Mindfulness and Social Emotional Learning (SEL): A Conceptual Framework

  • Molly Stewart LawlorEmail author
Part of the Mindfulness in Behavioral Health book series (MIBH)


A fundamental mission of schooling is to educate the “whole child” which includes promoting both cognitive and noncognitive skills. Research has revealed schools to be one of the primary settings promote social-emotional learning (SEL). SEL encompasses the processes through which individuals attain and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to identify and manage their emotions; understand another’s perspective and show empathy for others; set and achieve positive goals; develop and sustain positive relationships; and make responsible decisions. In a similar vein, contemplative education seeks to educate the whole child, with a focus on developing mindful awareness, values for moral living, caring for others, learning, and personal growth. Increasingly, school-based primary prevention efforts are incorporating mindfulness-based practices, to foster attention, resiliency, and well-being. Mindfulness is a state of consciousness that involves the direction of attention that incorporates self-awareness with a core characteristic of being open, receptive, and nonjudgmental. Both SEL and mindfulness-based initiatives in education emphasize the development of positive self, moral, social, and emotional understanding. What has been missing in the literature is a clear theoretical, empirical, and practical, articulation of how mindfulness-based practices align with SEL. This article puts forth a conceptual framework that describes how mindfulness practices may deepen SEL within K-12 educational contexts. Future directions for the field of mindfulness and SEL are also discussed.


Mindfulness Social emotional learning SEL Contemplative education Child and adolescent development Mindfulness-based interventions 


  1. Baer, R. A. (2003). Mindfulness training as a clinical intervention: A conceptual and empirical review. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10, 125–143.Google Scholar
  2. Baer, R. A., Smith, G. T., & Allen, K. B. (2004). Assessment of mindfulness by self-report: The Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness Skills. Assessment, 11, 191–206.Google Scholar
  3. Baer, R. A., Smith, G. T., Hopkins, J., Krietemeyer, J., & Toney, L. (2006). Using self-report assessment methods to explore facets of mindfulness. Assessment, 13, 27–45.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Baijal, S., Jha, A. P., Kiyonaga, A., Singh, R., & Srinivasan, N. (2011). The influence of concentrative meditation training on the development of attention networks during early adolescence. Frontiers in Developmental Psychology., 2, 1–9.Google Scholar
  5. Barnes, S., Brown, K., Krusemark, E., Campbell, W., & Rogge, R. D. (2007). The role of mindfulness in romantic relationship satisfaction and responses to relationship stress. Journal of Marital & Family Therapy, 33, 482–500. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.2007.00033.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Beach, M., Roter, D., Korthuis, P., Epstein, R. M., Sharp, V., Ratanawongsa, N., … Saha, S. (2013). A multicenter study of physician mindfulness and health care quality. Annals Of Family Medicine, 11, 421–428. doi: 10.1370/afm.1507.Google Scholar
  7. Benn, R., Akiva, T., Arel, S., & Roeser, R. W. (2012). Mindfulness training effects for parents and educators of children with special needs. Developmental Psychology, 48, 1476–1487.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Blair, C., & Razza, R. P. (2007). Relating effortful control, executive function, and false belief understanding to emerging math and literacy ability in kindergarten. Child Development, 72, 647–663.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brefczynski Lewis, J. A., Lutz, A., Schaefer, H. S., Levinson, D. B., & Davidson, R. J. (2007). Neural correlates of attentional expertise in long-term meditation practitioners. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104, 11483–11488.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Broderick, P.C., & Metz, S. (2015). Working on the inside: Mindfulness for adolescents. In R.W Roeser & K.A. Schonert-Reichl (Eds.), Handbook of mindfulness education (Chapter 22). New York, NY: Springer.Google Scholar
  11. Brown, K. W., & Kasser, T. (2005). Are psychological and ecological well-being compatible? The role of values, mindfulness, and lifestyle. Social Indicators Research, 74, 349–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Brown, K., Kasser, T., Ryan, R. M., Alex Linley, P. P., & Orzech, K. (2009). When what one has is enough: Mindfulness, financial desire discrepancy, and subjective well-being. Journal of Research in Personality, 43, 727–736. doi: 10.1016/j.jrp.2009.07.002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 822–848.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2004). Fostering healthy self-regulation from within and without: A self-determination theory perspective. In P. A. Linley & S. Joseph (Eds.), Positive psychology in practice (pp. 105–124). New York, NY: Wiley.Google Scholar
  15. Burke, C. A. (2010). Mindfulness-based approaches with children and adolescents: A preliminary review of current research in an emergent field. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19, 133–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Caprara, G., Barbaranelli, C., Pastorelli, C., Bandura, A., & Zimbardo, P. (2000). Prosocial foundations of children's academic achievement. Psychological Science, 11, 302–306.Google Scholar
  17. Carson, J. W., Carson, K. M., Gil, K. M., & Baucom, D. H. (2004). Mindfulness-based relationship enhancement. Behavior Therapy, 35, 471–494.Google Scholar
