We know from research that social and emotional learning (SEL — casel.org) supports academic achievement and better life outcomes for students. So it’s critical that schools build practices into the day that support the advancement of SEL. As you walk through the SEL competencies, you’ll find that there are some “foundational” skills students need:

In order to achieve the SEL competency of “Self-Awareness,” you need to be able to self-assess, focus, reflect on goals, and more. In order to achieve “Self-Management,” you need to be able to initiate a task, follow multiple steps, monitor performance, organize actions and thoughts, and more. And the list goes on!

(Download the pdf of this mapping of executive function skills to SEL competencies.)

All of these are the skills of executive function. In my book Building Executive Function: The Missing Link to Student Achievement, I present the case for why pursuing instructional initiatives toward student achievement must include attention to executive function. That means using activities, structures, and teacher facilitation strategies aimed at the growth of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, and, thus, executive function. You can present the best lesson or use the best textbook; without strong executive function, your students will not benefit from the instruction. The same is true of fostering SEL. You can’t achieve SEL competencies without strong executive function — the building blocks to what makes us uniquely human. 

The above downloadable document “maps” CASEL’s SEL competencies to executive function skills. You can download an activity to map in the other direction: from executive function skills to the SEL competencies they support. This chart is intentionally left incomplete so that you can use it as an activity with colleagues.

As you pursue social and emotional learning for your students, pay attention to the activities, structures, and strategies that will build executive function skills for greater success. When you’re ready to take SEL to the next level, read my blog post on SEL in the Student-Driven Classroom.

For more on online PD on both SEL and executive function, visit EdQuiddity Inc.