Introduction to Social and Emotional Learning

What is SEL?

According to the The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is "the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills they need to understand and manage emotions, set and accomplish positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions."

Student Fist BumpSEL helps adults and students:

  • Set short-term and long-term goals
  • Show empathy and compassion toward others
  • Manage emotions
  • Build positive relationships
  • Communicate effectively
  • Make responsible decisions
  • Take responsibility for their actions

What SEL is NOT:

A few very important points separate fact from fiction regarding SEL.

  • SEL is not a distraction from academics. It boosts academic performance.
  • SEL is not therapy. It builds healthy relationships and skills that promote healthy well-being.
  • It is not a political agenda. It helps students understand different perspectives.
  • It is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. School communities must agree on what the common language is around SEL and how and when to implement SEL strategies.

Why we must focus on SEL:

  1. When students have limited social-emotional skills, they’re more likely to struggle when they face a new challenge or conflict. According to a report from The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts, 70% of students who dropout of school do so not because they lack the ability to do the work; they drop out because they lack the social and emotional skills to navigate challenges.
  2. More than 200,000 children under the age of 18 in the United States alone lost a parent or other in-home caregiver to COVID-19. The consequences for children can be “devastating,” including institutionalization, abuse, traumatic grief, mental health problems, adolescent pregnancy, poor educational outcomes, and chronic and infectious diseases.
  3. The proportion of pediatric mental health emergency room visits increased 24% for 5 to 11-year olds, and 31% for 12 to 17-year-olds, compared to the same time period in 2019.

Benefits of SEL

A 2011 meta-analysis of 213 studies involving school-based, universal SEL programs including over 270,000 students in K-12 revealed important outcomes, some of which include:

11 percentile-point gain on standardized achievement tests

  • Positive classroom behavior
  • Improved academic performance, decreases in anxiety and behavior issues, among other benefits
    • (Source: Durlak, J.A., Weissberg, R.P., Dymnicki, A.B., Taylor, R.D., & Schellinger, K. (2011) The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development: 82 (1), 405-432.)
  • Teachers with high levels of social competence are better able to protect themselves from burnout
  • Teachers who possess social and emotional competencies are more likely to stay in the classroom longer
    • (Source: Jennings, P.A. & Greenberg, M.T. (2009) The Prosocial Classroom: Teacher Social and Emotional Competence in Relation to Student and Classroom Outcomes. American Educational Research Association.)
  • $11 Savings on Every Dollar Spent
    • On average, for every dollar spent on SEL programming, there is an $11 return on investment. A study by Columbia University shows that for every dollar invested in SEL programming, districts save $11 dollars that would have been spent on costly interventions, remediation, dropout prevention, recovery, etc.
    • Belfield, C., Bowden, B., Klapp, A., Levin, H., Shand, R., & Zander, S. (2015). The Economic Value of Social and Emotional Learning. New York: Center for Benefit-Cost Studies in Education.
    • Damon E. Jones, Mark Greenberg, and Max Crowley. Early Social-Emotional Functioning and Public Health: The Relationship Between Kindergarten Social Competence and Future Wellness. American Journal of Public Health: November 2015, Vol. 105, No. 11, pp. 2283-2290

The Demand for SEL

92% of surveyed executives say skills such as problem-solving and communicating clearly are equally or more important than technical skills.

  • (Future of Jobs Report, World Economic Forum)

The Top 10 skills identified by the World Economic Forum all involve social and emotional competence

  • (Future of Jobs Report, World Economic Forum)

What, if anything, stands out to you from what you just read?


Knowing more about what SEL is and the importance of the benefits, what might be your next step? This could be talking to others to share this information, reading more information, or taking steps to find out more about how to implement SEL.

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