LSC Journal Club Fall 2019: Social Emotional Learning

Last week we had our Fall 2019 meeting for the Library Services for Children Journal Club. Have you heard of the LSC Journal Club? It’s a side project of mine centered on reading and discussing relevant research to the field of youth services. It’s award winning

This round we discussed social emotional learning. What is it? What does the research say about the best way to help kids develop SEL? Let’s dive in.

The two articles we read are from the journal Educational Psychologist which featured an entire 2019 issue on social emotional learning. Social emotional learning (SEL) gained traction around 20 years ago. Since then there has been a boom in research and interest around this topic, especially with regards to early child development and school environments. So what is it exactly? In one of the articles the author defines it as “the process of integrating cognition, emotion, and behavior into teaching and learning such that adults and children build self- and social awareness skills, learn to manage their own and other’s emotions and behavior, make responsible decisions, and build positive relationships.” SEL equips us with the social skills needed to regulate ourselves and our relationships with others.

There is a strong correlation between SEL and success in school and beyond related to mental health, social status, and general well-being. Due to the abundance of research, educators, researchers, and administrators are becoming more attuned at how the behaviour of adults affects the SEL of children. Here’s a quick recap of each article and then a discussion of what this might mean for libraries.

Advancements in the Landscape of Social and Emotional Learning and Emerging Topics on the Horizon

Kimberly A. Schonert-Reichl sums up the issue of the journal and gives her recommendations around the future of SEL. She sets the stage by laying out the following three observations:

  • social and emotional competencies predict children’s success in school and in life
  • social and emotional competencies are malleable—they can be taught and assessed
  • explicit attention to context is foundational to the promotion of SEL

She starts by acknowledging that there is enough research to show that implementing school-based SEL programs are an effective way to help ” children’s positive development and mental health.” But she pushes us to go a step further: “we need to move beyond just implementing SEL programs at the classroom level and instead need to integrate SEL into the entire system of the school,including school leadership, teaching and learning, and with families.”

Her two main recommendations concern educators (teachers in this specific context). Firstly, we can have a bigger impact on student SEL by making sure we are equipping teachers with their own SEL skills. Teachers who are competent in SEL create classrooms that have a positive trickle down effect. The adverse is true too – teachers who feel burnt out, unsupported, and stressed can pass this on to their students. Secondly, to meet this goal we should be integrating teacher well-being and SEL information into teacher preparation classes. This should be a core part of their teacher training, not an add-on.

Social and Emotional Learning: A Principled Science of Human Development in Context

The second article by Jones, McGarrah, and Kahn gives an overview of what the research shows about SEL and provides guiding principles for future research. They explain that SEL is part of a framework called Prevention Science which seeks to prevent negative outcomes and promote positive ones. We are at a key moment – we need to translate research into action, but the action itself can become research that requires reflection and ultimately more research. It’s a loop.

Their recommendations for the future include helping researchers “go beyond the question of whether a set of practices had an effect to understanding why those practices work and how to improve implementation.” They also point out the myriad terms related to SEL and the lack of a consistently defined set of vocabulary that everyone can use to describe SEL. How can we communicate our findings and understand our findings when we might not all mean the same thing when say “social awareness”? How can we create this type of controlled vocabulary when the people doing SEL research are from a variety of fields? Definitely food for thought!


Both of these articles spoke about SEL in the school context. Where do libraries fit in? We discussed Schonert-Reichl’s call for an entire system of support when it comes to SEL. Though she didn’t explicitly name libraries, we can view ourselves as active partners in the effort to equip kids with social emotional skills. We exist as a compliment to formal learning environments such as schools, and we provide a fun space families can access for free. In B.C. we have a new Early Learning Framework that emphasizes SEL for the first time ever. If schools and early childhood educators are making this a priority, it would make sense that libraries learn about it and find ways to support it.

Taking Care of the Adults

One of the biggest take-aways for our group is the argument that in order to take care of the kids we need to take care of the adults. (Duh?) But now we have research to support it! Teachers need support in the classroom, institutional support, and the personal skills to handle the challenges of teaching. In the library context, there are three sets of adults we discussed – Parents/Caregivers, Educators (early childhood through secondary school), and Library Staff (us!). We thought about:

  • What social emotional skills does each group need to be a present and engaged adult for a child?
  • What types of trainings are available to them if they lack SEL skills?
  • How can the library support these adults? What resources do we have?

We noted that in large organizations SEL has to start at the top. If you have a manager who is stressed and does not take care of themselves it will trickle down to other staff. This stress might then transfer from library staff to parents and kids they see during the day. So this is something that definitely needs to be rolled out to all levels of library workers. We need training and staff development on this topic so that we can continue to develop emotional intelligence. Ideally, it would be made a strategic priority for the library as a whole.

Programs and Relationship Building

So how can we support the SEL of our families and educators? We talked about how it starts with relationship building with community partners. First we have to get to know them and get to know their needs. We build relationships through our programs, by listening and responding to feedback. SEL is personal on a level that other topics aren’t, so there needs to be a baseline of trust before diving in. The library as a space offers a place where people can come together to build relationships too, such as between fellow caregivers or fellow preschool teachers. We also have resources – books, websites, and staff – to help people who want to know more about the topic or introduce it to children. We noted that relationship building takes TIME. It is a time-intensive commitment and we need to be aware of that if we want to prioritize it.

