I am a huge admirer and practitioner of the principles and practices of SEL and PBIS. I respect and appreciate the research-bases, impacts, and promises of both behaviorally-based concepts.

My purpose, then, in writing this brief piece is most definitely not to suggest that there’s anything wrong with SEL or PBIS

I’m concerned that, often in education, we introduce new, potentially wonderful strategies and practices and neglect to connect these new ideas to existing work. Examples abound. RTI is inextricably linked to PLCs. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a very helpful reinterpretation of differentiation. I would like to attempt to connect SEL to PBIS, as well as…

…the critically important and exciting domains of (what are known in the research as) non-cognitive factors.


Let’s start with a review of SEL, PBIS, and non-cognitive factors, presented in tabular form. Hopefully, the similarities will be obvious. Then, I will propose a schematic that represents these highly significant ideas in a singular way.


SEL’s qualities are best and most frequently represented through CASEL’s competencies of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. The table below briefly outlines key descriptors of each competency.


Competencies Descriptors
Self-awareness ·       Identifying emotions

·       Accurate self-perception

·       Recognizing strengths

·       Self-confidence

·       Self-efficacy

Self-management ·       Impulse control

·       Stress management

·       Self-discipline

·       Self-motivation

·       Goal-setting

·       Organizational skills

Social awareness ·       Perspective-taking

·       Empathy

·       Appreciating diversity

·       Respect for others

Relationship skills ·       Communication

·       Social engagement

·       Relationship-building

·       Teamwork

Responsible decision-making ·       Identifying problems

·       Analyzing situations

·       Solving problems

·       Evaluating

·       Reflecting

·       Ethical responsibility


PBIS’ behavioral expectations run the gamut. When I was last a school principal, our expectations were, “Respect, Responsibility, and Readiness.” Whatever the number of expectations and terms chosen, these expectations represent the habits and attributes that all students must develop to be successful. Here is a sampling of schools’ PBIS expectations:


·      Respect

·      Responsibility

·      Safety

·      Respectful

·      Responsible

·      Ready

·      Respectful

·      Accountable

·      Dependable

·      Follow instructions

·      Demonstrate self-control

·      Exercise your brain and body

·      Show respect

·      Respect myself

·      Respect others

·      Respect learning

·      Respect property

·      Show trustworthiness

·      Own behavior

·      Accept responsibility

·      Respond respectfully

·      Prepared

·      Polite

·      Productive

·      Prompt

·      Be prepared

·      Act responsibly

·      Work as a team

·      Show respect

·      Accept responsibility

·      Value self, others, & property

·      Stay safe

·      Listen while others speak

·      Follow directions

·      Speak with kind words

·      Use materials and equipment safely

·      Be responsible

·      Be respectful

·      Be there

·      Be ready

·      Follow directions

·      Service

·      Integrity

·      Motivation

·      Compassion

·      Positivity

·      Responsibility


Behavioral skills are as critical (or more critical) than academic skills to success in school, college, career, and life. The purpose of SEL and PBIS processes and strategies is to help educators nurture these “self” skills within students, skills such as self-regulation, self-discipline, self-awareness, self-efficacy, self-awareness, and self-advocacy.


The last several years have been a boon for the psychological, research-based underpinnings of behavioral skills, or as they are known in the research, non-cognitive factors. We know which of these skills are most critical to success, how they support one another, and that they are teachable – that educators can (and must) provide supports that will lead to improvements in these skills. We can…and we must.




The categories of non-cognitive factors, as described by Farrington and colleagues, are:


Categories Examples
Academic mindsets


·      I belong in this academic community.

·      My ability and competence grow with my effort.

·      I can succeed at this.

·      This work has value for me.

Social skills


·      Interpersonal skills

·      Empathy

·      Cooperation

·      Assertion

·      Responsibility

Academic perseverance


·      Grit

·      Tenacity

·      Delayed gratification

·      Self-discipline

·      Self-control

Learning strategies


·      Study skills

·      Metacognitive strategies

·      Self-regulated learning

·      Goal-setting

Academic behaviors ·      Going to class

·      Doing homework

·      Organizing materials

·      Participating

·      Studying


Farrington and colleagues believe that these skills can be represented and are often developed hierarchically (as are reading skills: phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension) and are impacted by other non-school but absolutely critical elements, a model that may be hypothesized in the following manner:


PBIS, SEL, and the factors studied and described by Farrington and colleagues are independently fantastic and can guide educators in changing students’ lives. Viewed and implemented separately, educators may be confused and overwhelmed, or may miss opportunities to provide the very best, most comprehensive sets of supports for the students we serve. At the very least, we can be better informed about these three complementary sets of principles and practices. Here is one attempt to describe the intersections of SEL, PBIS, and non-cognitive factors:


Non-cognitive factors PBIS SEL
Academic mindsets ·      Engage

·      Believe

·      Belong

·      Identifying emotions

·      Accurate self-perception

·      Recognizing strengths

·      Self-confidence

·      Self-efficacy

Social skills ·      Respect

·      Cooperate

·      Empathize

·      Stress management

·      Perspective-taking

·      Empathy

·      Appreciating diversity

·      Respect for others

Academic perseverance ·      Persevere

·      Adapt

·      Advocate

·      Impulse control

·      Self-discipline

·      Goal-setting

·      Organizational skills

Learning strategies ·      Regulate

·      Reflect

·      Monitor

·      Identifying problems

·      Analyzing situations

·      Solving problems

·      Evaluating

·      Reflecting

Academic behaviors ·      Attend

·      Complete

·      Participate

·      Self-motivation

·      Communication

·      Engagement

·      Relationship-building

·      Teamwork


Some may prefer certain SEL skills to be connected to different PBIS skills or non-cognitive factors, and I enthusiastically recommend that alterations be made. My hope is that these three related areas of research-based principles and practices, some older and some newer, are too-often viewed as separate and disconnected. In my opinion, here are the truths that we must embrace and operationalize:


  • These skills are critical…as critical as academic skills
  • These skills are teachable…students can improve their abilities in these areas
  • No other adult will and can ensure that students develop these skills. We are the answer we’ve been waiting for


We can and must serve students in this way; we can help students develop these essential skills. I believe that this challenge will become more achievable if we view SEL, PBIS, and the more recent field of non-cognitive factors as complementary sets of habits and critical attributes.

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