responsive Social and Emotional Learning
May 2020


What does the research say about the use of effective culturally responsive strategies for promoting student social and emotional learning (SEL)?

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.


Brockenbrough, E. (2016). Becoming queerly responsive: Culturally responsive pedagogy for Black and Latino urban queer youth. Urban Education, 51(2), 170–196. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Although recent attention to homophobic bullying in American K-12 schools has increased public concern over the plight of queer students, it has also fallen short of addressing a range of dilemmas facing urban queer youth of color, whose needs extend beyond protection from homophobic victimization. Drawing upon an ethnographic study of an HIV/AIDS prevention and supports center, this article describes the center’s culturally responsive pedagogical work with Black and Latino urban queer youth, and it identifies several implications for how educational and community stakeholders who work with urban youth might engage this particular population in a culturally responsive manner."

Castro-Olivo, S. M. (2014). Promoting social-emotional learning in adolescent Latino ELLs: A study of the culturally adapted Strong Teens program. School Psychology Quarterly, 29(4), 567. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"The current study evaluated the effects of the culturally adapted Jóvenes Fuertes (Strong Teens) Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) program on the social-emotional outcomes of Latino English language learners (ELLs). A quasi-experimental design with random assignment by classrooms was used to assess the intervention’s effects on students’ knowledge of SEL and resiliency. A sample of 102 Spanish-dominant Latino ELLs enrolled in middle or high school participated in this study. The results indicated significant intervention effects on SEL knowledge and social-emotional resiliency. The findings are discussed in terms of their implications for preventive, culturally responsive SEL programs in school settings."

Ceballos, P. L., & Bratton, S. C. (2010). Empowering Latino families: Effects of a culturally responsive intervention for low‐income immigrant Latino parents on children's behaviors and parental stress. Psychology in the Schools, 47(8), 761–775. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"This randomized, controlled study examined the effectiveness of Child Parent Relationship Therapy (CPRT) in school settings with 48 low-income Latino immigrant parents whose children were identified with behavioral concerns. Results from a 2 (group) × 2 (measures) split plot analysis of variance indicated that parents who participated in 11 weeks of CPRT reported statistically significant decreases in child behavior problems and parent–child relationship stress. Large treatment effects were demonstrated for all dependent variables. Clinical significance of findings and cultural considerations are discussed."

Cramer, K. M., & Castro-Olivo, S. (2016). Effects of a culturally adapted social-emotional learning intervention program on students’ mental health. Contemporary School Psychology, 20(2), 118–129. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Student self-reports of resiliency and social emotional internalizing problems were examined to determine intervention effects of a culturally adapted social and emotional learning (SEL) program. Data were analyzed from 20 culturally and linguistically diverse high school students who participated in a school-based 12-lesson SEL intervention and completed all data points (full pre, post, and follow-up). Participants were in grades 9 and 10 and included 16 male students. Students’ self reports of resiliency and internalizing symptoms were assessed before intervention, immediately after intervention, and at 2 months following the intervention. Statistically significant gains in self-reported resiliency immediately after intervention were obtained; furthermore, these gains in resiliency were maintained 2 months after the intervention. Reductions in students’ self-reported internalizing problems were not observed. Student reports of social validity suggest high levels of intervention acceptability and relevance for use with culturally and linguistic diverse high school students."

Cressey, J. (2019). Developing culturally responsive social, emotional, and behavioral supports. Journal of Research in Innovative Teaching & Learning 12(1), 53–67. Retrieved from Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"The purpose of this paper is to illustrate an interdisciplinary system of targeted student supports, drawing from social and emotional learning (SEL), culturally responsive practices (CRP) and positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS). While these approaches are not often synthesized in research literature, innovative educators are integrating multiple theories and practices to achieve better outcomes for students."

Garner, P. W., Mahatmya, D., Brown, E. L., & Vesely, C. K. (2014). Promoting desirable outcomes among culturally and ethnically diverse children in social emotional learning programs: A multilevel heuristic model. Educational Psychology Review, 26(1), 165–189. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"The primary goal of this article is to situate the findings from evidence-based studies of social emotional learning (SEL) interventions into a broader social context by reframing the discussion to consider how aspects of sociocultural competence impact the development and delivery of programs. The limitations of current SEL intervention efforts are discussed and a multilevel heuristic model that identifies and defines the theoretical constructs that we believe are culturally bound and associated with the content, implementation, and evaluation components of SEL intervention programs is presented. We point out constraints associated with this effort and offer specific strategies and activities by which school personnel involved in these activities can be encouraged to embrace socioculturally based SEL practices in their classrooms and offer guidance for future research."

