This is the final article in a five-part series of insights from Newark Trust for Education’s Director of P-12 Strategy, Stephanie Parry, on the value of social emotional learning (SEL).

For SEL to be most effective, implementation should be specifically geared towards the groups it is intended for. One way states can help ensure that SEL practices are age-appropriate is by providing broad standards by age group. A comprehensive and tailored set of guidelines can also create consistency and alignment across districts and provide direction for teachers implementing SEL programs.

Implementing SEL programming by age group is important because learners of different ages and developmental phases need specific instruction based on their abilities. For example, preschoolers will need SEL with a focus on peer interactions and social behaviors, while middle school students will need SEL to help them comprehend more complex emotional and social situations. Child development is an ongoing process, and SEL should be adaptable and used to help learners meet their goals. The different elements of SEL change across time and lead to differences in frameworks, educational standards, and programming.

SEL guidance should have the necessary nuance to help all students. It is important to use a developmental lens when evaluating standards for SEL. While all 50 states have standards related to SEL in preschool, few have standards that reach middle and high school. Even fewer include SEL standards for teachers, which is a primary concern of the Newark Trust for Education.

A proponent of SEL for teachers, the Wisconsin Department of Education has PK- Adult SEL competencies for each age bracket including adults. Detailed guidance such as this can also help parents understand the purpose and intended outcomes of SEL lessons, which is important when combating the spread of misinformation. Clear standards will help ensure that SEL frameworks are successful, comprehensive, and beneficial for students of all ages and backgrounds.