Social emotional learning
Social emotional learning
Posted on 03/13/2019
Social emotional learning

Academic success is the goal school districts have for every student. The Puyallup School District believes, in conjunction with academic success, strong social and emotional skills are fundamental in the education of the whole child. Education of the whole child is imperative for success in school, work, and life.  

What is social emotional learning (SEL)? It is the development of learning and understanding emotions, setting goals, building positive relationships, and responsible decision making.

Why is SEL important? Students who have social emotional skills know how to recognize and are aware of their emotions and know how to deal with strong emotions. Students are also able to identify other's emotions and perspective; therefore, they have more empathy and compassion for others. 

students practicing belly breathing

Students who participate in SEL programs show an increase in academic achievement, better classroom behavior, improved ability to control stress and depression, feel more connected to school, and have more self-confidence.

In September 2018 the district implemented a kindergarten through sixth grade districtwide SEL program, with the goal of implementing the program in grades seven and eight beginning in the 2019 school year. The program is Second Step.

 “With Secon
d Step, our students seem better able to identify their strong feelings, calm down steps, and they can identify other ways they could have solved their problem.”

Principal of Hunt Elementary Rebecca Williams

Second Step is a grade level specific program that engages students with games, activities, and media. The program teaches students how to stop, take a breath, and think about the situation before reacting. Students learn how to problem solve, as well as being assertive about what they want.

Second Step contains 28 weekly themes, each consisting of five activities – one for each day of the week. Every grade level has the same unit scope and sequence with age appropriate lessons, concepts, and objectives.  The units include:

  1. Skills for Learning
  2. Empathy
  3. Emotion Management
  4. Problem Solving

Beginning in kindergarten, students learn “belly breathing.” Belly breathing is a technique to teach students, when their emotions are high, how to slowly and quietly lower their heart rate and develop a sense of calmness.

Kindergartners learn with mediaLaura Shore’s kindergarten students begin the day’s  lesson by singing together “The Learner Song” which  teaches the students to focus, listen, use self-talk, and be assertive. Afterwards, the students sit together on the rug as they listen to the week’s lesson which focuses on problem solving with STEP; Say the problem, Think of a solution, Explore consequences, and Pick the best solution.

 “I have seen the students have so much more empathy for each other with this program, it is very sweet.”

                         Kindergarten teacher Laura Shore

By teaching self-regulation and social emotional skills, the Second Step program is designed to aid in school success through feelings of connectedness, safe and respectful school culture, and prevention of problem behaviors. Social and emotional skills give students the tools to be more successful in school and in life.



In January of 2019, parents, staff, and community members participated in a Thoughtexchange. Results showed a number of areas of interest with a particular focus on the learning environment. Participants identified several topics of concern including bullying and discipline, health and mental health, and the social and emotional well-being of students. You can review the results of the community-wide Thoughtexchange by visiting Continuing The Conversation.


Anne Martin