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SEL Kernels of Practice

location_on Cambridge, United States

Flexible easy-to-use, targeted strategies to support children's social emotional learning in school

SEL Kernels are a low-cost and flexible way to integrate SEL into the daily routines and activities of schooling. Grounded in a content analysis of 50+ evidence-based SEL programs, Kernels are an alternative to traditional comprehensive programs, which can be expensive and difficult to implement. Kernels are easy to adapt and localize to fit different educational contexts around the world.

HundrED 2023






Target group
January 12th, 2023
"The Kernels approach has transformed how we think about and do SEL in our program. It has made such a huge difference in children’s growth and development and in our relationships."

About the innovation

Why did you create this innovation?

Traditional SEL programs can be expensive and time-intensive, making them difficult to implement successfully in many school-based and community settings, especially in low-resource environments. SEL programs also tend to be rigid and prescriptive, thereby limiting teacher autonomy and making it difficult to adapt SEL materials to different cultures, contexts, or individual and situational needs.

How does your innovation work in practice?

We developed SEL Kernels by drawing from both research and practice. First, over the course of multiple years, we coded and analyzed 50+ evidence-based SEL programs spanning early childhood, elementary, middle, and high school. We coded these programs for the specific skills they target in each lesson and the instructional strategies they use (e.g., storytelling, music, discussion, game, etc.). From this database, we identify common practices across the programs, and use these practices as a starting place for SEL Kernels. Kernels target knowledge, skills, and competencies within five broad domains of SEL: cognitive skills, emotion processes, social skills, character/values, and mindsets. Second, we conduct focus groups, interviews, and landscape research with educators, parents, and other community stakeholders to identify SEL-related needs and current gaps in the field. Kernels are then designed, refined, implemented, and evaluated with these needs in mind.

How has it been spreading?

In the last 5-10 years, we have worked with human-centered designers and behavioral insight experts to conduct field testing and design research that informs the content, design, format, framing, and delivery mechanisms for SEL Kernels in different contexts. We have collaborated with local educators, parents/caregivers, ministry of education officials, humanitarian agencies, and others to refine SEL Kernels for multiple age groups and cultural contexts, including: Brazil early childhood centers, education for refugees and internally displaced youth in Nigeria, infant caregivers in Educare across the US, and school-based programming in the US and Canada. Across projects, we have found Kernels to be effective. Next, we hope to continue building partnerships and conducting rigorous research.

If I want to try it, what should I do?

For school and community-based partners interested in participating in research, professional development, and tailoring or localizing of SEL Kernels to your specific population, needs, or context, please reach out to EASEL Lab via easel@gse.harvard.edu. In addition, free access to a set of SEL Kernels is available on the Greater Good Science Center website (see below).

Impact & scalability

Impact & Scalability

Kernels is an impactful research-based program that collects and analyses data from numerous SEL practices to develop smaller-scale, personalized, flexible and sustainable daily practices tackling social and emotional learning. Its robust monitoring and evaluation process creates cycles of iteration that improve the quality and impact of the project exponentially.

HundrED Academy Reviews
The innovation brings about simplicity to the practice of SEL which all schools can easily adopt and drive in their various learning environment.
Research-based SEL Kernels programs support the development of social and emotional skills and competences among students through a series of inexpensive and effective games, stories and daily routines.
- Academy member
Academy review results
High Impact
Low Scalability
High Impact
High Scalability
Low Impact
Low Scalability
Low Impact
High Scalability
Read more about our selection process

Implementation steps

Open Access to SEL Kernels

Spread of the innovation

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