Literacy Lenses

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All Learning is Social and Emotional: Helping Students Develop Essential Skills for the Classroom and Beyond

By Fran McVeigh

On August 29, 2019, the #G2Great community gathered with Doug Fisher, Nancy Frey and Dominique Smith to discuss their ASCD book,  All Learning is Social and Emotional: Helping Students Develop Essential Skills for the Classroom and Beyond. 

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is a popular “buzzword” in education although the concept is now about 20 years old. The goal of SEL is to educate the whole child and many programs purport to do so as one more “program” added into student days. Fisher, Frey and Smith contend that no new programs need to be purchased. Let’s check our their responses to three questions to begin this post.

 1.  What motivated you to write this book? What impact did you hope that it would have in the professional world?

“We’ve witnessed the power of integrating SEL into the academic flow of daily learning. The students at the school where the three of us work learn to use these skills to understand the biological, physical, and social worlds. In doing so, they gain insight about themselves and their value to the world. We hope that works such as this one open up schools to the potential of SEL as an essential part of the curriculum.” 

2.  What are your BIG takeaways from your book that you hope teachers will embrace in their teaching practices?

“One big takeaway is that SEL is fully expressed through public spirit. Learning about oneself and others is foundational, but ultimately wasted if it isn’t in service to families and  communities. Another big takeaway is that strong teacher-student relationships make social and emotional learning possible. Face it, we teach SEL whether we intend to or not. How we carry ourselves shapes how children and youth see themselves and the world. Why not be intentional?”

3.  What is a message from the heart you would like for every teacher to keep in mind?

“As teachers we have tremendous influence in the lives of our students, and our number one job is to teach with hope. The words we choose, the books we select, the discussions we hold, matter to our students. Hope-filled schools ensure that our students are wise, resilient, and courageous.” 

So what did we learn?

All learning is social and emotional. In order for students to thrive, SEL should be included in content instruction every day in all subjects and grade levels. It is too important to be an “add on”. It is too important to be a “separate curriculum”. And it is too important to not have a predictable framework that equips students for life. The language of teachers, the values they share, the materials, tasks and skills they choose to teach kids matter. Teaching kids (not standards) is the target (A shock for many of our readers to consider!). An SEL focus will influence how students think, how they see themselves, and how they interact with content and with others based on their agency and identity, the emotional self-regulation, their cognitive self-regulation and the development of community in classrooms and the cohesiveness of parent and support groups outside school groups. 

Agency and Identity

 Agency (my belief that I can take action) and identity (how I see myself) are foundational for students’ social and emotional learning. Choice and voice empower students. Classrooms are filled with teachers who make choices every day about addressing students’ agency and identity in their conversations with their students, the learning they design, and the actual tasks developed to elicit student learning. Specific tweets from the authors about building agency and identity, the consequences of limiting agency and identity, and ways to empower students address these issues.

Emotional Self-Regulation

Children learn the vocabulary of identifying their emotions as one step on the road to emotional self-regulation. Naming emotions is an important first step in empowering students. Teachers can infuse emotional regulation skills into read alouds during the academic day and provide opportunities for students to consider the effectiveness of emotional self regulation through reading, writing, and discussion. Selected tweets from the authors follow.

Cognitive Self Regulation

Fisher, Frey and Smith note that goal setting is an essential component of cognitive regulation. They suggest that the adults can lead the way by modeling their own cognitive regulation by sharing their experiences with goal-setting. Involving students, their families, and their community in goal setting has the potential for increased student social and emotional learning. This practice during school and academic content will enable students to be better decision-makers for the remainder of their lives. 

Development of Community 

 Many teachers use circles and regularly scheduled class meetings to address issues that arise in the classroom community. Fisher, Frey and Smith shared how their school faculty uses circle discussions to foster community.  Planning in advance to strengthen family and community involvement also pays off by strengthening social and emotional learning. Planning for involvement makes the learning seamless instead of the appearance of SEL initiatives as an afterthought. Wise tweets from the authors include these.

In Closing . . .

In our lives the “R’s” we face daily go beyond the old Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic to include relationships, responsibility and regulation. It behooves us to make sure that instruction includes agency and identity, application in authentic situations, as well as opportunities for important decision-making that build real life practice. Having SEL be a part of school content work will equip students to be confident and competent as well as informed and involved citizens!


Wakelet with all tweets

Learn more about All Learning is Social and Emotional: Helping Students Develop Essential Skills for the Classroom and Beyond at

Nancy, Doug, and Dominique have prepared a Quick Reference Guide on these principles. Learn more at

Nancy Frey, Doug Fisher, and Dominique Smith will be hosting a full-day pre-conference session on this topic at the ASCD Empower 2020 conference on March 13 in Los Angeles. Check this link for further details: 

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