When thinking about our programs specifically we talked about how we could create a framework for SEL that we check our program outlines against as a way to bring intentionality to the planning process. How are we weaving it in? What are our defined terms and vocabulary that we use across our organization to talk about SEL? How are we measuring those indicators and is it consistent across the system?

Emotional Literacy is a concept we liked to describe the infusion of SEL and traditional literacy. The five early literacy practices happen through relationship building; they are not separate. When we sing with kids we are giving a way to express emotion and feel like a part of a group AND we are providing a way for them to hear the smaller sounds in words. The relationships themselves are what make early literacy and learning happen – feeling safe and loved turns on the brain!

Bringing inentionality to the forefront of our program planning would also help with self-reflection. After programs we can evaluate ourselves (and not just the kids) – What had an impact? Were there any moments where I struggled? Self-reflection is a way we model SEL in our work.

A great tool to use to get started when thinking about SEL is called Heart-Mind online. They identify 5 domains and provide ideas for how to integrate these skills into programs.

I would love to know your thoughts about the articles or my group’s discussion. If you have any questions about starting up your own local LSC Journal Club feel free to ask!

10 thoughts on “LSC Journal Club Fall 2019: Social Emotional Learning

  1. As a librarian in Northern Kentucky, this year we are working with the Kentucky Governor’s Office of Early Childhood (GOEC) Community Early Childhood Council (CECC) to present programming to build Social-Emotional Learning through a program called Connect the Dots. It is geared for Early Childhood Educators, but it is useful for families in general, which is where Boone County Public Library comes in. We are hosting a 3 week series of parent education programs in January called Chill 2020. We are using the Governor’s office tools to create a hands-on curriculum focusing on Embracing Children’s Unique Strengths and Ensuring Supportive Environments. The programs will be run like a storytime with reading and songs, but with additional parent engagement activities and a little mindfulness training. We hope it will be well-received and the tools they learn will be useful in their everyday lives. Below is a link you can copy and paste, in case anyone else has an interest in learning more about Connect the Dots.

    1. Wow, this is amazing and definitely aligned with the research. I would love to know how the programs go! If you’d be interested in writing up a guest post in 2020 after you run the program I would be delighted to feature it here. The website you shared has some great resources I will be digging into in the meantime 🙂

  2. Hi Lindsey, here at the El Dorado County Library in CA, we always enjoy your articles and fingerplays! This article hits home for us especially. In our last fiscal year, we developed a curriculum solely based on SEL to model and share with our in-home daycare and preschool providers. Our team of Early Childhood Literacy Specialists visits providers monthly sharing a particular skillset. The topics modeled were: Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation, Interacting with Peers, Empathy, and Friendships. At a followup visit, the provider shared how they integrated the skillset into their curriculum and any observations they made about the children in their care. This is a grant-funded program and so we are able to help enhance their library area with a free book and provide manipulatives specifically selected around a particular topic. The program has been our most popular.

    1. Hello Debbie! Firstly, wow this is totally amazing and supported by the research! I love hearing about how libraries are reaching the teachers and caregivers of young children. It’s even better that there was follow-up involved where you actually got to collect data on how the service impacted the home daycare providers. That could be a research paper in and of itself! Secondly, my family lives in El Dorado Hills and visits the library often, especially the storytimes with Ms. Paula. I am continually impressed by the youth services team in your system!

  3. Thank you for this excellent post. The programs discussed by Ginger and Debbie sounds so wonderful, and it is excellent to know that this type of education is expanding. I am in the midst of planning a series of social emotional learning storytimes for the Spring at our Library in Annapolis, MD (part of Anne Arundel County Public Library). I am still in the very beginning of planning so all resource recommendations are welcomed by me at this time. Thank you all for sharing all of this wealth of information

    1. I am also inspired by all the SEL programs happening in libraries. I would love to know how your storytimes go after you run them in the spring! If you’d ever consider writing a guest post about them, feel free to email me at

  4. “What social emotional skills does each group need to be a present and engaged adult for a child?”

    LOVE this question! And I also love “feeling safe and loved turns on the brain” – so well said! Sounds like your group had a great discussion. Thanks for sharing and for turning us onto Heart-Mind Online! Looks like a great resource and I can’t wait to explore it more.

    Our group also thought that commitment to SEL needs to come from the top. Looks like social-emotional health (especially in relation to burn-out and self-care) is going to be a hot topic for the field this year! The last 2019 issue of Public Libraries was dedicated to self-care. And I just saw this article on SLJ yesterday:

    1. I hadn’t seen that article, thanks for sharing! The more I learn about SEL for kids the more I’m thinking about how to support myself, my coworkers, and other adults in the community. I’m so glad the Denver group is back up and running. You always push me to think harder about things.

  5. I read this blog post today, May 27, 2020 in the midst of this global pandemic as I am planning my storytime about feelings. I am wondering how people are applying the above to today. Also I would like some recommendations on professional development reads on the above subject as well. Thank you!

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