What is Social Emotional Learning (SEL)?

CASEL defines SEL as 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. When Maine school districts apply SEL systemically across multiple contexts, every day human connections can be made and maintained for optimal growth and development. SEL is much more than a program or lesson to be applied once a week, it’s foundation for human emotional intelligence. As Maine educators it’s our job to see each student as the truly unique individual they are and to pour our hearts into growing good human beings.  


What skills do socially, and emotionally competent human beings possess?

CASEL’s widely known and applied framework of SEL identifies 5 Core Competencies that when prioritized across all school, community and home settings can educate all human beings from the heart, mind and regulated body in order to be fully equipped to navigate life’s challenges.  

Maine Educators and Students who are Socially and Emotionally Competent are skilled in the following 5 areas:   

Self Awareness- Able to recognize ones emotions, thoughts and feelings and demonstrate an accurate self perception and a well grounded sense of optimism, confidence and hope for their future.  

Self Management- Able to recognize and manage stress, control impulses and overcome life obstacles. Accurate self management requires the ability to self regulate and respond rather than react to life stressors. These folks are able to set, monitor and achieve personal and academic goals and show accurate expression of self in any circumstance. 

Social Awareness- Able to show empathy and compassion for self and others. Demonstrate perspective for walking in other people’s shoes. Appreciation, respect, understanding and forgiveness of other human beings across a variety of diverse cultures. Appropriately able to seek out and utilize resources (family, school, community).  

Relationship Skills- First and foremost be in right relationship with self, allowing for mistakes and non-identification of such mistakes as failures or less than. Maintain healthy, positive and rewarding relationships with others across a variety of diverse cultures and backgrounds. Demonstrating cooperation, teamwork and care. Resisting inappropriate society social pressures and demonstrate healthy intra-personal and interpersonal communication skills to assist with conflict resolution and problem solving.  

Responsible and Ethical Decision Making Skills- able to make reasonable and responsible decisions considering ethics, cultural responsivity and safety concerns. Respecting others and demonstrating understanding for possible outcomes and consequences for various actions. Motivation and dedication to contribution of humanity in school, home and community setting.  


Are there other terms used to talk about SEL?

In Maine we rely on the definition outlined by CASEL (Collaborate for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning which states that all learning is social and emotional and a process for both children and adults. SEL has also been referred to as “Soft Skills, 21st Century Skills, Employability Skills and Non-Cognitive Skills. We believe that SEL are Critical Skills and are equally important to the global development of good human beings. all human beings recognize that SEL is a systemic approach to growing good human beings.  

What are some examples of commonly integrated SEL skills?

Maine DOE recognizes that all students require essential life skills to thrive in uncertainty. We are committed to prioritization of self-awareness, and emotional regulation, empathy, compassion, understanding and forgiveness, perspective-taking, and cultivating a deep self knowledge as well as respect for all people regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. Maine DOE is supporting the importance of SEL just as we would support the importance of core academic competencies. SEL allows students and school staff(s) to work collaboratively, building connection and trust and support. Students and school staff(s) work collaboratively to develop creative approaches to critical thinking, growth mindset, inter-personal communication skills, impulse control, problem solving and cultural responsivity. SEL when incorporated by folks who understand and value human development of the mind, heart and body will aid in building a solid foundation for life long learning and generations of compassionate and loving human beings.  

How should districts determine which SEL skills to emphasize to ensure optimal student outcome and success?

Maine DOE recognizes that each school district is unique and the learning community’s visioning process may vary slightly. A core set of SEL competency skills should be agreed upon by community stakeholders which includes students, school staff(s) and families. DOE further recognizes that every learning community is different and the provisions and outcomes of individuals within the learning community are just as diverse. Stakeholders who work collaboratively to identify the SEL skills most important to cultivate in prek-12th grade youth can be done by utilizing surveys for community and families to complete and provide essential feedback, additionally including student voice is critical and essential to this process to ensure positive and reliable SEL outcomes.

Do educators need specific training to integrate SEL into instruction? 

