Cover: Are Educators Setting Goals for Social-Emotional Learning?

Are Educators Setting Goals for Social-Emotional Learning?

Evidence from Nationally Representative Surveys

Published Apr 7, 2020

by Christopher Joseph Doss, William R. Johnston, Goke Akinniranye

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Research Questions

  1. What proportion of teachers and principals are setting goals for student growth in SEL?
  2. How do teacher perceptions of school leadership goal setting compare principal self-reports?

A growing body of evidence shows that social-emotional skills predict the long-term outcomes of students, even after controlling for differences in academic achievement. Despite the evidence that social-emotional learning (SEL) contributes to student success, few studies have investigated the extent to which educators promote SEL among their students. This American Educator Panels Data Note details the extent to which a nationally representative sample of teachers and school leaders report setting goals for the social-emotional growth of their students. Results indicated that about 60 percent of teachers and principals report setting goals for student SEL growth. However, teachers were less likely to report that their school leadership set these goals compared with principals' self-reports. These results indicate that SEL goal setting is substantial but by no means universal. Further, the gap in perceptions of school leader goal setting indicates that as principals begin or continue to develop goals, they should aim to create a schoolwide strategy that is communicated to teachers and take into account efforts that are already underway in classrooms. One barrier to these efforts may be the lack of schoolwide systems for assessing SEL skills.

Key Findings

Educators implement social-emotional learning, but principals and teachers have different views

  • About 60 percent of teachers and principals reported setting goals for growth in student SEL.
  • Teachers were less likely to report that school leadership set SEL goals than principals were to self-report goal setting.
  • Nonurban teachers were less likely to report that their school leaders are setting goals for SEL growth, and nonurban principals were less likely to report that district leaders are setting goals for SEL growth.


  • As principals begin or continue to set goals for SEL growth, they must be sure to create a coherent schoolwide strategy and communicate that strategy more effectively to teachers.
  • School leaders must take into account efforts already underway in their classrooms as they create schoolwide strategies.
  • Setting schoolwide goals requires understanding students' strengths and weaknesses, so schoolwide systems for assessing social-emotional skills can help in that endeavor.

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