Understanding Social/Emotional Learning


Over the past few years, the concept of Social/Emotional Learning has emerged as a hot-button topic in education.  It’s now a buzzword in local communities, having received national attention both positively and negatively.

But what exactly is Social/Emotional Learning, and why does it matter?


CASEL is an organization formed in 1994 and is widely regarded as having developed the most comprehensive and well-researched approach to defining Social/Emotional Learning (SEL).

According to CASEL, SEL is:

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.

Simply put, it’s the ability to understand a situation and react appropriately.

Diving deeper, CASEL identifies 5 key “competencies” of SEL.  These competencies are important for students to develop if they are to display effective SEL.

  1. self-management
  2. self-awareness
  3. social awareness
  4. relationship skills
  5. responsible decision making

Effects of SEL

Over the past 25 or so years, the folks at CASEL have researched the effects of SEL on students.  Evidence strongly suggests that effective SEL implementation in the classroom leads to:

  • Positive social behavior
  • Fewer conduct problems
  • Less emotional distress
  • Improved academic performance

Furthermore, these effects appear to last!  Students who experience SEL programs in school can still see and feel their effects up to 18 years later.  That’s big time progress!

How to teach SEL

CASEL is very clear that SEL must start at home, with the parents.  It’s sometimes not east to teach the 5 competencies, but you can start by having close conversations with your kids and, perhaps more importantly, model these competencies in your own actions.  Displaying empathy for others is a great first step.  Try to understand someone else’s point of view and consider their emotions when interacting.  Kids are perceptive, and they will pick up on your actions.

Additionally, CASEL offers many resources for parents who may want more information.

Beyond the home, many schools and school districts are implementing SEL into the classrooms.  As a counselor, it is my belief that teachers are the most important people on campus.  They interact with your child daily, and they have a huge amount of influence on your child’s behavior.  I highly encourage you to reach out to your child’s teachers and counselor to get a better understanding of how SEL is implemented in your child’s school and classrooms.  Chances are SEL is being taught already, and it’s important for parents to reinforce what is being taught at school.

Social/Emotional Learning is a hard concept to define and even harder to measure.  However, parents know it when they see it.  Your child will generally display better relational skills with you and his friends and, more importantly, appear better adjusted both at home and at school.