Aligning SEL and Academic Objectives

As your SEL team works with teachers to align SEL and academic objectives, it’s also important to consider how the content is delivered so that it supports the practice of social and emotional competencies. The guidance in this section should be considered alongside the Interactive Pedagogy section as part of the full integration of SEL into instruction.

How Do SEL and Academic Goals Align?

Each academic discipline has its own questions, processes, and proficiencies. Teachers consider what students should know and be able to do when planning their lessons. This emphasis– not merely on acquiring content knowledge, but on being able to do something with it– is reflected in academic standards for each content area and connects closely to SEL.

Common Core and SEL Alignment

As an example of Common Core and SEL alignment, within the Common Core math process standards, students are asked to “construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.” Social and emotional learning is naturally embedded as students:

  • Anticipate how their own arguments may be interpreted and received by taking on the perspectives of others. (Social awareness)
  • Think metacognitively and organize their own thoughts with given information. (Self-management)
  • Understand others’ perspectives to effectively interpret their arguments. (Social awareness)
  • Listen actively to further explore the arguments of others. (Relationship skills)Adapted From: The Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin

Supporting Teachers in Aligning SEL with Academic Goals

After developing an understanding of how SEL standards support and sustain deep learning, the SEL team can collaborate with teachers  to determine where SEL can be embedded in academic content standards. Pay special attention to:

  • Challenging or conceptually large ideas– Challenging concepts require a strategy, such as empowering students to cope with frustration or to collaborate effectively with a partner to achieve an objective.
  • Tasks or process goals– What are students going to need to be able to do? Social and emotional competencies can often support these objectives. For example, in science students may be tasked with planning and carrying out an investigation, which will require self-management skills such as planning and breaking large tasks down into manageable steps.
  • Goals that specifically involve interpreting decisions and relationships, either fictional or historical– Social studies and language arts goals often lend themselves to connections with SEL.  For example, for the ELA goal that students “analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision,” teachers could consider an SEL goal that deals with perspective-taking (such as “I can understand the perspective of another by what they say or do”) or responsible decision-making.

Many schools and districts have found it helpful to create crosswalks between their academic content standards and SEL standards or goals to illuminate their interconnection.

Once teachers have determined places of alignment between SEL and academic standards, a Frame, Coach, Reflect model can help make these connections clear to students.

Frame: Learning requires thoughtful scaffolding (Darling-Hammond et al, 2017, and Hammond & Jackson, 2015). Teachers can provide this scaffolding for social and emotional competencies by framing the competencies students will use to reach their content learning goals.

Try it:

Ask students what competencies they will need to achieve their academic goals and why.

Ask students to consider challenges that might occur during the learning and how they might overcome them.


Coach: Teachers can help students develop social and emotional competencies by providing them opportunities to perform them in new and increasingly complex situations and providing specific feedback in the context of authentic application (Wiggins & McTighe, 2011). In this context, the teacher acts as a coach.

Try it:

Model social and emotional competencies in all interactions.

Guide students through problem-solving and conflict-resolution strategies when individuals and groups struggle to collaborate.


Reflect: Reflection is a crucial part of learning because it helps to build meta-cognition (Donovan & Bransford, 2005) and activate neural pathways (Darling-Hammond, 2018 in press).  Reflection is critical in building students’ self-awareness.

Try it:

Provide feedback on what you saw in terms of student’s social and emotional competencies during an activity.

Reserve time for students to reflect collectively and individually after activities.

Examples of Aligned SEL and Academic Objectives


  • Academic Standard: Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them (CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP1)
  • Connections to SEL: In…More


  • Academic Standard: Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them (CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP1)
  • Connections to SEL: In order to persevere in solving a problem, students will need self-management to work through frustration.
  • Example of Aligned SEL Standard: Individual demonstrates a resilient attitude and growth mindset, even in the face of adversity and challenges. (Rhode Island Social Emotional Learning Standard 2D)
  • Potential SEL Objective: “I can appropriately handle my feelings” (Self-management)
  • Frame: Teacher says something like, “Some of the problems we will be working on today are very challenging. We need challenges to grow, but they can definitely be frustrating! Can anyone remind me what strategies we can use if we are feeling frustrated?” Wait for student responses (take a deep breath, check our self talk, remember our math strategies).
  • Coach: As students work, circulate and notice when students seem to be stuck. Ask them what strategy they will try to get unstuck.
  • Reflect: Ask students, “What was one strategy you used that helped you to persevere today?” Give students a few moments to respond in their journals or share with a partner.

English Language Arts

  • Academic Standard: With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on how well purpose and audience have been addressed. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.5)
  • Connections to SEL: Students will need responsible decision-making strategies to monitor their own engagement in brainstorming, writing, requesting feedback from a peer, revising, and editing. They will also need relationship skills to give and receive feedback with peers.
  • Example of Aligned SEL Standards: Monitor progress on achieving a short-term personal goal; Evaluate the application of communication and social skills in daily interactions with peers, teachers, and families. (Illinois State Social Emotional Learning Standards 1C.2b and 2C.5a)
  • Potential SEL Objective: “I can set goals and create a plan related to them” or “ I can effectively give and receive feedback”
  • Frame: Teacher says something like, “Writers! Today you will be moving independently through your writing process. Many of you are ready for an exciting step: getting feedback from a colleague in the class. Think about a time that someone gave you feedback that was really helpful. What did they do?” (Allow for some discussion about what makes feedback effective and palatable). Ask, “What are some things you think will be important to do when giving feedback?” (e.g., “be specific,” “say what worked for you and where you had challenges”). Consider role-playing a quick feedback with a student to model and/or using sentence frames.
  • Coach: Check in with students who are giving one another feedback to see if they are communicating effectively. Notice some positive “feedback moves” students are making that you can share with the class. If students are struggling to give effective feedback, remind them of their strategies.
  • Reflect: Ask students, “What was it like to give feedback? To receive it?” Allow students to share with a partner or journal independently.

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Aligned SEL sample lesson plan

This tool helps teachers identify where within lesson plans SEL practices are already present, or where they might be included.


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SEL Reflection Prompts

Sample reflection questions, aligned with the five core competencies of SEL, that support students’ self-awareness and prioritizes their insights into their own strengths and challenges.


Diversity and Inclusion in Content Materials

Aligning SEL and academic goals includes a thoughtful consideration of the materials and texts we share. To develop self and social awareness, students from all backgrounds and walks of life need exposure to a variety of voices, cultures, and perspectives, and to understand their own personal contexts, including ethnic, family, community, and classroom cultures (Hammond and Jackson, 2015). Students also need to see themselves reflected in the scientists, mathematicians, musicians, and writers they study.

When choosing content materials, consider diversity within cultural or socio-economic groups as well. Avoid promoting what Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie describes as “single stories.” According to Adiche, we promote single stories when we “show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.” By providing a variety of experiences within a variety of cultures, we equip students to respect the richness and diversity of the human experience.

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