Just as SEL must be integrated for learners, it must be integrated for educators, too. To prepare students for an emerging world of work, educators will need to understand and integrate programming into their instruction that emphasizes critical postsecondary and workforce readiness skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, communication, creativity and persistence. When designing curriculum and considering a learning continuum, SEL should be aligned to academic outcomes, ensuring that they are being taught in context, as opposed to an add-on. Educators need to be able to get creative with how SEL is being incorporated into their instruction, including leveraging the opportunities students have in afterschool programs, sports and clubs to cultivate some of the skills they hope to see in the classroom. Providing teachers the time and support they need to make these connections, offering continuous professional development on strategies to identify, plan for, teach and assess SEL competence are critical. 

How do we measure growth and mastery of SEL?

There are several organizations and professional SEL companies which are working to develop valid and high-quality assessment tools to provide accurate measurement of preK-12th grade student growth and mastery of SEL competencies.  Many districts across the country are currently obtaining data through the on-going relationships built in classrooms and school settings. Using in-class observation, student goal-setting and student driven self assessment are some examples. The SEL 4 ME curriculum has a built in pulse survey for all SEL modules which can easily be utilize to assist with tracking student success and measurement. Consider that SEL is essential to school and life success and when integrated into the learning continuum, it does not take away from but ultimately adds to the time educators spend on content and is measured alongside traditional academic metrics. 

How Do SEL and Academics Connect?

Social and emotional competencies serve as a foundation for achieving academic goals, while academic instruction also provides a ripe opportunity for teaching and practicing SEL. Through schoolwide SEL, your team can ensure that SEL is woven throughout academic instructional time to support and deepen learning. When school districts choose to put SEL on par with Academics then students can thrive in their school culture. They recognize that the school culture is a safe place to learn, grow and experience learning.  

CASEL notes : The integration of SEL and academics involve three interdependent components: 

  • Fostering academic mindsets 
  • Aligning SEL and academic objectives

  • Using interactive instructional practices and structures to promote SEL 

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What’s the connection between SEL and Growth Mindset?

Research continues to show the benefits of social-emotional learning (SEL), especially with elementary-age students however SEL is not just an early learning developmental milestone. SEL has gained much ground over the past 10 years and is now supported by the most recent brain science as being best practice for creating school cultures which are safe for all student learners.   In “SEL and Academic Learning Catalyst: Growth Mindset,” presenters Dr. Desiree Margo, Principal at Redmond Early Learning Center, and Dr. Kendra Coates, Growing Early Mindsets (GEM) Author and Professional Learning Specialist at Mindset Works, explain why a growth mindset is the strongest foundation for both SEL and academic learning. They caution, however, that both principles need to be integrated into the regular classroom and throughout school activities to achieve the best results. 

First, Coates explained how in a growth mindset, all forms of intelligence abilities, skills, and talents are malleable. And, rather than viewing mistakes or setbacks as a sign of low ability or intelligence, students and educators who embrace a growth mindset will actually view the challenge as an opportunity. They are inspired by the success of others and may use them as an impetus to work harder rather than seeing someone else’s success as a threat. 

A growth mindset is especially valuable for working on SEL with young children. They enter school needing to learn several new tasks, such as managing their emotions, teamwork, and problem solving. These are not tasks that the majority of them can learn right away, but they can get easily agitated when they don’t feel like they are mastering the situation. By applying a growth mindset to their SEL curriculum, students are able to focus on steps they need to take to achieve their goal rather than thinking of themselves as a failure. 

SEL and Academic Learning Catalyst: Growth Mindset edWebinar image

At her school, Margo’s team decided to take this powerful combination and integrate a growth mindset with SEL into everyday learning. But school leaders couldn’t just tell the teachers to include them. What teachers see on your schedule is what they’re prioritizing, said Margo, so she had to make it a known, key element of their curriculum. For example, every morning students discuss the question of the week, such as what to do when you make a mistake. Throughout the week, teachers and staff coach students to talk about the question and how they’re applying it in school and home. Furthermore, the staff also take time to evaluate their mindsets and how they are applying the SEL lessons they are sharing with their students. 

From this deliberate inclusion, Margo has seen several positive impacts on school members and culture. 

