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It is widely believed that children's social-emotional growth and academic learning are inextricably connected. Pressured by high-stakes assessments, however, school professionals find it difficult to devote adequate time to children's social/behavioral development. As a response, we developed and piloted Social-Emotional Learning Foundations (SELF), a curriculum for students at risk for emotional or behavioral problems that merges instruction in social-emotional learning with early literacy skills. Designed for small-group instruction, the SELF curriculum provides teachers multiple opportunities to extend language and promote emotional and behavioral self-regulation while teaching early literacy skills that include vocabulary development and comprehension. This preliminary study was used to explore intervention feasibility, pilot implementation, and measurement protocols and to provide some evidence in support of further study. Findings from the pilot implementation in eight kindergarten classrooms indicated that SELF lessons improved teacher-reported executive function, internalizing behavior, and school-related competence. As a preface to a more rigorously designed efficacy study, the pilot study results provide preliminary evidence that integrating social-emotional learning and literacy instruction may be a viable strategy for promoting self-regulation in the service of positive social and academic outcomes for children at risk.

Highlights * Few studies utilized culturally responsive social-emotional learning interventions. * Studies rarely addressed the effects of discrimination on socio-emotional development. * Most studies did not include follow-up data, treatment validity, or social validity. * The majority of studies examined internalizing and externalizing behaviors.

Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to examine educators' beliefs, perceptions and use of culturally responsive practices in implementing a social-emotional learning (SEL) intervention. Design/methodology/approach: Focus groups with school personnel in a school with a diverse student population that had sustained success with an SEL intervention were conducted. Grounded theory was used to analyze data. Findings: The analyses produced 11 interrelated themes. Practical implications: School personnel noted that instruction in culturally responsive practices was foundational and should occur before SEL intervention implementation commences to ensure the use of culturally responsive practices as part of SEL implementation. Moreover, they noted the importance of school community buy-in (administrator, faculty, staff, parent and student) in supporting school-based SEL intervention sustainability. Social implications: Within the USA, continued diversification of the student population is predicted, while the teaching force is projected to remain primarily White, middle class and female. Consequently, educators often differ in cultural background from their students, which has implications for SEL instruction. Incorporating the use of culturally responsive pedagogy in teaching SEL skills is one approach to addressing this cultural mismatch. Originality/value: There are currently few studies that explore educator perceptions of SEL and no studies that examine the use of culturally responsive pedagogy in teaching SEL.