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What Is Social and Emotional Learning?

Social and emotional learning is essential to every child’s education.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is an integral part of education and human development. SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.

SEL advances educational equity and excellence through authentic school-family-community partnerships to establish learning environments and experiences that feature trusting and collaborative relationships, rigorous and meaningful curriculum and instruction, and ongoing evaluation. SEL can help address various forms of inequity and empower young people and adults to co-create thriving schools and contribute to safe, healthy, and just communities.


SEL: What are the Core Competence Areas and Where are they Promoted?

The CASEL 5. The CASEL 5 addresses five broad and interrelated areas of competence and highlights illustrative examples for each: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. The CASEL 5 can be taught and applied at various developmental stages from childhood to adulthood and across diverse cultural contexts. Many school districts, states, and countries have used the CASEL 5 to establish preschool to high school learning standards and competencies that articulate what students should know and be able to do for academic success, school and civic engagement, health and wellness, and fulfilling careers.

Key Settings. CASEL’s framework takes a systemic approach that emphasizes the importance of establishing equitable learning environments and coordinating practices across key settings of classrooms, schools, families, and communities to enhance all students’ social, emotional, and academic learning. Quality implementation of well-designed, evidence-based, classroom programs and practices is a foundational element of effective SEL. We believe it is most beneficial to integrate SEL throughout the school’s academic curricula and culture, across the broader contexts of schoolwide practices and policies, and through ongoing collaboration with families and community organizations. These coordinated efforts should foster youth voice, agency and engagement, establish supportive classroom and school climates and models of discipline, enhance adult SEL competence, and be grounded in authentic family and community partnerships.

Read more about CASEL’s framework for SEL.

What role do schools play in promoting SEL?

In partnership with families and communities, schools play a critical role in supporting young people’s social and emotional development. This goes beyond teaching a set of skills to embedding SEL into every aspect of daily school life (Meyers et al., 2018).

Implementing and sustaining systemic SEL is a long-term process driven by continuous improvement. CASEL identifies four Focus Areas for engaging in high-quality schoolwide SEL implementation that are described throughout this Guide to Schoolwide SEL:

  • Build foundational support and plan for SEL.
  • Strengthen adult SEL competencies and capacity: Cultivating supportive, caring adults who model and practice their own SEL.
  • Promote SEL for Students: Providing all students with frequent, well-designed, and consistent opportunities to engage in and practice developmentally-appropriate and culturally-relevant SEL
  • Practice continuous improvement: Using continuous improvement cycles to facilitate high-quality implementation every step of the way.

Why Schoolwide SEL?

A growing body of research indicates that schools that promote social and emotional learning are critical to students’ academic, social, personal, and professional success (Durlak et al., 2011). Additionally, a systemic, schoolwide approach to SEL:

  • Improves the school environment, which results in better social and academic outcomes for students. An evaluation of CASEL’s Collaborating District Initiative (CDI)—a multiyear, systemic SEL initiative in multiple school districts—showed a variety of positive outcomes both for the school as a whole (improved climate and increased attendance) and for students (academic performance, social and emotional competence, and fewer disciplinary referrals) (CASEL, 2017).
  • Helps schools coordinate diverse services and programs (Elias et al., 2015; Oberle et al., 2016). Schools typically tackle many in-school and out-of-school programs aimed at prevention (e.g., substance abuse prevention, bullying prevention) and promoting student achievement and well-being. When fragmented, this kind of programming demoralizes staff and impairs student learning (Elias et al., 2015). Systemic SEL provides a framework to coordinate existing programs into one initiative with a common infrastructure, vision, and language (Meyers et al., 2018).
  • Ensures students experience SEL in a consistent and coherent way. Students learn and apply social and emotional competencies more rapidly and effectively when the messages they receive across settings are aligned and mutually reinforcing. A systemic approach to SEL brings all of the developmental agents in a student’s life together to teach, learn from, and communicate with one another.
  • Promotes cultural responsiveness through authentic partnerships with families and community partners, who play key roles in supporting students’ academic, social, and emotional development (Chartock, 2010; Delgado-Gaitan & Trueba, 1991; Hollins, 1996).

Citations can be found in the School Guide Bibliography.

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