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U.S. Senate Briefing on Enhancing Conditions for Student Learning and Academic Achievement through Social, Emotional and Character Development

On May 12, 2011, a U.S. Senate bipartisan briefing was held as a collaborative activity of the National Association of School Psychologists, the Committee for Children, the Character Education Partnership, and the National School Climate Center. This briefing was supported by Senator Harkin (Iowa-D) and Senator Enzi (Wyoming-R). It was also well attended by representatives of several Senate and House offices and related professional organizations. The briefing specifically addressed:

  • The importance of social-emotional learning and character development for improving graduation rates, academic achievement, classroom behavior, and student success; particularly for students considered at-risk
  • The implications of social-emotional learning and character development for enhancing conditions for learning, including positive school climate, student safety, connectedness, and academic engagement
  • Examples of how schools successfully incorporated evidenced-based social-emotional learning and character development approaches to significantly improve student outcomes and provide a more inviting school climate for students and faculty
  • The need for developing a systematic and consistent approach to incorporating social-emotional learning and character development in schools with support from legislative policies
  • The necessity of continuous and reliable assessment of staff, students and parent’s perception of school climate. Such reliable assessments currently exist and can be replicated
  • Recommendations for including social-emotional learning and character development in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and connections to other proposed legislation (See Legislative Priorities)


  • Linda McKay, Character Education Partnership Board of Directors, National School Climate Council Center Advisory Member, Washington, DC
  • Maurice J. Elias, Ph.D., Rutgers University, Professor of Psychology, Coordinator of Improving School Climate for Academic and Life Success, Rutgers Center for Applied Psychology, New Brunswick, NJ
  • Ramona Trevino, Ph.D., Chief Academic Officer for Austin Independent School District, Austin, TX
  • Kristen Pelster, Principal, Ridgewood Middle School, Fox School District, Arnold, MO
  • Pat Aaby, Ed.D. Policy Advisor, Committee for Children, Seattle, Washington
  • Susan Gorin, CAE,Executive Director, National Association of School Psychologists, Bethesda, MD

Briefing Resources

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) has long advocated for educational policies and practices that lower barriers to teaching and learning by supporting the needs of the whole child. Schools create optimal conditions for learning by recognizing the essential link between children’s social, emotional and behavioral development and academic achievement. This includes providing individualized learning supports, mental health services, and opportunities for social-emotional learning, as well creating positive, safe, and inclusive school climates.

Principles for implementing effective supports are outlined in NASP policy documents such as Ready to Learn, Empowered to Teach: Excellence in Education for the 21st Century and Enhancing the Blueprint for School Improvement in ESEA: Moving From a Two- to a Three-Component Approach. The latter, a joint statement from NASP and the National Center for Mental Health in Schools at UCLA,calls for an increased emphasis on providing a comprehensive, multifaceted, and cohesive system of supports that is fully integrated with instructional and management components. Without this shift, the best improvements in curriculum, instruction, management, and governance will be insufficient to improve outcomes for large numbers of students, particularly those most at risk.