  • Students: By using a common language with the children and providing them with avenues to express themselves, she sees the kids lose their frustration and start to find ways to express their feelings in a healthy way and use their emotions to help themselves rather than shutting down. 
  • Staff: Like their students, they have also found that their brains aren’t done growing yet. Through practicing SEL with a growth mindset in professional settings, Margo says the staff has developed stronger communication skills and more compassion and empathy for their coworkers, students, and families. 
  • Families: Starting with the beginning of the school year, staff members make home visits to communicate the school’s philosophy; they continue reinforcing these ideas during the year. Families’ own school experiences play a role in how quickly they embrace the mindset—some come from a compliance background while others are familiar with SEL—but the continued use of the growth mindset language across the school helps educate parents. More important, parents start using the language at home and in their interactions with their children. 

  • Culture: For Margo, one of the greatest positive impacts of SEL based on a growth mindset is how it’s influenced their school environment. Not only have they seen gains in learning, but she believes the overall atmosphere of the school has become increasingly positive. Children, staff, and visitors feel welcome the moment they walk through the doors. 



How Do I fit SEL into my classroom climate?

Chances are that most educators are already providing SEL into their everyday classroom instruction, however teaching SEL with intention requires some planning and finesse. First and foremost is a commitment towards one’s own personal growth in emotional intelligence. Frequently checking in with yourself asking important questions such as “How Do I Feel Right In This Moment?” and “Am I Ready To Teach?” “What Do I Need To Feel Ready for This Instruction?” our SEL webpage has several SEL 101 webinars which can assist any educator in their understanding of the 5 core competencies of social emotional learning. Effective SEL educators work on the self first.  

Learn More : 

Learn More- 3 Keys to Infusing SEL into What You Already Teach : 

What are the Practice Pieces of SEL?

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is described by CASEL as the way human beings acquire knowledge and develop skills that can have a great impact on their ability to recognize and manage emotions/behaviors, set and achieve life goals, make healthy human connections and engage in culturally responsible decision making. Educators who invest in the development of purposeful SEL instruction in their classrooms show higher student achievement and outcomes as well as more meaningful classroom experiences. Schools investing in SEL show are significant shift in creating safe, connected and positive school climates where all students feel valued and respected.  

To Learn more about the practical pieces of SEL instruction: 

What is SEL 4 ME and how can How this curriculum support districts who are implementing Second Step?

According to DHHS and the CDS there are over 60 schools across the state of Maine who have been provided with Second Step resources over the past several years.  The goal of SEL 4 ME is to provide all districts with equal access to the most recent and up to date SEL materials available and to be used by districts already utilizing other SEL resources including Second Step as supplemental guidance.  

SEL 4 ME offers a comprehensive PreK-12th grade curriculum. This curriculum is CASEL aligned and trauma informed and has been customized by Maine experts to meet the diverse needs of our student population across the state. SEL 4 ME offers curriculum free of charge to all school districts across the state and can be used in conjunction with other SEL programs or resources. SEL 4 ME targets all Maine learners and offers support to both students and adults who are dedicated to the growth of human beings. SEL 4 ME is not intended to replace any other SEL programs in Maine schools, but is a means to supplement the work. The goal of SEL 4 ME is for all school districts across the state to have equal access to resources aimed at the development of social-emotional competences in order to create safe and supportive schools where all students can thrive, and know with certainty that they are safe, respected and valued regardless of race, sexual orientation or gender.  

Learn More – See SEL 4 ME prospectus  

How does Maine’s SEL Curriculum Promote Equity, Compassion and Understanding of Humanity?

Social and emotional learning when implemented with integrity and utilized by educators invested in the development of their own emotional intelligence, can be a powerful and beautiful lever for Maine districts to create caring, just, inclusive, compassionate and healthy school communities. Those school communities that dedicate their learning spaces for inclusion of SEL curriculum will offer support for all individuals in their pursuit for reaching their full life possibilities, hopes and dreams.  

Research supports the idea that global implementation of SEL both fosters and is dependent upon an equitable learning environment. This environment supports all students and adults in feeling Noticed, Respected and Valued. In addition, individual identities, cultural backgrounds/values, talents and interests are affirmed. 

