Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)

What is Social and Emotional Learning?

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.* A growing body of research, including the Wallace-commissioned University of Chicago study Foundations for Young Adult Success*, has linked social and emotional learning to success in school, career and life.

We weave social-emotional learning into every program at Big Thought. Over the past few years, there’s been a growing emphasis in the education field on the importance of social-emotional learning in educational programs.

CASEL reports on these SEL studies:

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) at Big Thought in Dallas, TX

  • Teaching: A survey of teachers commissioned by CASEL in 2013 found 93 percent of teachers want greater focus on social and emotional learning in schools.
  • Employment: According to a 2013 survey of 704 employers conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education and American Public Media’s Marketplace, half of those surveyed said they had trouble finding recent graduates to fill vacancies in their companies. Applicants had the technical prowess, but lacked communication, adaptability, decision-making, and problem-solving skills needed for the job.
  • Academics: According to a meta-analysis of 213 studies involving more than 270,000 students, those who participated in evidence-based SEL programs showed an 11 percentile-point gain in academic achievement compared to students who did not participate in SEL programs.
  • Economy: According to a 2015 report by the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution, SEL competencies are critically important for the long-term success of all students in today’s economy.
  • Health: A 2015 national study published in the American Journal of Public Health found statistically significant associations between SEL skills in kindergarten and key outcomes for young adults years later in education, employment, criminal activity, substance use, and mental health.
  • Investment: A 2015 study by researchers at Columbia University found that the measurable benefits of SEL exceed the costs. The aggregate result of the analysis showed an average benefit-cost ratio of about 11 to 1 among the six evidence-based SEL interventions studied. This means that, on average, for every $1 invested in SEL programming, there is a return of $11.

Planning for the Future: The Wallace Foundation Supports Dallas ISD, Big Thought SEL Implementation

The Wallace Foundation has awarded Big Thought Dallas ISD and with a joint planning grant of $400,000 to develop students’ social and emotional intelligence skills which link to success in school, career and life.  

Dallas ISD and Big Thought are one of nine community partner pairs nationwide to receive a planning grant. The grants are the first phase in the Partnerships for Social and Emotional Learning initiative, a new, multi-year effort by The Wallace Foundation to better understand how schools and afterschool partners can improve and align experiences and climate to foster children’s social and emotional learning.

The Wallace Foundation Supports Dallas ISD, Big Thought Social Emotional Learning Initiative

In the next phase, in summer 2017, up to six district-intermediary pairs will be selected from among the nine cities chosen for planning grants to receive three-year implementation grants from Wallace. This phase will also include comprehensive research by The RAND Corporation to provide useful new evidence to the field.

“Our deliverable to Wallace is to create a strategic plan on how SEL can be systemically implemented in both in-school and OST environments,” says Greg MacPherson, Big Thought’s Senior Director of Operations. “This is about developing a community vision and approach to SEL that can support and benefit, eventually, all of our kids.”

“Social and Emotional Learning is such an important part of a student’s success,” says Gigi Antoni, Big Thought President and CEO, “and we are thrilled to partner with Dallas ISD and The Wallace Foundation to support this initiative.”


Stephanie DrenkaSocial and Emotional Learning (SEL)