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 do socially and emotionally competent children and youth have?

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.

  • They are self-aware. They have 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.
  • They are able to regulate their emotions. They have 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.
  • They are socially aware. They have 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.
  • They have good relationship skills. They have 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.
  • They demonstrate responsible decision-making at school, at home, and in the community. They have 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 programming?

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

Learn more about the impact of SEL.


What instructional methods are commonly used in SEL?

The educational goals of SEL are more likely to be achieved when evidence-based approaches are used to reach students in all settings where they spend their time. For example,

  • Young children can to be taught through modeling and coaching to recognize how they feel or how someone else might be feeling.
  • Through class meetings students can practice group decision-making and setting classroom rules.
  • Students can learn cooperation and teamwork through participation in team sports and games.

Learn more about evidence-based programs.
See examples of SEL in action.

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 teachers do to promote SEL?

In addition to providing instruction in social and emotional skills, teachers’ involvement in promoting SEL goes beyond the classroom and includes:

  • Participating on a school team or committee that selects SEL programs and oversees the implementation and evaluation of SEL activities; and
  • Communicating regularly with students’ families about SEL classroom activities to encourage reinforcement of SEL lessons at home.

Learn more about SEL implementation in a school here.

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

What can parents to do to promote their child’s SEL?

Parents can promote their child’s SEL by learning more about their school’s SEL initiative and modeling behaviors and adopting practices that reinforce their child’s SEL skills at home. Examples include:

  • Participating in family informational meetings at their school to learn more about its SEL initiative; and
  • Emphasizing their child’s strengths before discussing deficits and needed improvements.

Learn more about resources for parents.

What can student support services professionals do to promote SEL?

Student support services (SSS) professionals can be valuable members of an SEL steering committee 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.


What does CASEL look for when reviewing high quality, evidence-based SEL programming?

Find “Evidence-Based Social and Emotional Learning Programs: CASEL Criteria Updates and Rationale” here.

Find “Quick Facts for Criteria on CASEL’s Guide to Effective Social and Emotional Learning Programs” here.

What are the components of evidence-based schoolwide SEL programming?

Effective SEL programming provides students with opportunities to contribute to their communities, families with opportunities to enhance their children’s social and emotional development, school personnel with ongoing professional development opportunities, and community groups with opportunities such as after-school and before-school programs in partnership with schools (CASEL. 2013. CASEL Guide: Effective social and emotional learning programs – Preschool and elementary edition. Chicago, IL: Weissberg, R.P., Goren, P., Domitrovich, C., Dusenbury, L. P.). Key components of effective SEL implementation in schools include:

  • Instruction in and opportunities to practice and apply an integrated set of cognitive, affective, and behavioral skills.
  • Learning environments characterized by trust and respectful relationships.
  • Coordinated implementation that reinforces classroom, schoolwide, out-of-school, and at-home learning activities.
  • Systematic and sequential programming from preschool through high school.
  • Developmentally and culturally appropriate behavioral supports.
  • Ongoing monitoring and evaluation of implementation for continuous improvement.

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

Why is it important to use an evaluated, evidence-based SEL curriculum?

Many available SEL programs have core elements based on an underlying theory of how desired student changes are achieved. Schools interested in implementing an SEL program are urged to start by familiarizing themselves with evidence-based programs featured in our program guides. This will give them a better understanding of how these programs work and enable them to adapt such a program to meet the needs of their students and get buy-in from their teachers without compromising the integrity of its core elements.

Learn more about selecting an evidence-based program here.