Social and Emotional Learning in Jewish Education:
Introduction to a Series

Screen capture: / Maryland State Dept of Education

By Joey Eisman, Josh Sterling Friedman, and Jeffrey S. Kress

Our history, texts and traditions as the Jewish people endow us with rich resources that make it possible to live a blessed life, infused with positive meaning and purpose. These resources can be inspirational and provide insights into, and guidance for, communal values and self-understanding, even as they are, at times, complex and confounding. Educators play a vital role in creating environments that nurture learners’ deep connection to these sources of wisdom. Powerful pedagogies and educational processes must complement the guidance provided by our history, texts and traditions. We believe that there are important lessons to be drawn from Social and Emotional Learning.

There have been several recent articles about the potential held by Social and Emotional Learning methodologies and power these have when combined with an overlay of positive values. While values education has become prominent in Jewish education, SEL is still somewhat novel and deserves more attention.

What is SEL?

SEL is a set of processes which encourage supportive and engaging learning environments, and develop five interrelated competencies: 1) self-awareness, 2) self-management, 3) social awareness, 4) relationship skills, and 5) responsible decision making[1]. The connection to Jewish education is clear. SEL is associated with meaningful classroom success[2], enactment of positive communal behaviors[3], and academic achievement [3]. If you are in the Jewish education space, there is an opportunity for you to learn, use, and improve your instruction through SEL.

In order to carry out this important work, it is imperative to have a concrete understanding of how the choices we make about our lesson plans, our classrooms (inside or outside of the “traditional” classroom), and our educators are intentionally guided by research in emotion regulation, social dynamics, motivation, and identity development. SEL processes leverage age-old wisdom with modern data to enhance the context in which our students grow. Think of SEL not as another task to spend time on, but the lens through which all tasks ought to be viewed through.

Recent exposure of SEL to the Jewish education space has provided new opportunities for individuals and institutions to improve their learning outcomes. For example, some religious schools have implemented new SEL curricula, and some Israel travel-based programs have utilized SEL methodologies to improve community and individual development. In fact, this past October, close to 150 educators gathered for a day of learning devoted to Social, Emotional, and Spiritual Learning (sponsored by the education programs of HUC, JTS, and Reconstructing Judaism). We want to build on the considerable interest in this approach from members of this eJP community in this approach.

How can I use SEL, now?

The journey to infusing SEL into your work can start with methods and techniques that are low-barrier and that mesh with the content and material you are probably already working with. Some of these are available through the website Further, we are launching a series of articles to showcase some best-practices to inspire others to consider enhancing their focus on SEL in their work. We hope that the entries in this series provide concrete applications and a way for the continuous improvement and integration of Jewish values and Jewish community world-wide.

If you are interested in learning more and bringing SEL to your school, shul, organization, etc., we encourage you to contact us, the authors.

Joey Eisman is currently a consultant and graduate student at Teachers College, Columbia University, and formerly a Senior Program Manager at BBYO, managing their global expansion and operations. He is a graduate of M2 and can be reached at

Josh Sterling Friedman is currently a PhD student in Cognitive Science in Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. He is also an active educator and consultant in the fields of Jewish summer camp, Birthright Israel, and SEL through challenge-based group facilitation. He can be reached at

Jeffrey S. Kress, Dr. Bernard Heller Professor of Jewish Education, is Director of Research at the Leadership Commons of the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education – Jewish Theological Seminary. He can be reached at

  1. Osher, D., Kidron, Y., Brackett, M., Dymnicki, A., Jones, S., & Weissberg, R. P. (2016). Advancing the Science and Practice of Social and Emotional Learning: Looking Back and Moving Forward. Review of Research in Education, 40(1), 644-681.
  2. Brackett, M.A., Rivers, S.E., Reyes, M.R., Salovey, P. (2012). Enhancing academic performance and social and emotional competence with the RULER feelings words curriculum. Learning and Individual Difference 22(2), 218-224.
  3. Ryan, R.M. (1995). Psychological needs and the facilitation of integrative processes. Journal of Personality, 63(3), 397-427.
  4. Hawkes, N. & Hawkes, J. (2018). The inner curriculum: How to nourish wellbeing, resilience and self-leadership, Melton, Woodbridge, United Kingdom: John Catt Publication.