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  • Writer's pictureAmy Duffy-Barnes

How to Set Goals, Measure, and Teach Social Emotional Learning Skills in a School Setting

Updated: Jun 2, 2023

I was a school social worker for 10 years and the title of this article could also be 'how I used my smart brain to  defeat my ADHD and create an organizational framework for providing competent and easily documented school social work services in an educational setting'. 

It isn't easy for newly graduated social work students to take their therapeutic knowledge and skill sets and merge them with the expectations, language and mindset of an educational setting. Hopefully this article can help make your first few years as a school social worker a little bit easier! 

What You Are Measuring

Michigan is now among the states with a set of social emotional learning standards. This allows school social workers to easily create, measure and document school social work goals in a way that enhances the education process and helps student grow socially and emotionally. They will also help you create a system of organization which can be difficult when you might be in multiple schools working with multiple age groups. 

SEL Competencies 

• Self-awareness: The ability to accurately recognize one’s emotions and thoughts and their influence on behavior. This includes accurately assessing one’s strengths and limitations and possessing a well-grounded sense of confidence and optimism.

• Self-management: The ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations. This includes managing stress, controlling impulses, motivating oneself, and setting and working toward achieving personal and academic goals.

• Social awareness: The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures, to understand social and ethical norms for behavior, and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.

• Relationship skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. This includes communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, resisting unwanted or inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict constructively, and seeking and offering help when needed.

• Responsible decision-making: The ability to make constructive and respectful choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, the realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and the well-being of self and others.

Competencies Indicators


1A. Demonstrate an awareness of their emotions

1B. Demonstrate an awareness of their personal traits, including their strengths and interests

1C. Demonstrate awareness of their external supports

1D. Demonstrate a sense of personal responsibility


2A. Identify and manage their emotions and behavior constructively

2B. Demonstrate honesty and integrity

2C. Set, monitor, adapt, and evaluate goals to achieve success in school and life

Social Awareness

3A. Demonstrate awareness of other people’s emotions and perspectives

3B. Demonstrate consideration for others and a desire to positively contribute to the school and community

3C. Demonstrate an awareness of different cultures and a respect for human dignity

3D. Can read social cues and respond constructively

Relationship Skills

4A. Use positive communication and social skills to interact effectively with others

4B. Develop and maintain positive relationships

4C. Demonstrate an ability to prevent, manage, and resolve interpersonal conflicts in helpful ways

Responsible Decision Making

5A. Uses personal, ethical, safety, and cultural factors in making decisions

5B. Develop, implement, and model effective decision-making skills to deal responsibly with daily academic and social situations

5C. Play a developmentally appropriate role in classroom management and positive school climate 

Link to MDE Social Emotional Learning Standards

How You Measure Social Emotional Learning Skills

Create measurable learning goals based on the social emotional learning standards. To determine in what areas a student has strengths and challenges have teachers fill out the DESSA. The Devereux Student Strength Assessment measures social emotional learning skills and focuses on STUDENT STRENGTHS and challenges. The DESSA can also be used to measure student progress for annual IEPs and three-year evaluations. *Word to the wise when you go into an IEP start with the strengths.

You can also use a basic documentation system where you create ways of measuring the skill in every social work session. So if your goal is that a student will demonstrate the ability to identify 3 positive solutions to a social problem as noted by documented observations in social work sessions, present the opportunity for the child to do identify three positive solutions in every session. Keep track of your data on a spreadsheet and use it to demonstrate growth.

How To Teach Social Emotional Learning Skills

Teach the skills that children show deficits in. You can easily develop a folder system that has activities based on grade level and the social emotional standard you are working on. ** Please be aware that neurodivergent children have neurodivergent social skills. It is damaging to them to teach them to mask neurodivergent traits. Consult with an autistic therapist if you need help figuring that out.** I highly recommend Teachers Pay Teachers as a resource. This is the part where your therapy skills come into play and the area that is the fun and easy part of school social work! *Word to the wise make sure your student is able to use these skills outside of your office (can they use them in the classroom, at home, etc?).

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