Cover: Teacher Perspectives on Social and Emotional Learning in Massachusetts

Teacher Perspectives on Social and Emotional Learning in Massachusetts

Findings from the American Teacher Panel

Published Oct 2, 2019

by Christopher Joseph Doss, Elizabeth D. Steiner, Laura S. Hamilton

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Research Questions

  1. What are Massachusetts teachers' opinions of the importance of SEL, approaches to SEL instruction, and supports for SEL?
  2. How do Massachusetts teachers' responses compare with those in the rest of the nation (where applicable)?
  3. To what extent do Massachusetts teachers' responses vary by school level (elementary schools versus secondary schools) and school urbanicity (urban schools versus nonurban schools)?

Recent shifts in education policy have emphasized expanding definitions of student success beyond high scores on standardized tests. Massachusetts is one of a growing number of U.S. states that have articulated social and emotional learning (SEL) competencies, standards, or policies that encourage adoption and implementation of SEL programs and practices in districts and schools. This report presents American Teacher Panel survey results on teachers' perspectives about social and emotional learning. It analyzes results from teachers in Massachusetts and how they compare to their peers in the rest of the nation on three topics: (1) teachers' opinions about SEL, (2) their approaches to promoting students' social and emotional development, (3) and their perceptions of supports that would help them do this more effectively. Like their peers in the nation, large majorities of Massachusetts teachers recognize the importance of SEL and believe it can have an effect other domains of student development. Massachusetts teachers also reported a greater use of some SEL programs and less use of schoolwide behavioral management systems compared to teachers in the rest of the nation. Most Massachusetts teachers expressed an interest in more support in integrating SEL into instruction. The report discusses the need for future research on how the Massachusetts state policy context could affect the views Massachusetts teachers on SEL.

Key Findings

Majorities of teachers in Massachusetts and the rest of the nation recognize the importance of SEL

  • Large majorities of teachers in both Massachusetts and the rest of the nation recognize the importance of SEL and believe that SEL can affect other domains of student development and achievement.
  • Massachusetts teachers reported greater use of specific SEL programs and curricula and less use of schoolwide behavioral management systems than their counterparts nationwide.
  • Massachusetts teachers in secondary and nonurban schools are more likely to report getting in-service training than their counterparts nationwide.
  • Many Massachusetts teachers reported that strategies for incorporating SEL into curricula would improve their ability to address SEL.
  • Many Massachusetts teachers put students' SEL success on par with academic success, but believe many of their colleagues disagree.
  • About three-quarters of Massachusetts teachers reported that their schools emphasized SEL.
  • Large majorities of Massachusetts teachers reported experiencing SEL-related professional development, but most Massachusetts teachers believed they and their schools need more support integrating SEL into instruction.


  • Researchers should examine how districts leverage the curriculum guidance disseminated by Massachusetts's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and whether there are differences between districts that have a strong SEL emphasis and those that prioritize other areas and initiatives.
  • Researchers should look at whether implementing SEL strategies consistent with DESE guidance results in improved student behavior and less reliance on behavior management approaches.
  • Researchers should study how districts select and implement DESE's professional development offerings related to SEL.
  • Researchers should measure the extent to which teachers' reported need for support is related to the emphasis their schools place on SEL.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was conducted by RAND Education and Labor and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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