Second Step

Second Step

Social Emotional Learning (SEL)


What SEL Is

   Recognizing emotions in oneself and others

   Managing strong emotions

   Having empathy for others

   Controlling impulses

   Communicating clearly and assertively

   Maintaining cooperative relationships

   Making responsible decisions

   Solving problems effectively

What SEL Isn’t

   Kids sitting around in circles singing songs

   Parenting your kids for you

   Suggesting you’re not doing a good enough job as a parent

   Suggesting that today’s generation of kids is somehow broken

   Taught at the expense of core academic subjects such as math,

science and literacy

 How SEL Is Taught in Classrooms

Children learn SEL in a variety of ways, including the behavior they see modeled by the adults in their lives. But SEL can also be taught explicitly in the classroom, in much the same way math or reading is taught:

The teacher explains a concept with words, pictures, video, and/or audio

Students practice the concept with skill practice,group discussion, individual writing, or partner work

The teacher continues reinforcing the concept throughout the week

- The teacher sends information home for students to work on with parents

The teacher checks for understanding 

- The teacher re-teaches where necessary

The Second Step Program Kindergarten – 5th Grade

The Second Step program for Kindergarten through Grade 5 is a universal, classroom-based program designed to increase students’ school success and decrease problem behaviors by promoting social-emotional competence and self-regulation. It teaches skills that strengthen students’ ability to learn, have empathy, manage emotions, and solve problems. The Second Step program targets key risk and protective factors linked to a range of problem behaviors. Equipping students with Second Step skills helps a school create a safer, more respectful learning environment that promotes school success for all.

The Second Step Program Promotes

- School success

- School connectedness

- Safe and respectful school climate

By directly teaching students the skills that strengthen their ability to:

- Learn

- Have empathy

- Manage emotions

- Solve problems

Skills for Learning

- Students who can self-regulate are better able to participate in and benefit from classroom instruction.

- The program promotes development of students’ self-    regulation skills. It provides practice through games for Kindergarten– Grade 3 and through instruction in skills for learning across all grades.

- Skills for learning are necessary for having empathy, managing emotions, and solving problems. Probelm skills for learning are woven into all units.


- Being able to feel or understand what another person is feeling prepares students to manage their own strong emotions and solve interpersonal problems with others.

- The program teaches students skills for identifying emotions in themselves and others, labeling these emotions, and taking the perspectives of others.

- These skills are the basis for helpful and socially responsible behavior. Having empathy is also related to academic success.

Emotion Management

- Students who can recognize strong emotions and calm down cope better and are less prone to aggressive behaviors

- The program teaches students proactive strategies that help prevent strong emotions from escalating into negative behaviors.

- Calm students are better able to use other skills, such as problem solving, to help them get along better with others and make good choices.

Problem Solving

- Students who can solve interpersonal conflicts with peers are less likely to engage in impulsive or aggressive behaviors.

- The program teaches students to use four Problem-Solving Steps after calming down.

- Creating a neutral problem statement, generating safe and respectful solutions, and evaluating the consequences of these solutions steers students toward selecting prosocial solutions. 

The Second Step Program Middle School

The Second Step middle school program is a universal program designed to promote skills and attitudes that increase students’ social and school success and prevent violence, bullying, and substance abuse. As a program for all students, it provides a foundation for creating a safe, respectful learning environment.

 The Second Step program is based on prevention science research that shows many of the problem behaviors that threaten youth safety and success are driven by common factors. The Second Step program weaves skills and concepts throughout the lessons to target risk and protective factors linked to violence and aggression, substance use, and low academic achievement or school dropout.

 The Five Themes in the Second Step Program

1. Empathy and communication

2. Bullying prevention

3. Emotion management and coping

4. Problem solving, goal setting, and decision making 5. Substance abuse prevention

 1. Empathy and Communication

Having a higher level of empathy is linked to having more friends and higher academic achievement, less aggressive behavior and bullying, and being more helpful to peers. Empathy also provides a foundation for social and communication skills, which increase school connectedness by improving students’ relationships with teachers and serve as protective factors against a range of problem behaviors. Research shows empathy skills can be successfully taught to adolescents using a social skills curriculum.

 2. Bullying Prevention

The bullying-prevention unit uses these effective strategies to change students’ bullying-related attitudes, norms, and behaviors:

• Increasing students’ ability to identify bullying

• Increasing empathy for bullied students

• Increasing awareness of the importance and responsibility of bystanders

• Increasing positive bystander skills and behaviors

 Throughout the units, the program also helps to reduce bullying by improving social skills, increasing friendships and positive peer relations, and increasing assertiveness skills.

 3. Emotion Management (Grade 6) and Coping (Grades 7 and 8)

Emotion management enables youth to stay in control, especially in stressful situations. Coping skills help them meet challenges by using proactive strategies rather than acting on impulse. Emotion management and coping skills can be taught, and the skills addressed in the program include self-calming techniques, such as deep breathing and positive self-talk.

4. Problem Solving (Grade 6), Decision Making (Grade 7), and Goal Setting (Grade 8)

The Second Step Action Steps are taught across all grade levels of the program. Teaching students interpersonal problem-solving skills can reduce and prevent problem behaviors. Because peer pressure peaks in early adolescence, this is a good time to teach decision-making skills as well. It is also an opportune time for students to practice setting goals, an ability linked to student success and achievement.

5. Substance Abuse Prevention

The Second Step substance abuse lessons focus on changing norms and attitudes through providing accurate information and building on the social and personal skills addressed in previous lessons. These skills include the ability to recognize and resist problematic choices. The primary goal is to reduce early initiation. Substance abuse prevention is also addressed throughout the program by teaching skills and concepts that address important risk and protective factors.