Maine DOE understands that SEL by itself cannot solve the longstanding and deep-seated social inequities in our educational system. However, we are dedicated in our pursuant to assist all Maine school districts to promote understanding, examine implicit biases, build strong cross-cultural relationships and teach courageously while cultivating culturally responsive classrooms and school communities, allowing districts who choose to adopt SEL practices can promote congruence in teaching from the heart and mind while producing optimal educational outcomes for all students regardless of socioeconomic status, gender, race or sexual orientation. 

Maine’s SEL curriculum goal is to take care of all of our students through educational equity.  


Why is SEL essential to school and life success?

Maine DOE recognizes that human emotion and our relationships with one another can impact optimal learning in our classrooms and school districts which ultimately affects how we use this knowledge in the real world with family, career path and in our communities. Emotions drive attention and attention drives our capacity to focus, learn and grow. Investing in adult and student emotional intelligence is as important as our investment in academics. Humans who are unable to manage emotions, understand the neuro-development of the body and brain often show poor self regulation skills which brain science over the past decade shows interferes with human attention/memory and contributes to disruptive behaviors. All learning is social and emotional. It’s an interactive process requiring right connections between educators and students as well as students with their peers with the support of all school staff, families and community partners.  


Why are SEL approaches critical to school success and optimal educational outcomes?

Instructional Methods Commonly Used in SEL:

The number one goal of all Maine educators is to mentor and foster the development of good human beings. The educational direction and goal of the Maine SEL curriculum will more likely be achieved when evidence-based approaches are combined with teaching from the heart through empathy, compassion and understanding are used to touch the lives of every student in all school setting.  

What does Neurodevelopment have to do with SEL and why should educators and support staff know about trauma?

All students may benefit from modeling/coaching and role play to recognize emotions, label life stressors and learn empathy, compassion and care. Teaching students early about their amazing neuroplastic brain(s), combined with a foundational knowledge of the neuro-chemistry to support optimal learning and what happens when all humans are hijacked by big emotions is a powerful and necessary tool for our educators to get familiar with and teach to all students. Additionally, intentional teaching of compassion, empathy and forgiveness first for the self and then for one another is critical and has been shown to be an effect method to reduce incidence of self harm, mental health and reducing the incidence of bullying. 


What are SEL and brain based approaches to school success and optimal educational outcomes?

Spending intentional instructional time on the development of self awareness and self regulation will assist every student in becoming more attuned to their needs and better able to manage life stressors. Teachers who also model their own self awareness and self regulation and embedded strategies and practices throughout their day (purposeful breath breaks as well as implementation of sensory motor/experiential learning opportunities) will assist with calming students and classrooms as a whole.  


What can administrators do to promote SEL in their districts and schools?

The number one factor in SEL success in our Maine school districts will depend solely on the support of our school boards, superintendents, building administrators and educators. Commissioner Makin is stead fast in her support of adoption and implementation of SEL curriculums in all Maine schools for optimal human development and academic outcomes. The key to promoting SEL across districts will be a dedication to the establishment of SEL as a district mission and provision of on-going professional development, access to an evidenced based SEL curriculum and integrity.  

Building Principals can :  

Indicate to school personnel, families and community that they are committed to a schoolwide SEL mission. 

Develop, discuss and put forth a shared vision of their students’ SEL and academic development as leveraged by equity for all humans. 



What can teachers and support staff do to promote SEL in their districts and schools?

Teachers who are dedicated towards the development of their own emotional growth and intelligence first and foremost will seamlessly weave SEL into their classroom settings. Many good educators across the state of Maine already teach from the heart. The Maine SEL curriculum encourages Maine educators to become intentionally aware of teaching SEL to their students. Using the vocabulary to discuss self awareness, self management, social awareness (empathy, compassion, understanding of self and others), relationships (right relationships with self and others) and responsible decision making (am I in my thinking or protecting brain?).  

Teachers can examine their own implicit biases, make self care a priority, notice judgment, burn-out, seek assistance.  

In addition, educators can: 

*Participate in a school team or cohort that oversees the implementation and assessment of the SEL curriculum developed for free by the Maine DOE 

*Communicate regularly with families and community partners about SEL classroom activities, and encourage families to take advantage of the parent portal on the Maine SEL curriculum to stay connected with SEL in the home.    


What can families do to promote SEL in their districts, schools and homes?

