Most SEL companies advertise their programs as grounded in empirical research. After all, curricula based on obsolete, discredited evidence – or informed by none at all – are a gamble. With scarce resources and high expectations, schools don’t want to take chances on programming that isn’t backed by the latest findings. But what lies beneath the marketing copy of “evidence-based” and “data-driven” curricula varies dramatically.

When Respectful Ways describes its practices as “research-based,” we’re committing ourselves to purposes, personnel, processes, and pedagogies that follow scientific research and best practices in education.

Purposes: We support a holistic approach to social emotional learning that integrates creativity, discussion, play, and social involvement. Following the moral ecology FACETS framework developed by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture along with work from Ron Miller and Stephanie Jones, we seek transformation over mere transmission of information. To accomplish this, we design activities that develop responsibility and respect within a classroom community and outside it.   

Personnel: Our curriculum writers are all teachers trained in educational theory and seasoned by classroom experience. They bring this expertise to bear on their lesson planning. As they design activities, they anchor their programming in the latest scientific research and pedagogical strategies. Each module includes resources for educators to explore the topic further.   

Processes: We are dedicated to developing curriculum that works for our schools. That’s why we test our modules in pilot institutions, align them with curricular frameworks for SEL from CASEL and the Wallace Foundation, have them evaluated by researchers (most recently by a group from Georgia State University), request teacher feedback after every module is taught, and then respond to said teacher feedback by updating modules and supplements when needed. The benefit of an online program is that we’re constantly updating and improving our product – for you – based on what we’re hearing – from you. Taking the time and effort to be this responsive to the data we’ve gathered ensures that our product has proven effectiveness.  

Pedagogies: The heart of our program is lesson planning structured to promote ease of use and student discovery in the classroom. Using a variety of media, our curriculum engages all the senses and intelligences. We carefully calibrate it to meet curricular standards and integrate with initiatives like PBIS. Every module includes interactive multimedia e-courses, Respectful signage, supplements to guide instruction, and additional resources. Activities have a clearly-articulated objective and rationale, an introduction (usually consisting of interactive Q&A, a short video and/or discussion) and an activity to galvanize learning. A “wrap” puts the activity in perspective, prompting metacognitive reflection. Each activity concludes with students reciting the unit’s promise together, creating resolve and solidarity in the class.

Because we seek to transform habits of students and not just transfer information to them, we use three practices to design all our activities, helping students to internalize their own motivation:  

  1. AnalysisWhat does this mean?
  2. AccountabilityWhat have I experienced like this before?  
  3. ActionHow can I use this in my life?  


Sources used in our research:

Clark, Jr., Edward. Designing and Implementing an Integrated Curriculum: A Student-Centered Approach. Brandon, VT: Holistic Education Press, 1997.

Dweck, Carol. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine Books, 2007.

Gardner, Howard. Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People’s Minds. Cambridge: Harvard Business Review Press, 2006.

Gay, Lorraine R. and Geoffrey E. Mills. Educational Research: Competencies for Analysis and Applications. 11th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ, 2011.

Jones, Stephanie et al. Navigating SEL from the Inside Out: Looking Inside and Across 25 Leading SEL Programs. Cambridge: Harvard Graduate School of Education, 2017.


Kist, William R. The Socially Networked Classroom: Teaching in the New Media Age. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2009.

Miller, Ron.What Are Schools For? Holistic Education in American Culture. Brandon, VT: Holistic Education Press, 1999.

Pink, Daniel. A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. 2006. New York: Berkeley Books, 2006.

Tough, Paul. How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. Boston: Mariner, 2013.  

Nagaoka, Jenny et al. Foundations for Young Adult Success: A Developmental Framework. Chicago: The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, 2015.