Adopt and Implement Evidence-based Programs and Practices

Adopt and Implement Evidence-based Programs and Practices

The adoption of evidence-based programs is key to providing consistent, high-quality SEL opportunities for all students.

Below you’ll find an overview of: WHAT high-quality implementation looks like, WHY it’s important, WHEN to engage in this key activity, and WHO to involve. Also see the PROCESS page for step-by-step guidance on how to engage in the work, and the RESOURCES page for additional tools to support your efforts.

What are evidence-based programs that build SEL competencies?


Evidence-based SEL programs are grounded in research and principles of child and adolescent development, and are scientifically evaluated and shown to produce positive student outcomes. Adopting an evidence-based program is one of the key strategies for providing consistent SEL opportunities for all students.

High-quality adoption and implementation of evidence-based programs and practices:

Explicitly addresses students’ SEL competencies, promotes competencies that align with those prioritized and valued by stakeholders, and aligns to adopted standards or guidelines.

Is supported by professional learning for all staff, including onboarding of new staff, who will implement and support the programs and practices.

Provides support to schools for engaging families and community partners around programs and practices.

Provides support for collecting and using data to monitor implementation and outcomes.

Use the Rubric to assess your current level of implementation of evidence-based programs and practices.

Several approaches to promoting SEL can be implemented using evidence-based programs:

  • Teaching practices: These programs typically focus on specific instructional practices, pedagogies, and/or classroom management techniques that create a positive classroom climate. These teaching practices are designed to engage students actively in learning while also supporting students’ social and emotional development.
  • Infusion of SEL into academic curriculum: These programs embed the teaching of social and emotional skills into a particular academic area.
  • Organizational strategies: These programs approach social and emotional development through the significant reordering of policies and organizational structures throughout the school. Examples of organizational structures that could be reordered include leadership teams, advisories, and schedules. Organizational approaches are equivalent to school reform models and often require strong commitment and a high-level of initial and ongoing professional learning to be implemented with quality.
  • Free-standing SEL lessons: These programs directly teach SEL skills through free-standing lessons. Lessons often focus on skills that can be broadly applied to a variety of situations, such as making friends, working cooperatively with others, coping with stress, making decisions about potentially risky behaviors, and resolving interpersonal conflicts.

Specific examples of programs that take these four approaches can be found in the brief titled What Does Evidence-Based Instruction in Social and Emotional Learning Actually Look Like in Practice?

CASEL offers the SEL Program Guide, which provides a framework for evaluating the quality of social and emotional programs as well as best-practice guidelines for selecting and implementing SEL programs. The programs included in the guide:

  • Are well-designed and systematically promote students’ social and emotional competence.
  • Provide opportunities for practice, with many offering multiyear programming.
  • Deliver high-quality training and other implementation supports.
  • Have at least one carefully conducted evaluation that documents positive impacts on student behavior and/or academic performance.

Why does my district need evidence-based programs?


According to a landmark 2011 meta-analysis, evidence-based programs have been proven to produce:

Better academic performance: achievement scores that average 11 percentile points higher than for students who did not receive SEL instruction.

Improved attitudes and behaviors: greater motivation to learn, deeper commitment to school, increased time devoted to schoolwork, and better classroom behavior.

Fewer negative behaviors: decreased incidents of noncompliance, aggression, disruptive class behavior, delinquent acts, and disciplinary referrals.

Reduced emotional distress: fewer reports of student depression, anxiety, stress, and social withdrawal.


In addition, according to The Economic Value of Social and Emotional Learning, published in February 2015 by the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies in Education, schools see an 11-to-1 return on investment among six evidence-based SEL interventions that were studied. This means that on average for every $1 invested in SEL programming, there is a return of $11.

When should my district implement evidence-based programs to build SEL competence skills?


Ideally, evidence-based programs should be implemented after a district has developed a big-picture plan for the systemic incorporation of SEL. This means waiting to implement evidence-based programs until after you’ve:

There may be circumstances in which a district decides to implement evidence-based programs before completing the planning for systemic implementation. These include:

  • When some evidence-based programs are already in place. If individual schools or classrooms are already implementing evidence-based programs, an expansion can provide a convenient way to introduce principals and teachers to SEL.
  • When a district needs to build enthusiasm and knowledge about SEL before pushing for systemic implementation. An evidence-based practice may offer a low-risk point of entry to SEL. It can help generate interest, which can be valuable when you begin to plan more systemic implementation of SEL.
  • When there’s a short-term funding window. If you’re concerned funding may not be available after planning, you may want to consider the immediate implementation of evidence-based practices.

Who needs to be involved?


When reviewing and selecting programs, you’ll want to involve those who will be using or supervising them. This typically includes:

  • District administrators
  • School principals
  • Teachers
  • School counselors
  • Support staff
  • Out-of-school time staff or other community partners
  • Students

In addition, you can use the program selection process to engage other key players whose support you need. These include:

  • Your district’s curriculum committee (which can support the integration of your SEL program with other core curricula).
  • Your professional learning staff (if they will be charged with initial professional learning focused on the SEL program and its key practices).
  • Other key stakeholders, such as out-of-school time intermediaries, community members, parents, and students themselves.
download Back to Top