We recognize that SEL begins in each child’s home. Parents, families, caregivers are critical partners in ensuring that children develop and grow their SEL foundational skills. Families can model kindness, empathy and compassion, and prosocial behaviors. Families can also be important advocates for SEL in our Maine schools and they are encouraged to sign up for the parent portal for their children to stay connected and assist with transference of SEL skills taught in Maine schools.  


What can student support services professionals do to promote SEL ?

We recognize that SEL is a systemic approach to growing good human beings. Student support service professionals are valuable members of the SEL school teams. SSS possess a deep knowledge of human behavior, program evaluation, planning and management strategies and have a deep understanding of individual students’ unique challenges to learning. SSS perspective on student needs and the resources which are available are essential to ensuring that SEL programming is being provided to students with special needs. SSS can provide a greater perspective to schoolwide SEL implementation as their work is not confined to a single classroom.  CASEL notes that in small group work SSS professionals can reinforce classroom instruction in SEL skills with students who may require more practice. When conferring with families or caregivers, SSS professional can use SEL language introduced in the classroom. When developing and assessing student IEP goals and progress, SSS professional can relate the goals to specific SEL competencies. In addition, SSS staff are also the link between school and community partners that students might access Thus, building relationships across all settings of the students’ lives. Lastly, coordinating classroom based SEL curriculum instruction with special support services by SSS staff, can be an effective means to promoting school success of students who suffer SEL and mental health difficulties which interfere with their daily learning and ultimate school/social success.  

How are MTSS and SEL connected?

Social and emotional competence is the foundation of our work with students, teachers, staff, and administrators in schools. Through the development of skills in the areas of emotion awareness and management, mindset, and attitude, students are empowered to tackle the academic and behavioral demands of school.  A strong tier 1 – universal setting must incorporate intentional supports and skill building in emotional competencies.  A full assessment of a student’s emotional well-being should be a precursor, or at minimum aligned with, any academic or behavioral intervention.   

Extensive research indicates that effective mastery of social emotional competencies is associated with greater well-being and better school performance; whereas the lack of competency in these areas can lead to a variety of personal, social, and academic difficulties (Eisenberg, 2006; Guerra & Bradshaw, 2008; Masten & Coatworth, 1998; Weissberg & Greenberg, 1998). In fact, a study of young students found a significant relationship between students’ social emotional skills in kindergarten and their outcomes 13-19 years later. Those students with early prosocial skills were more likely to graduate from high school on time, complete a college degree, and achieve and maintain full time employment. Further, during high school they were less likely to be involved with police, abuse alcohol, or be on medication for emotional or behavioral issues (Jones, Greenberg, & Crowley, 2015). 

LEARN MORE- (can the below points be put into drop downs?) 

Layering of Supports based on Student needs and Response (this information is adapted from ( 

In some cases, children struggle to make expected academic, behavioral, and social-emotional growth in the universal setting.  Using a problem-solving process (see appendix), additional supports are provided to small groups and individual students based on their needs.  It is important to remember that in an MTSS, a “tiered system of supports” is best interpreted as a “layering of supports.”  Children do not move from one tier to another tier.  Rather, they are given additional support in addition to the universal curriculum.  This layering of support in an MTSS breaks down like this:        

Tier 1 Foundation for all students   

Tier 1 represents universal instruction – all students across the school setting all the time.  This tier is the prevention tier.  Academic, behavioral, and social-emotional curriculum provided in this tier is designed to be proactive in preventing academic, behavioral, and social challenges and gaps.  Tier 1 supports must be fully operational before schools seek to intensify supports for a student not making expected progress.  When problems arise, utilize the problem-solving process to evaluate and reflect on implementation of student supports in this tier.  A strong tier 1 should reach about 80% of students when delivered with fidelity. 

Tier 2 Targeted supports for some students 

Tier 2 represents application of highly efficient, secondary supports that are provided in addition to the instruction and intervention a student accesses in the universal setting.  These supports are highly targeted to a specific need that is presented, are highly efficient, and when implemented correctly for the correct problem should provide a rapid response.  Tier 2 supports are generally applied in small group settings and should be adequate intervention for 5-10% of students needing these supports.   

