Implementing SEL: Strategies from Canadian Research

Published by Heather Woods on

Welcome back! I apologize for my absence. It’s been a year filled with ups and downs and my ability to keep up with things was severely impacted. However, we are here and feeling more engaged and motivated to keep on this journey of research, writing, and sharing.

At this point in time, the scoping review has been written up and sent to my supervisor for review. So over the coming weeks, I will do my best to balance sharing the findings, while respecting potential publishers’ wishes for copyright. To do this, I think I will likely share the findings within the article version quite generally. But dive into some of the elaborations and thinking that we didn’t get to explore in the paper for sake of the scope and space.

This week, I will share a little more about the process model that came about from my analyses. The activities that researchers engaged in to develop particular skills, then the anticipated outcomes they expected. It’s important to note that with the focus on understanding how researchers conceptualized and enacted SEL, we were less focused on the empirical outcomes of the studies. There are plenty of systematic reviews and meta-analyses that explore the outcomes of SEL initiatives (e.g., Durlak et al., 2011; Durlak & DuPre, 2008; McCallops et al., 2019). However, these studies tend to focus on the American population.

The proposed model

The model is quite simplistic. However, I believe it captures the essence of the activities to foster skills that achieve some sort of outcome. I welcome feedback on this model!

Process Model of SEL activities to foster skills and their expected outcomes (pdf version that supports the use of a screen reader is available here


Many of the studies focused on explicit curriculum and teaching. A few studies focused on pedagogical practices (e.g., creating collaborative learning environments). I think part of the biggest things that stood out to me was how few studies integrated the learning through pedagogical practice or through integrating through regular classroom activities. For example, during a novel study in a language arts class, bringing in discussions about conflict resolution based on the themes of the novel. Thus, many initiatives were sort of add-on pieces, some even requiring external services to come into the classroom to implement the initiative.

While the expertise of external services may be extremely valuable, we know from research about SEL or bullying prevention initiatives and phase two of our research (speaking with educators) that anything that deviates from the curriculum can be a struggle to implement due to lack of time and resources.


I won’t delve too much into the skills that were focused on and how they relate to the definition of the broader competency. I will circle back to this in future posts!


I feel that the outcomes are a critical piece of understanding how social and emotional skills and competencies are defined. Particularly, around the purpose of the skills. Often there is potential for SEL to be used for classroom management. While few studies explicitly mention this goal, it can be seen through focusing on students engaged in learning, academic outcomes, and conflict resolution. Often this was framed in managing challenging events within the classroom, or getting students into a learning mindset.

I think one of the biggest hang-ups I had while reviewing these articles is the lack of many of the initiatives framing the skills as something that can be used outside of the classroom (e.g., goal setting). Often the reciprocal relationship of community to the classroom was overlooked. Only two of the studies really encouraged community engagement. This brings me to my musings…


Ultimately, as someone who views the world through a systems lens, with interconnections and feedback loops and cyclical processes, these studies seemed very linear. This can be seen by the process model depicted above. I do understand the limitations of research methods and snapshots of research on implementation (as opposed to longitudinal research where cycles become evident). However, I am concerned about the potential for professionals, practitioners, general public to view this as proof of a linear process.

Building from this, and for the same limitations (limits of research methods/publication cycles or pressure) we fail to see the complexity of the learning context in which these processes are situated within. What about an individual’s previous learning, experiences, home life, culture?

Final thoughts

There’s a lot I’ve been thinking about with this scoping review. It’s been a process and a half just narrowing in on the scope of the scoping review and determining the extent of the analyses required. It’s sparked so many thoughts on its own about research and SEL. I’m often seeing connections to the other phases of the research process (which made the analyses of JUST the scoping review difficult). I’m excited to share these more with you as we move through this journey together.


Durlak, J. A., & DuPre, E. P. (2008). Implementation Matters: A Review of Research on the Influence of Implementation on Program Outcomes and the Factors Affecting Implementation. American Journal of Community Psychology, 41(3–4), 327–350.

Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions: Social and Emotional Learning. Child Development, 82(1), 405–432.

McCallops, K., Barnes, T. N., Berte, I., Fenniman, J., Jones, I., Navon, R., & Nelson, M. (2019). Incorporating culturally responsive pedagogy within social-emotional learning interventions in urban schools: An international systematic review. International Journal of Educational Research, 94, 11–28.

Any thoughts or feedback? Let me know in the comments below!

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