Graves, S. L., Jr., & Howes, C. (2011). Ethnic differences in social-emotional development in preschool: The impact of teacher child relationships and classroom quality. School Psychology Quarterly, 26(3), 202–214. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Drawing from the National Center for Early Development and Learning (NCEDL) Multi-State Study of Prekindergarten and the State-Wide Early Education Programs Study (SWEEP), this study examined the effects of classroom and teacher variables on social-emotional development in prekindergarten. Results indicated that prekindergarten teachers rated males significantly higher in behavioral problems and lower in social competence than females. However, when teacher-child ethnic match was taken into consideration these differences were not present. In contrast to existing evidence, African American males in particular were no more likely to have teachers who report behavior problems than their Latino and White male peers. Implications for the prevention of behavioral problems are discussed."

Hamedani, M. G., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2015). Social emotional learning in high school: How three urban high schools engage, educate, and empower youth. Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"The psychological, social, and emotional aspects of education have enjoyed increased attention in recent years as often termed "non-cognitive factors" and "soft skills" have gained traction in research, policy, and practice circles as major drivers of student achievement. This renewed attention represents an important shift, as social and emotional supports for students in school have frequently been called the "missing piece" in the accountability-driven practices that are the legacy of No Child Left Behind. Further, failing to meet students' psychological, social, and emotional needs will continue to fuel gaps in opportunity and achievement for students—in particular, low-income students and students of color—who are frequently underserved by the schools they attend. We studied three very different high schools that have centered their work on developing young people as whole human beings who are socially and emotionally aware and skilled, who engage a growth mindset that enables them to persevere when challenged, who learn to be mindful, conscientious, and empowered, and who develop a sense of social responsibility about making positive contributions to their school community and the wider community beyond."

Leo, A., Wilcox, K. C., & Lawson, H. A. (2019). Culturally responsive and asset-based strategies for family engagement in odds-beating secondary schools. School Community Journal, 29(2), 255–280.

From the Abstract:
"Several decades of research has generated a near-consensus on the link between positive student outcomes and effective engagement between educators and families. Despite the widespread acknowledgement of this connection, many educators continue to struggle to engage families in ways that are both culturally responsive and sensitive to power dynamics. Though barriers to family engagement have been explored in depth, little research exists about what family engagement looks like in schools with above-predicted student outcomes. This research offers insight into family engagement through two case studies of secondary schools in New York State—chosen for study for their odds-beating graduation outcomes. Educators in these schools share in common the strategies of drawing on local resources and engaging family members in culturally responsive and collaborative ways with particular sensitivities to power imbalances. These findings hold implications with regard to how barriers to family engagement may be overcome in demographically diverse contexts with histories of better graduation outcomes."

Muller, N. (2016). Culture, emotions and narratives in education for cultural diversity: A sociocultural approach. Psihologija 49 (4): 415–429. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Developing a reflexive stance on personal emotions and experiences relating to otherness is one of the main goals of innovative pedagogical activities designed to combat racism. This novel socio-constructivist approach to cultural diversity in education seems an interesting alternative to essentialist approaches, as it involves the learner and uses reflexivity to foster change. However, little is yet known about the psychosocial effects of introducing emotions and personal experiences into the learning environment. In this paper, adopting a sociocultural theoretical framework, we describe two pedagogical settings in which students’ emotions and personal experiences were addressed in a multicultural context. The results of our first study showed that, in some teacher-student interactions, students’ verbalized emotions were articulated in a more generic discourse. Working with emotions can therefore lead to what we call a secondarization process, whereby personal experiences are related to collective and conceptualized knowledge. However, these pedagogical practices may also generate unexpected outcomes that hinder learning. The second study explored the structuring effect of (self-)narratives, viewed as psychological instruments. These findings are discussed with a view to informing the debate on the role of emotional aspects in education, and sociocultural research in psychology examining the complex interplay between individual and cultural dimensions in learning."

Rodríguez-Izquierdo, R. M. (2018). Researching the links between social-emotional learning and intercultural education: Strategies for enacting a culturally relevant teaching. Intercultural Education, 29(5-6), 609–623. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"This paper examines the links between social-emotional learning (SEL) and intercultural education. The work calls for pedagogical attention to the role of emotions in intercultural education and analyses the role of SEL within the umbrella of intercultural education. It claims that both SEL and intercultural education offer a framework for rethinking and changing curricula, school climates and relationships providing the foundation for quality of education for all. Therefore, this connection is not only critical but also inevitable and desirable. It asserts that SEL in intercultural landscapes is a human right that all students are entitled to, and argues that ignoring this right amounts to a social injustice. Some pedagogical considerations and strategies for enacting a culturally relevant implementation of SEL in intercultural settings will be provided. The purpose of the paper is to inform the debate on the role of emotional aspects in intercultural education, and how to configure culturally responsive teachers."


Keywords and Search Strings: The following keywords, subject headings, and search strings were used to search reference databases and other sources: Social-emotional learning, Culturally responsive, Inclusive

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.