Tier 3 Intensive supports for a few students 

Tier 3 is reserved for individual students and provides highly intensive and individualized academic and behavioral supports to students for whom Tier 1 and Tier 2 supports are insufficient. These interventions are intense, and are assessed frequently for measuring student response so changes can be made when necessary or a student is not responding.  Although often referred to as such, tier 3 is not “special education”.  A student receiving tier 3 support that is making expected gains and achievement can remain in a tier 3 setting for as long as needed. 

How are SEL and Trauma informed Connected?

Trauma-informed Social Emotional Learning is a purposeful approach to fostering youths’ emotional development.  Trauma informed SEL practices support all students, and places emphasis on school climates being, which are safe, inclusive and responsive to the needs of children and youth who have experienced trauma. This approach requires creating reliable and regulated learning environments where students who have experienced adversities and trauma 

  • are seen, valued, respected

  • supported and connected; 

  • are welcome to explore their strengths and identities;

  • can exercise their agency;

  • can develop meaningful, positive relationships with adults and peers; and

  • have access to the mental health supports they need.

Trauma-Informed Schools and Social Emotional Learning 

Children face many circumstances and life experiences that can affect their success in school. Unfortunately, these can include adverse childhood experiences that can traumatize our children. Trauma and toxic stress can hinder a child’s development, relationships, behavior and learning, making school a difficult experience. Social-emotional learning is one of four learning domains outlined in Maine’s strategic plan for education, Each Child, Our Future, that schools can focus on to challenge, prepare and empower students for success by giving them tools to become resilient, lifelong learners. The social-emotional learning domain helps school teams address the needs of the “whole child,” who stands at the plan’s center, and acknowledge toxic stress and trauma as aspects of a child’s life that bear on his or her education. 

What is Trauma? 

“Experts explain that trauma is not an event itself, but rather a response to one or more overwhelmingly stressful events where one’s ability to cope is dramatically undermined” (, 2019). Trauma can result from a single incident (acute trauma) or from multiple incidents over time (complex trauma). A range of experiences that can result in trauma include, but are not limited to: 

  • Parent or Caregiver Death 
  • Accidents 
  • Child Abuse and Neglect 
  • Sexual Assault 
  • Medical Illness  
  • Social & Environmental Factors 
  • Domestic Violence 
  • Harassment and Intimidation 
  • Bullying 
  • Community Violence 
  • Hostage Situations 
  • Natural disasters 
  • Community violence 
  • Hostage situations 
  • Inconsistent parenting due to mental health 
  • Inconsistent parenting due to substance use 
  • War  
  • Terrorism 
  • Immigration or Refugee Experiences  
The Impact of Trauma 

Trauma can impact children in many ways, and their responses to traumatic incidents can vary. Circumstances of an occurrence, such as when, how, where, how often and the responses of others can influence a child’s response. Prolonged exposure to trauma, such as on-going abuse, chronic neglect, or repeated exposures to violence, without the buffer of safe adult relationships can result in toxic stress. Children may experience symptoms of trauma and toxic stress related to brain development, learning and behavior — all of which affect a child’s school experience and academic success. 

Trauma Informed Schools 

Recognizing the impact trauma has on individuals, many schools are becoming trauma-informed buildings. These schools intentionally create policies and practices that are sensitive to the needs of traumatized students and work to create learning environments where everyone feels safe and supported. Trauma informed schools implement practices that:  

  • Build relationships between students and staff; 
  • Create consistent, safe environments; and 
  • Provide a range of interventions that address anxiety and other trauma responses 

Social Emotional Learning and Trauma  

Social-emotional learning supports the efforts of trauma-informed schools. Relationship skills are fundamental to social-emotional learning, and healthy relationships have proven to benefit children who have experienced trauma. By incorporating social-emotional learning activities into the classroom, teachers help students build the skills they need to form and maintain those healthy relationships. 

Children who have experienced trauma have strong, difficult emotions. Many do not have the vocabularies to identify and express the emotions they feel. Social-emotional learning activities help build children’s understanding of their own emotions by teaching vocabulary in the classroom to express them. Offering examples in everyday classroom activities, teachers can help students connect their feelings, thoughts and behaviors. This can improve their abilities to identify their own feelings or recognize and relate to the feelings of others. 

