Social-Emotional Learning

Social-Emotional Learning

SEL Pinwheel Image

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines social and emotional learning (SEL) as follows:

The process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions (2017).


For a growing number of classrooms, schools, and districts, SEL serves as a coordinating framework for how educators can partner with families and communities to promote students’ social, emotional, and academic learning.

The benefits of focusing on SEL, in addition to academics, are manifold. In the short term, students are more successful in school and daily life when they:

  • Know and can manage themselves
  • Understand the perspectives of others and relate effectively with them
  • Make sound choices about personal and social decisions 

Weissberg (2016) highlights a range of other benefits, including:

  • More positive attitudes toward oneself, others, and tasks including enhanced self-efficacy, confidence, persistence, empathy, connection and commitment to school, and a sense of purpose
  • More positive social behaviors and relationships with peers and adults, including kindness, empathy, and sharing
  • Reduced conduct problems and risk-taking behavior
  • Decreased emotional distress, including reduced depression and stress
  • Improved test scores, grades, and attendance

In the long run, Weissberg emphasizes that greater social and emotional competence can increase the likelihood of many other educational and personal outcomes, such as: high school graduation, readiness for postsecondary education, career success, positive family and work relationships, improved mental health, reduced criminal behavior, and engaged civic participation.


CASEL’s framework emphasizes integrating skills, attitudes, and behaviors in five core competencies.

  1. Self-awareness: This is the ability to accurately recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior; and the ability to accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations, with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a “growth mindset.”
  2. Self-management: This area encompasses successful regulation of one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different situations, including stress management, impulse control, and self-motivation. It also comprises the ability to set and work toward personal and academic goals, including possession of self-discipline and organizational skills.
  3. Social awareness: This competency focuses on the ability to take the perspective of, empathize with, and respect others, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures. It also includes understanding social and ethical norms for behavior and recognizing and respecting family, school, and community resources and supports.
  4. Relationship skills: Building upon appreciating diversity, these skills encompass establishing and maintaining healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups, communicating clearly, listening well, cooperating with others, resisting inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict constructively, and seeking and offering help when needed.
  5. Responsible decision-making: This key competency focuses on students’ ability to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms. It involves realistically identifying problems, analyzing situations, evaluating the consequences of various actions, reflecting on the well-being of oneself and others, and solving the problem based on this evaluation and considerations of ethical responsibility.

In Classrooms

Daily interactions with teachers and peers in classrooms is a primary place for students to engage in SEL. Effective programs incorporate four elements that are necessary to successful implementation and achievement of student outcomes: Connected and coordinated sets of activities aimed at fostering skill development; active forms of learning to promote student acquisition of new skills; emphasis on developing personal and social skills; and targeting the specific social and emotional skills outlined in the competencies. 

Teachers can take a number of actions to incorporate SEL into the classroom:

  • Teach and model social and emotional skills
  • Integrate across classroom instruction and academic curriculum
  • Provide opportunities for students to practice and hone those skills
  • Facilitate opportunities for students to apply skills in various situations

In addition to SEL-specific learning activities, teachers can also naturally support students in acquiring these skills through interpersonal and student-centered instructional interactions. SEL can be used as a vehicle for teachers to build relationships with students, students to build relationships with each other, and to rethink how conflict and discipline are addressed. Ultimately, teacher practices should aim to provide students with emotional support; create opportunities for students' voice, autonomy, and mastery experiences; and promote student engagement in the educational process.


In Schools

SEL in schools starts with the establishment of policies, practices, and structures to promote a safe and supportive learning environment, which positively affect academic, behavioral, and mental health outcomes for students.

School leaders can play a critical role in developing climate and student support services. Key amongst these activities are:

  • Establishing a team to address the building climate
  • Adult modeling of social and emotional competence
  • Developing clear norms, values, and expectations for students and staff members
  • Creating fair and equitable discipline policies and bullying prevention practices
  • Fostering a sense of community among students through structures like morning meetings or advisories
  • Ensuring provision of multi-tiered support services by professionals (i.e. counselors, social workers, and psychologists) are aligned with SEL efforts in classrooms and the building
  • Building family and community partnerships, including inviting community members and organizations to support classroom and schools efforts


To successfully integrate SEL into school policies, practices, and structures, school leaders are encouraged to develop a vision for the school that prioritizes academic, social, and emotional learning, conduct an SEL-specific resources and needs assessment, and then align new programs and policies to the vision and needs of the school. This includes designing and implementing effective professional learning programs to build internal capacity for SEL, adopting and implementing evidence-based programs, integrating SEL into curriculum instruction, schoolwide practices and policies, and family and community engagement efforts. School leaders also play a critical role in establishing processes to continuously improve SEL through inquiry and data collection.

Setting goals and benchmarks through SEL standards is critical to ensuring that programs are on track to help students develop social and emotional skills. On a national level, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have attempted to include SEL-related skills in two domains: the interpersonal domain, which encompasses teamwork, collaboration, and leadership; and the intrapersonal domain, which encompasses intellectual openness, work ethic/conscientiousness, and positive self-evaluation. However, the CCSS is not comprehensive in terms of SEL needs, neither in terms of standards or assessment.

There are a range of tools available, particularly a number of behavior rating scales, to help schools effectively assess SEL. The American Institutes for Research (AIR), in partnership with CASEL, has developed the Ready to Assess suite of tools to help schools think through the purpose, rigor, practicalities and burdens, and ethics of assessment for SEL.

SRI is equipped to help schools determine the purpose of their assessment and to design surveys that assess a variety of components critical to SEL, including:

  • School climate: Do students feel safe and supported at school? Do discipline policies feel fair and reasonable?
  • Teacher effectiveness: Do students feel they can trust teachers? Do teachers model social and emotional learning?
  • Academic program: Does the academic program offer students the opportunity to
  • School leader effectiveness: Do students feel school leaders care about them? Do students feel like school administrators are present and invested in their success?

SRI is happy to help schools looking to assess students’ SEL and the practices, policies, and structures intended to help students acquire those skills, mindsets, and behaviors.



American Institutes Research. (2015) Are you ready to assess social and emotional development?

Collaborative for Academic, Social, & Emotional Learning

Denham, Susanne. (2016)

Weissberg, Roger. (2016)

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