  18. Casey, B. J., Jones, R. M., & Hare, T. A. (2008). The adolescent brain. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1124, 111–126.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Coatsworth, J., Duncan, L. G., Berrena, E., Bamberger, K. T., Loeschinger, D., Greenberg, M. T., & Nix, R. L. (2014). The mindfulness-enhanced strengthening families program: Integrating brief mindfulness activities and parent training within an evidence-based prevention program. New Directions for Youth Development, 142, 45–58. doi: 10.1002/yd.20096.Google Scholar
  20. Coatsworth, J. J., Duncan, L., Greenberg, M., & Nix, R. (2010). Changing parents’ mindfulness, child management skills and relationship quality with their youth: Results from a randomized pilot intervention trial. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19, 203–217. doi: 10.1007/s10826-009-9304-8.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. (2003). Safe and sound: An educational leader’s guide to evidence-based social and emotional learning programs. Retrieved August 18, 2014, from
  22. Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. (2013). 2013 CASEL guide: Effective social and emotional learning programs—Preschool and elementary school edition. Chicago, IL: Author.Google Scholar
  23. Connelly, J. E. (2005). Narrative possibilities: Using mindfulness in clinical practice. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 48, 84–94.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Davidson, R.J, Dunne, J., Eccles, J. S., Engle, A., Greenberg, M., Jennings, P., & ...Vago, D. (2012). Contemplative practices and mental training: Prospects for American education. Child Development Perspectives, 6, 146–153. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-8606.2012.00240.x.
  25. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M., (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in humanbehavior. New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  26. Dekeyser, M., Raes, F., Leijssen, M., Leysen, S., & Dewulf, D. (2008). Mindfulness skills and interpersonal behavior. Personality and Individual Differences, 44, 1235–1245. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2007.11.018.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Diamond, A. (2013). Executive functions. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 135–168.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Diamond, A., & Lee, K. (2011). Interventions shown to aid executive function development in children 4 to 12 tears old. Science, 333(6045), 959–964. doi: 10.1126/science.1204529.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). Enhancing students’ social and emotional development promotes success in school: Results of a meta-analysis. Child Development, 82, 474–501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Eisenberg, N. (2002). Empathy-related emotional responses, altruism, and their socialization. In R. J. Davidson & A. Harrington (Eds.), Visions of compassion: Western scientists and Tibetan Buddhists examine human nature (pp. 131–164). London, England: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Flook, L., Smalley, S. L., Kitil, J. M., Galla, B. M., Kaiser-Greenland, S., Locke, J., … Kasari, C. (2010). Effects of mindful awareness practices on executive functions in elementary school children. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 26, 70–95.Google Scholar
  32. Frank, J. L., Jennings, P. A., & Greenberg, M. T. (2013). Mindfulness-based interventions in school settings: An introduction to the special issue. Research in Human Development, 10, 205–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Fredrickson, B. L., Cohn, M. A., Coffey, K., Pek, J., & Finkel, S. M. (2008). Open hearts build lives: Positive emotions, induced through meditation, build consequential personal resources. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1045–1062.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Garrison Institute. (2005). Contemplation and education—A survey of programs using contemplative techniques in K-12 educational settings: A mapping report. Garrison, NY: Author.Google Scholar
  35. Gathercole, S. E., Pickering, S. J., Knight, C., & Stegmann, Z. (2004). Working memory skills and educational attainment: Evidence from National Curriculum assessments at 7 and 14 years of age. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 18, 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Goleman, D. (2014, May). Focus. Paper presented at the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education’s Heart-Mind Conference, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.Google Scholar
  37. Greenberg, M. T. (2014, May). Cultivating compassion. Paper presented at the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education’s Heart-Mind Conference, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.Google Scholar
  38. Greenberg, M. T., & Harris, A. R. (2012). Nurturing mindfulness in children and youth: Current state of research. Child Development Perspectives, 6, 161–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Greenberg, M. T., Weissberg, R., O’Brien, M., Zins, J., Fredericks, L., Resnik, H., & Elias, M. J. (2003). Enhancing school-based prevention and youth development through coordinated social, emotional, and academic learning. American Psychologist, 58, 466–474.Google Scholar