Social-emotional learning also can help children learn to manage the strong emotions they are experiencing. Educators can teach and help students implement self-calming techniques such as deep breathing, progressive relaxation, repetitive movement and journaling in the classroom. Teachers who implement these activities throughout the day help children who are exposed to trauma move from stress responses to calm states that allow them to attend to and retain new information. Jacob Ham, director of the Center for Child Trauma and Resilience at Mount Sinai, describes this process as moving from “survival brain” to “learning brain” in the video Understanding Trauma: Learning Brain vs. Survival Brain. 

Not every child will experience trauma, but all children face challenges. Social-emotional learning teaches children the skills they need to build strong relationships, understand their emotions and manage strong emotions in a safe, healthy way. These skills benefit all students but especially those who have experienced trauma. 

For more information on Maine’s PreK-12 Social and Emotional Learning curriculum and resources, visit the Department’s social and emotional learning webpage, 


How are SEL and Mindfulness practices connected?

If you’re an educator interested in developing students’ social and emotional well-being, it can be hard to know where to start. Which social-emotional learning (SEL) program should you choose? Or would it be better to focus on mindfulness? Perhaps you’ve heard great things about both, and, in the end, don’t they just do the same thing? 

The confusion is especially understandable given that research in both fields suggests some similar outcomes for students: increased academic achievement and well-being, less risky behavior, and better relationships with peers and teachers. 

SEL and mindfulness, in fact, are two separate areas—that work great when taught and learned together. Thus, choosing one over the other may not actually be the best choice. 

What’s the difference between SEL and Mindfulness

To start, SEL uses an outside-in approach with a focus on teaching skills: a teacher introduces a skill such as recognizing an emotion or using “I” messages, the students practice it for a set amount of time, and then the teacher moves on to the next skill. SEL assumes that this process is enough to enable students to use the skill in all relevant, real-life situations. 

Mindfulness, on the other hand, works from the inside out, drawing on the premise that each person has the innate capacity for relationship-building qualities such as empathy and kindness—a premise that research now supports. 

By helping students become aware of and then embody the connection between their emotions, thoughts, and bodily sensations, students are better able to regulate their emotions, which then impacts things such as their behavior, stress levels, relationships, and ability to focus. In short, mindfulness practices connect students’ inner and outer experiences and help them see the congruence between the two. 

What’s the best way to integrate SEL and Mindfulness practices:

When SEL and mindfulness are integrated, the five SEL competencies laid out by CASEL have more fertile ground in which to grow and ultimately be embodied by students and adults alike. For example: 

  • Competency 1: Self-awareness Students’ self-awareness deepens when enhanced by the mindfulness practices of focusing attention and self-compassion. Students learn to become self reflective and intuitive to their present needs by asking themselves some simple questions: “How am I feeling right this moment?” “Where does this feeling live inside of my body?” “Is my brain ready to learn?” “What do I need right now to be the leader of my own learning?” “What strategies do I have to help me pay attention on purpose?”  
  • Competency 2: Self-management Mindfulness increases students’ emotion regulation skills, which enhances their ability to resolve conflict more creatively or to say how they’re feeling in an emotionally balanced way. By providing students with small moments throughout the day to Breathe on Purpose, take a motor break, or simple pause, educators are honoring that students just like teachers are Human Beings and not Human Doings. Helping to students to understand what calm and centered learning feels like, goes a long way in helping to maintain self regulation. Educators who invest in their own self regulation practices, are better equipped to assist their students in co-regulation and can assist with all students meeting optimal academic outcomes. 
  • Competency 3: Social awareness Mindfulness increases students’ empathy by helping them to regulate their emotions rather than get emotionally overwhelmed when faced with a difficult situation. As a result, their capacity to notice another person’s suffering and respond to it increases. Building understanding, forgiveness, empathy and compassion for ourselves first allows human beings to have a better understanding for how other people are doing their best in any given situation. Celebrating mistakes, rather than becoming entrenched in shame or guilt or comparison is a critical element for building self awareness and transferring these heartfelt emotions to others without bias or judgement.  
  • Competency 4: Relationship skills Mindfulness increases compassion. Thus, when students practice SEL skills such as creating a win-win solution with someone who challenges them, they are doing so with more compassionate understanding. Helping students built healthy relationships with themselves first is also a critical element in cultivating healthy, trusting and rewarding relatinships with others. 
  • Competency 5: Decision-making Mindfulness increases cognitive flexibility and creativity, which gives students a wider range of responses to challenging situations. Becoming responsive rather than reactive in critical decision making allows optimal engagement of the pre-frontal cortex where all big learning and decision making takes place. 


