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SEL Kernels of Practice

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 2024






Target group
May 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 recent years, we have worked with human-centered designers and behavioral insights 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 educators, parents/caregivers, ministry of education officials, humanitarian agencies, and nonprofits to refine SEL Kernels for multiple age groups and cultural contexts, including: education for refugees and internally displaced youth in Nigeria, Uganda, and Lebanon; Brazil early childhood centers; afterschool and summer camps in the US; and K-5 schools in US, Canada, and beyond. 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, or localizing 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 is based on bonafide, documented research and specifically identifies impactful practices aimed at strengthening social and emotional health and overall flourishing. The innovation's approach is based on objective, scientific research.
SEL Kernels of Practice has the potential to be further developed and added to as a library of resources and reach many classrooms/students as is free and structured for teachers to use as fits with their curriculum and student needs.
- 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


In Nigeria, the EASEL Lab and IRC collaborated with local teachers and government officials in Borno and Yobe states to adapt and pilot test SEL Kernels with refugee and internally displaced students. Read about our work and findings here: https://airbel.rescue.org/studies/social-emotional-learning-kernels-in-northeast-nigeria-contextualization-implementation-research-and-impact-research/
Read about Brain Games, a set of Kernels that build executive function and social skills through play. Brain Games were evaluated in a RCT with over 600 PreK-4th students in low-income schools in the US. Brain Games led to positive impacts on student executive function, attention skills, prosocial behavior, and impulsivity. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.655246/full
Education in Emergencies: Evidence for Action (3EA) Explainer Video
In 2016-2017, Brain Games were translated into Arabic and French and adapted for use with students in refugee and humanitarian contexts in Lebanon, Niger, and Sierra Leone. This project was funded by Dubai Cares as part of the 3EA Initiative, “Education in Emergencies: Evidence for Action,” a research-practice partnership between IRC and NYU Global TIES. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgO9TBYVmMQ
In Brazil, the EASEL Lab collaborated with early childhood educators and researchers in Brazil to adapt SEL Kernels to the needs of local families and teachers. These activities, called "BASE" in Portuguese, were revised and delivered via TV programs when schools closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read about our adaptation process and findings in a NISSEM Global Brief: https://nissem.org/NGB3
In Uganda, VVOB and EASEL Lab support the Ministry of Education and Sports and Adjumani District Local Government in piloting a holistic approach to education that develops learners' foundational literacy and numeracy skills and SEL. This pilot serves 2000+ students and 59 teachers who have been trained on SEL & TaRL. https://uganda.vvob.org/tarl-play-literacy-numeracy-and-social-emotional-skills
Re-imagining social-emotional learning: Findings from a strategy-based approach 
Read about SEL Kernels in action in out-of-school time summer program
Kernels to support children's wellbeing
Watch this set of videos from educators in British Columbia, who are using SEL Kernels to support children's wellbeing in school
Coping with Changes: Social-Emotional Learning Through Play - FutureLearn
Check out this free, online course about using play to support social emotional development from birth to adolescence, especially during times of change
Breaking SEL Down Into Manageable Practices
Read about SEL kernels in Edutopia
Can Bite-Sized Lessons Make Social-Emotional Learning Easier to Teach?
Read about SEL Kernels in EdWeek
A cheaper, quicker approach to social-emotional learning?
Read the Hechinger Report piece on EASEL Lab's SEL Kernels
Read this brief about how the EASEL Lab used a content analysis of 25 evidence-based SEL programs to develop "kernels of practice"
Kernels of Learning
Read about a new approach to social emotional learning, by Harvard professor Stephanie M. Jones
Brain Games Case Study
Design Process for Brain Games

Implementation steps

Open Access to SEL Kernels

Spread of the innovation

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