  40. Grossman, P., Niemann, L., Schmidt, S., & Walach, H. (2004). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits: A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 57, 35–43.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Harnett, P. H., & Dawe, S. (2013). The contribution of mindfulness-based therapies for children and families and proposed conceptual integration. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 17, 195–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S. W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research, 191, 36–43. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006.Google Scholar
  43. Humphrey, N. (2013). Social and emotional learning: A critical appraisal. London, England: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Jennings, P. A. (2014). Early childhood teachers’ well-being, mindfulness, and self-compassion in relation to classroom quality and attitudes towards challenging students. Mindfulness, 6(4), 732–743. doi: 10.1007/s12671-014-0312-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Jennings, P. A. (2015). Teacher programs overview and CARE program. In R. W Roeser & K. A. Schonert-Reichl (Eds.), Handbook of mindfulness education (Chapter 11). New York, NY: Springer.Google Scholar
  46. Jennings, P. A., & Greenberg, M. T. (2009). The prosocial classroom: Teacher social and emotional competence in relation to student and classroom outcomes. Review of Educational Research, 79, 491–524.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Jennings, P. A., Snowberg, K. E., Coccia, M. A., & Greenberg, M. T. (2011). Improving classroom learning environments by Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education (CARE): Results of two pilot studies. Journal of Classroom Interaction, 46, 37–48.Google Scholar
  48. Jha, A. P., Krompinger, J., & Baime, M. J. (2007). Mindfulness training modifies subsystems of attention. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 7, 109–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Jones, S. M., Bouffard, S. M., & Weissbourd, R. (2013). Educators’ social and emotional skills vital to learning. Phi Delta Kappan, 94, 62–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living: The program of the stress reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. New York, NY: Dell.Google Scholar
  51. Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: Past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10, 144–156.Google Scholar
  52. Kemeny, M. E., Foltz, C., Cavanagh, J. F., Cullen, M., Giese-Davis, J., Jennings, P., … Ekman, P. (2012). Contemplative/emotion training reduces negative emotional behavior and promotes prosocial responses. Emotion, 12, 338–350. doi: 10.1037/a0026118.Google Scholar
  53. Krasner, M. S., Epstein, R. M., Beckman, H., Suchman, A. L., Chapman, B., Mooney, C. J., & Quill, T. E. (2009). Association of an educational program in mindful communication with burnout, empathy, and attitudes among primary care physicians. JAMA, 302, 1284–1293.Google Scholar
  54. Kress, J. S., & Elias, M. J. (2006). School-based social and emotional learning programs. In K. A. Renninger & I. E. Sigel (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology (6th ed., Vol. 4, pp. 592–618). New York, NY: Wiley.Google Scholar
  55. Lantieri, L., & Nambiar, M. (2012). Cultivating the social, emotional, and inner lives of children and teachers. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 21, 27–33.Google Scholar
  56. Lawlor, M. S. (2014). Mindfulness in practice: Considerations for implementation of mindfulness-based programming for adolescents in school contexts. New Directions for Youth Development, 142, 83–95. doi: 10.1002/yd.20098.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Lawlor, M. S., Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Gadermann, A., & Zumbo, B. D. (2014). A validation study of the mindful attention awareness scale adapted for children. Mindfulness, 5(6), 730–741. doi: 10.1007/s12671-013-0228-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Lutz, A., Brefczynski-Lewis, J. A., Johnstone, T., & Davidson, R. J. (2008). Regulation of the neural circuitry of emotion by compassion meditation: Effects of meditative expertise. PLoS One, 3, e1897.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. Masten, A. S., & Motti-Stefanidi, F. (2009). Understanding and promoting resilience in children: Promotive and protective processes in schools. In T. B. Gutkin & C. R. Reynolds (Eds.), The handbook of school psychology (4th ed., pp. 721–738). New York, NY: Wiley.Google Scholar
  60. Meiklejohn, J., Phillips, C., Freedman, M. L., Griffin, M. L., Biegel, G., Roach, A., … Saltzman, A. (2012). Integrating mindfulness training into K-12 education: Fostering resilience of teachers and students. Mindfulness, 3, 291–307.Google Scholar
  61. Metz, E. C., & Youniss, J. (2005). Longitudinal gains in civic development through school-based required service. Political Psychology, 26, 413–437. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9221.2005.00424.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Moffitt, T. E., Arseneault, L., Belsky, D., Dickson, N., Hancox, R. J., Harrington, H., … Caspi, A. (2011). A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108, 2693–2698.Google Scholar
  63. National Research Council. (2012). Education for life and work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century. In J. W. Pelligrino & M. L. Hilton (Eds.), Committee on defining deeper learning and 21st century skills. Washington, DC: The National Academic Press.Google Scholar
  64. Oberle, E., Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Lawlor, M., & Thomson, K. C. (2011). Mindfulness and inhibitory control in early adolescence. Journal of Early Adolescence, 32, 565–588. doi: 10.1177/0272431611403741.Google Scholar