Being the change in the world 

Ultimately, when taught and learned together, mindfulness and SEL have the potential to transform our communities and our world with the former cultivating the tendencies for compassion and ethical ways of living and the latter teaching the skills to make that happen. 


How does Maine’s Department of Education SEL curriculum support existing SEL in my school district?

Schoolwide SEL offers an opportunity to enhance existing systems of student support. Learning is an intrinsically social and interactive process, and schoolwide SEL supports students whether they are learning behavioral expectations, solving a complex math problem, joining a game of kickball during recess, or writing an essay from the perspective of a literary character. Schoolwide SEL, then, is neither solely a behavior support nor solely an academic support, but aligns with and complements all supports aimed at student achievement and well-being. 


How does SEL support Maine’s guiding principles

We recognize that Maine educators have been implementing social skills into classrooms across our state as a natural means of meeting student success. Recently, educational has shifted towards a stronger and more intentional focus on teaching the five elements of SEL in all classrooms. Brain science shows a real an integral connection between student attendance, safety, connection and positive academic outcomes and SEL.  SEL goes hand in hand with Maine guiding principles as this supports the many facets of student learning as we strive to educate the whole child.  SEL is a framework for the classroom as well as shifting the school climate towards a more trauma informed environment. The Maine DOE stands ready to support any district across the state of Maine with implementation of SEL.  

Learn More : Annie Snyder, Learning Scientist from McGraw Hill Applied Learning Science Team has provided a guide: Building Social Emotional Learning into the School Day; Five Guiding Principles : 

How does SEL integrate with online learning opportunities for Maine students?

Every educator in the state of Maine was challenged with meeting student academic and social emotional needs when COVID 19 hit in March 2020. The coronavirus compelled all educators to make a swift shift to meet the demands of online learning. Educators faced challenges with technology and engaging students through online learning platforms. Designing lessons meant to educate and engage is challenging. SEL4ME is meant to assist any educator who wishes for a consistent, low barrier and up to date curriculum to supplement in person or online learning instruction. We recognize that COVID 19 pandemic caused multiple traumas for families across our state- which have also been heightened by graphic images of the death of George Floyd, the impact of systemic racism, as well as living in a highly political climate with this election year. SEL4ME is one tool that Maine educators can count on to provide consist social emotional learning material to assist with alleviating some of the impact of the pandemic and world traumas. Maine educators can utilize the SEL4ME modules to assist with age and grade appropriate classroom discussions to assist with growth and development of all students while creating a culturally responsive online learning environment where every student is seen and valued.   

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How can SEL support EL Learners in Maine Schools?

Guidance to teachers- Maine DOE strives to provide our Maine educators and support staff(s) with professional development with focus on culturally and linguistically diverse students and families, using SEL framework and the SEL modules, educators can learn how to engage and communicate with families in appropriate and meaningful ways and culturally sustaining pedagogy.  

Positive Connections- When all students feel safe and connected, even if there has been a crisis where a disruption in learning – students will  have a greater likelihood for co-regulation and reengagement .   

Communication- Consider that interpersonal communication with students’ families will be key in their success. Identify personnel to be responsible for making direct and personal contact (via phone or meeting rather than email or survey).  

Review and evaluate recommendations in the context of equity in access, including equity in resources and supports for the most vulnerable families/students in your schools and programs.  

Community Resource Mapping-  

Encourage educators to ask families about community support systems and if a family needs assistance, encourage teachers to help connect the family with the appropriate resources. 

Maximize existing resources, prioritize resources in the districts to serve families- redirecting them to online/digital resources where necessary 

Identify community members who can serve as bridges to engage in school personnel with the community 


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