From the pandemic to school closures to nationwide mobilization for racial justice, the challenges of 2020 remind us that the systems in which we learn, work, and live must promote healthy development. For CASEL, the past year confirmed a resounding truth: with social and emotional learning (SEL), there is a better way forward. 

As we move into a new year, there is an opportunity for innovation that can last beyond the pandemic and carry us forward if we continue to harness the power of SEL toward meaningful, equitable action. 

Below are notable SEL headlines from the past year, including a look at how we contributed to those efforts.

Global concerns shifted to the overall social-emotional well-being of all adults and students.

Given the growing interest, we launched a free CASEL CARES webinar series to connect tens of thousands of people worldwide to quality expertise and guidance on how SEL can be most helpful in today’s circumstances. We also responded to constructive criticism of SEL to keep our eyes on the big picture.

Related: Watch our collection of webinars featuring more than 40 partner organizations and our keynote for UNESCO’s global conference.


The global SEL Market, according to MarketWatch, was valued at approximately $1.3B, with the number of SEL programs, curriculum, and assessments continuing to grow.

We launched a self-governed SEL Providers Council that brings together more than 100 program providers for collective learning, thought leadership, and action to strengthen the SEL evidence base and best practices.

Related: Explore the SEL Providers Council and our updated program review process.


The research base continued to grow with developments in adult SEL, assessment, school-based programs, and more.

We continued to contribute to SEL knowledge building and scholarship in partnership with others through the launch of our research-practice partnership (RPP) model on continuous improvement and the release of a new research paper on a systems approach to SEL.

Related: Learn more about our RPP model and partner research efforts like the Building Equitable Learning Environments Network.


The majority of state education departments surveyed reported an increase in SEL as a priority to support students and adults.

We increased our state partnerships from 30 to 42 state education agencies to help develop SEL policies and practices, documented in four new reports on state efforts nationwide.

Related: Learn more about our Collaborating States Initiative and read our emerging insights report.


Education systems explored SEL as they grappled with heightened and persistent inequities in student opportunities and outcomes.

We expanded our understanding of SEL as a lever for educational equity and excellence, most recently documented in our updated definition of SEL and the competencies.

Related: Hear from our CEO on our definition updates and centering equity (co-authored with The Education Trust), and our insights report on how districts are advancing this work.


Educators leaned on SEL strategies for support in the transition to distance and hybrid learning.

We collaborated with more than 40 partners to publish guidance on reopening schools that is centered on relationships and has been accessed by more than 80,000 educators.

Related: Access the SEL Roadmap for Reopening School and explore The Learning Policy Institute’s blog series on Learning in the Time of COVID-19.


The disruption to teaching and learning amplified the need for greater attention on the environments where students learn.

We updated our SEL framework to underscore the multiple key settings – classroom, school, family/caregiver, community – that shape learning and development.

Related: Check out our interactive framework (known as the CASEL Wheel).


A landscape analysis, Finding Your Place: The Current State of K-12 SEL, found that adopting SEL in any capacity is preferable, but widespread adoption correlates with broader education goals.

Our new research paper highlighted the need for schools, districts, and states to align policies, resources, and actions in order to infuse SEL across curriculum and instruction, discipline, out-of-school time, and ongoing assessment.

Related: Read our systemic SEL research paper and explore our Theory of Action for SEL implementation.


More young people spoke out on current events, issues of inequity, and learning expectations, proclaiming their power as change agents.

We hosted a Virtual Summit on Catalyzing Our Commitment to Youth to discuss how SEL can affirm students as individuals and help adults understand how students’ identities shape their learning.

Related: View the youth-led session from the 2020 SEL Exchange Virtual Summit and America’s Promise Alliance’s research report on youth perspectives.


The new administration drew attention to SEL, with a focus on socio-emotional literacy, critical thinking, decision-making, and leadership.

Dr. Miguel Cardona from Connecticut, a state partner advancing SEL, was selected as education secretary, stating, “We have to maintain the social and emotional well-being of our learners.”

Related: Explore our state scan to learn about all states’ efforts.


The inaugural international SEL Day reached almost 2M people in 50 states and 35 countries to help promote SEL in schools and communities.

We continue to advance SEL through new resources that are accessed in 186 countries, including superintendent actions in 2020 that were informed by our district partners and The School Superintendents Association (AASA).

Related: Access the superintendent SEL toolkit and our suite of free tools.

We can find common cause and unity in prioritizing our youth and the systems in which they are educated. SEL can serve as the antidote to much of what ails our nation.

Karen Niemi
CASEL President & CEO

There is much more for us to do. By prioritizing SEL, we have a better way forward for collective action and positive change. Let’s start 2021 by making a commitment to SEL with the Together for SEL Pledge.

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