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What is Social-Emotional Learning?

As defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), the core competencies of social and emotional learning (SEL) include successfully managing emotions, setting and achieving positive goals, feeling and showing empathy for others, establishing and maintaining positive relationships, and making responsible decisions.

Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Students who develop self-awareness, self-control and interpersonal skills are better able to thrive in school, work and life. Teachers already know that students who can manage their emotions often have the interpersonal skills to avoid physical aggression and other negative or disruptive behaviors. Not much learning can take place in an environment where students are out of control, don’t feel safe, or don’t feel supported. In other words, the more students with great social and emotional skills, the better the learning environment.

The Committee for Children finds that students involved in social-emotional learning are 42% less likely to report physical aggression. In schools that incorporated SEL, students with disabilities reported 20% less bullying than in schools without SEL. Schools with SEL also reported a 5% to 12% decrease in dropout rates, and a 13% improvement in academic achievement.

SEL Approaches for the Classroom

SEL can be incorporated into any classroom, and any subject. That’s because social and emotional skills are highlighted and encouraged throughout the day. No matter the lesson, teachers can:

  • Encourage teamwork and positive interactions with others
  • Promote respect for diversity
  • Model mindfulness, reflection and stress management
  • Emphasize kindness and fair play
  • Lead with empathy
  • Provide instructions for goal setting

Some evidence-based SEL approaches for the classroom include teaching children to recognize their own feelings or how someone else may be feeling. Class meetings can be held to practice group decision-making and setting classroom rules. Team sports and games help students learn cooperation and teamwork. Having older students pair up with younger students to mentor them can help with self-confidence, a sense of belonging, and enhanced academic skills as well. Finally, students can learn critical listening skills with partner activities; when one partner describes a situation, the other partner has to repeat it back to them.

Beyond the Classroom

With over two decades of SEL research, CASEL notes that the impacts of social and emotional education carry far beyond the classroom. “SEL programming can have a positive impact up to 18 years later on academics, conduct problems, emotional distress, and drug use.” It also affects career trajectory. In fact, the Committee for Children shared that 79% of employers list social and emotional skills as the most important qualities for job success.

A study published by the American Journal of Public Health found that SEL decreased the likelihood of living in public housing, being on a waiting list for public housing, receiving public assistance or having any involvement with police before adulthood. The study also found that learning self-control in early childhood was a significant predictor of outcomes in early adult functioning.

Becoming an Educational Leader

Educational administrators are leading the way in schoolwide SEL implementation. If you’re interested in doing the same, consider St. Thomas University’s accelerated online Master of Science in Educational Leadership degree. The program consists of 36 credit hours and can be completed in as few as 12 months.

Learn more about STU’s M.S. in Educational Leadership online.


American Journal of Public Health: Early Social-Emotional Functioning and Public Health


Committee for Children: Socio-Emotional Learning Affects Everyone, Every Day

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