Frequently asked questions about social and emotional learning and about CASEL


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What is social and emotional learning (SEL)?

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.
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What skills, knowledge, and mindsets does SEL promote?

CASEL’s SEL framework fosters knowledge, skills, and attitudes across five areas of competence and multiple key settings to establish equitable learning environments that advance students’ learning and development. The five core competencies are:

  • Self-awareness. The abilities to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts. This includes capacities to recognize one’s strengths and limitations with a well-grounded sense of confidence and purpose.
  • Self-management. The abilities to manage one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations. This includes the capacities to delay gratification, manage stress, and feel motivation and agency to accomplish personal and collective goals.
  • Socially awareness. The abilities to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts. This includes the capacities to feel compassion for others, understand broader historical and social norms for behavior in different settings, and recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.
  • Relationship skills. The abilities to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups. This includes the capacities to communicate clearly, listen actively, cooperate, work collaboratively to problem solve and negotiate conflict constructively, navigate settings with differing social and cultural demands and opportunities, provide leadership, and seek or offer help when needed.
  • Responsible decision-making. The abilities to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations. This includes the capacities to consider ethical standards and safety concerns, and to evaluate the benefits and consequences of various actions for personal, social, and collective well-being.
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What empirical evidence supports the effectiveness of SEL implementation?

Research confirms and teachers, parents, and principals agree: Social and emotional competencies can be taught, modeled, and practiced and lead to positive student outcomes that are important for success in school and in life.

Decades of research studies demonstrate the following benefits of SEL:

  • Improvement in students’ social and emotional skills, attitudes, relationships, academic performance, and perceptions of classroom and school climate
  • Decline in students’ anxiety, behavior problems, and substance use
  • Long-term improvements in students’ skills, attitudes, prosocial behavior, and academic performance
  • Wise financial investment according to cost-benefit research


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What are different approaches to promoting SEL?

Ideally SEL programs and practices are part of a systemic approach to SEL. The CASEL SEL Program Guide identifies evidence-based programs that are effective at promoting SEL. Based on our reviews of SELect programs, CASEL has observed that there are four key to promoting SEL:

  • Free-standing lessons specifically and explicitly designed to enhance students’ social and emotional competencies (e.g., such as a lesson that teaches students strategies for coping with stress or anxiety).
  • Teaching practices designed to create optimal conditions for the development of social and emotional competence, including strategies that promote reflection by students or build positive and supportive relationships among teachers, students, and families.
  • Integration of SEL (lessons and/or practices) and academic instruction (such as an ELA, social studies or mathematics curriculum that incorporates SEL lessons or practices).
  • Organizational strategies designed to create systemic structures and supports to promote students’ social and emotional development, including a schoolwide culture conducive to learning. Such approaches should also ensure that evidence-based classroom or schoolwide practices or programs are used to support student social and emotional development.

What can principals do to promote SEL?

A key to promoting effective schoolwide SEL is ensuring that all staff members have initial and ongoing professional development and support for implementing programming. In addition, principals can promote SEL by:

  • Indicating to school personnel and families that they are committed to schoolwide SEL as a priority; and
  • Developing and articulating a shared vision of their students’ social, emotional, and academic development.

Learn more about SEL implementation in schools here. Learn more about evidence-based programs in use by districts, schools, and teachers.

What can student support services professionals do to promote SEL?

Student support services (SSS) professionals can be valuable members of an SEL team due to their knowledge of human behavior, program planning and evaluation, community resources, classroom management strategies, and students’ personal challenges to learning. Their perspective on student needs and the resources being used to address those needs is essential to an adequate SEL needs and resources assessment. Since their work is not confined to the classroom, they also bring an important perspective to identifying schoolwide SEL programming needs.

In small-group work SSS professionals can reinforce classroom instruction in SEL skills with students who need more practice. When conferring with parents on approaches to addressing learning challenges their child is experiencing, SSS professionals can use SEL language introduced in the classroom. When consulting with teachers on classroom management issues, they can assess problems and suggest solutions with reference to SEL skills and the characteristics of a safe and supportive learning environment. When developing and assessing student progress on IEP goals, they can relate these goals to specific SEL standards. SSS staff are also typically the link between schools and the community-based services that students may access. As such, they can extend the SEL framework to these relationships as well.

Finally, coordinating classroom-based SEL instruction with services provided by student support staff can be especially effective in promoting the school success of children who have social, emotional, and mental health problems that interfere with learning.


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What resources and professional learning does CASEL offer?

CASEL offers a range of field-vetted and evidence-based tools to support high-quality SEL implementation:

  • The Guide to Schoolwide SEL provides a process and concrete tools for implementing SEL systemically at the school level.
  • The SEL District Resource Center outlines a process for implementing SEL at the district level, and includes a library of resources and examples from districts that partner with CASEL.
  • SEL State Resources includes tools, briefs, and sample policies and plans that states can use to inform their work, learn how peers are addressing similar issues, and customize materials for their own use.
  • The Program Guide applies a systematic framework to identify and rate well-designed, evidence based SEL programs and share recommendations for schools and districts looking to select an SEL program.

CASEL works closely with a limited number of school district and state partners, and offers virtual workshops, hosts free webinars, and coordinates an annual SEL Exchange for a broad audience.

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