Date of Award

January 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning

First Advisor

Anne Walker


The goal of social-emotional learning (SEL) is to create a safe environment for students to learn in and improve peer relationships, decrease conduct problems and emotional distress, and promote academic achievement. SEL program implementation has grown over the last decade in U.S. schools; however, these programs are designed for general education, not English Language Learner (ELL) students. Furthermore, research on teaching SEL to ELL students is limited.

This study explored what SEL looked like and how bullying prevention and character education programs were adapted in an elementary ELL classroom. The theoretical framework for this study was based on CASEL’s “Five Social and Emotional Learning Core Competencies” (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning [CASEL], 2012, p. 9) and “Four Strategies that Promote SEL” (Dusenbury, Calin, Domitrovich, & Weissberg, 2015, p. 2). This qualitative case study utilized ethnographic data collection methods (Glesne, 2011) including ELL classroom observations focusing on two ELL teachers as well as interviews with ELL teachers, a school counselor and the school principal.

Findings indicate that CASEL’s framework and four approaches to teaching SEL are suitable for teaching SEL to ELL children. However, to meet ELL children’s unique SEL needs, the school and ELL teachers needed to consider both language and cultural background in deciding how to teach SEL and what SEL skills to prioritize.

Key implications of this study include the necessity of a school-wide SEL initiative in which teachers, counselor, and school administrators collaboratively address SEL needs of ELL students, integration of SEL into all aspects of the ELL classroom, teaching English language needed for self-awareness and self-management of emotions and behavior as well as interpersonal conflicts, and the need to assess and prioritize what SEL competencies to teach based on ELL students’ unique needs.