  65. Parker, A., & Kupersmidt, J. (2015). The master mind and moment programs: Introducing two universal mindfulness education programs for elementary and middle school students. In R. W. Roeser & K. A. Schonert-Reichl (Eds.), Handbook of mindfulness education (Chapter 21). New York, NY: Springer.Google Scholar
  66. Roeser, R. W. (2015). Processes of teaching, learning, and transfer in mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) for teachers: A contemplative educational perspective. In R. W. Roeser & K. A. Schonert-Reichl (Eds.), Handbook of mindfulness education (Chapter 10). New York, NY: Springer.Google Scholar
  67. Roeser, R. W., & Peck, S. C. (2009). An education in awareness: Self, motivation, and self-regulated learning in contemplative perspective. Educational Psychologist, 44, 119–136.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  68. Roeser, R., Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Jha, A., Cullen, M., Wallace, L., Wilensky, R., … Harrison, J. (2013.) Mindfulness training and reductions in teacher stress and burnout: Results from two randomized, waitlist-control field trials. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105, 787–804.Google Scholar
  69. Roeser, R. W., Skinner, E., Beers, J., & Jennings, P. A. (2012). Mindfulness training and teachers’ professional development: An emerging area of research and practice. Child Development Perspectives, 6, 167–173. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-8606.2012.00238.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Roeser, R. W., & Zelazo, P. (2012). Contemplative science, education and child development: Introduction to the special section. Child Development Perspectives, 6, 143–145. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-8606.2012.00242.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Sahdra, B. K., MacLean, K. A., Ferrer, E., Shaver, P. R., Rosenberg, E. L., Jacobs, T. L., … Saron, C. D. (2011). Enhanced response inhibition during intensive meditation training predicts improvements in self-reported adaptive socioemotional functioning. Emotion, 11, 299–312. doi: 10.1037/a0022764.Google Scholar
  72. Scales, P., Benson, P., Leffert, N., & Blyth, D. (2000). Contribution of developmental assets to the prediction of thriving among adolescents. Applied Developmental Science, 4, 27–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Oberle, E., Lawlor, M. S., Abbott, D., Thomson, K., Oberlander, T. F., & Diamond, A. (2014). Enhancing cognitive and social-emotional development through a simple-to-administer school program. Manuscript under review.Google Scholar
  74. Shapiro, S. L., & Schwartz, G. R. (2000). Intentional systemic mindfulness: An integrative model for self-regulation and health. Advances in Mind-Body Medicine, 16, 128.Google Scholar
  75. Shapiro, S.L., Jazaieri, H., & Goldin, P.R. (2012) Mindfulness-based stress reduction effects on moral reasoning and decision making, The Journal of Positive Psychology 7, 504–515, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2012.723732Google Scholar
  76. Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S., Karazsia, B. T., & Singh, J. (2013). Mindfulness training for teachers changes the behavior of their preschool students. Research in Human Development, 10, 211–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Tang, Y., Ma, Y., Wang, J., Fan, Y., Feng, S., Lu, Q., … Posner, M. I. (2007). Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulation. PNAS, 104, 17152–17156.Google Scholar
  78. Tang, Y., & Posner, M. (2009). Attention training and attention state training. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13, 222–227.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  79. Teper, R., Segal, Z. V., & Inzlicht, M. (2014). Inside the mindful mind: How mindfulness enhances emotion regulation through improvements in executive control. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23, 1–6. doi: 10.1177/0963721413495869.Google Scholar
  80. Vago, D. (2012). Contemplative practices and mental training: Prospects for American education. Child Development Perspectives, 6, 146–153. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-8606.2012.00240.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Weissberg, R. P., Payton, J. W., O’Brien, M. U., & Munro, S. (2007). Social and emotional learning. In F. C. Power, R. J. Nuzzi, D. Narvaez, D. K. Lapsley, & T. C. Hunt (Eds.), Moral education: A handbook, Volume 2: M–Z (pp. 417–418). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
  82. Youniss, J., & Yates, M. (1999). Youth service and moral-civic identity: A case for everyday morality. Educational Psychology Review, 11, 361–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Zelazo, P. D., & Lyons, K. E. (2012). The potential benefits of mindfulness training in early childhood: A developmental social cognitive neuroscience perspective. Child Development Perspectives, 6, 154–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Zins, J. E., Bloodworth, M. R., Weissberg, R. P., & Walberg, H. J. (2004). The scientific base linking emotional learning to student success and academic outcomes. In J. E. Zins, R. P. Weissberg, M. C. Wang, & H. J. Walberg (Eds.), Building academic success on social and emotional learning: What does the research say? (pp. 3–22). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  85. Zins, J. E., Weissberg, R. P., Wang, M. C., & Walberg, H. J. (2004). Building academic success on social and emotional learning. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  86. Zoogman, S., Goldberg, S. B., Hoyt, W. T., & Miller, L. (2014). Mindfulness interventions with youth: a meta-analysis. Mindfulness, 6(2), 290–302. doi: 10.1007/s12671-013-0260-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

Personalised recommendations