Social-emotional learning

What Is Social-Emotional Learning?

What do students need to excel in school? Your first thoughts may be intelligence, knowledge, or a good work ethic. But what about their ability to work well with others or control their emotions?

Students achieve academic success and have better mental health when they develop interpersonal and self-management skills through social-emotional learning (SEL).

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines SEL as the process through which people gain and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to:

  • Develop healthy identities
  • Manage emotions
  • Achieve personal and collective goals
  • Feel and show empathy
  • Establish and maintain supportive relationships
  • Make responsible and caring decisions

Boy stressed in school, needs social-emotional learning

As mental and emotional health in the United States has declined over the last several years, organizations like CASEL have made it their mission to promote integrating social and emotional learning into PK-12 education. Their research on SEL proves it is essential to education and human development.

While working in education, you’ve probably seen behavior problems, negative attitudes, and lack of social or problem-solving skills that prevent children from learning and reaching their full potential. Social-emotional learning programs provide tools and resources to teach children how to cope with challenges and communicate their emotions respectfully. As students gain emotional intelligence and social skills, they grow confident and become productive, motivated learners.

What Teachers Are Saying About SEL

The Economist Intelligence Unit surveyed professional educators from around the world and found 70% of them believe student well-being is more important now than when they first started teaching. A majority of them (80%) say emotional well-being is critical to achieving academic success and developing foundational literacies and communication skills.

A research brief from Rand Corporation found about 90% of elementary and secondary teachers agree promoting SEL would improve students’ academic performance.

Benefits of Social-Emotional Learning

  • Improving Academic Performance
    • CASEL did a meta-analysis involving 213 studies and over 270,000 students to study the impact of SEL on academic achievement. The results showed SEL interventions helped students achieve better grades and test scores, improved their classroom behavior, increased their ability to manage stress and depression, and improved their attitudes toward themselves, others, and school.
  • Reversing Effects of Trauma
    • About one in three children in the United States suffer at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE), according to the 2018 National Survey of Children’s Health. Such trauma often impairs children’s cognitive and social-emotional development, making it harder for them to meet academic standards.
    • Through social-emotional learning, you can teach your students effective coping skills to overcome fear and self-doubt. As your students learn how to manage their emotions and develop a positive attitude, they can achieve their full potential.

(For in-depth information on this topic, read How Educators Can Reverse the Effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences.)

Children using social-emotional learning skills

  • Promoting Mental and Emotional Health
    • About one in six children ages 2-8 in the US suffer from some type of mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder, according to the CDC.
    • As a teacher, you’ve probably had to address students’ mental health challenges before you could teach them any content. SEL interventions help reduce symptoms of chronic anxiety and depression, according to a systematic review from EIF. With improved mental health, your students can participate more fully in class and perform better on assessments.

(For more information, read Helping Your Students Thrive with Our SEL Program.)

  • Fostering Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
    • SEL gives you opportunities to discuss inequality and bias in the classroom, according to CASEL experts. Lessons on identity and self-awareness can show students how their culture has shaped their perspective, while lessons on communication and respect can teach students to appreciate differences.
  • Giving Students Competitive Job Skills
    • In 2015, Forbes reported the top skills companies look for in job candidates are:
      • Teamwork
      • Decision-making and problem solving
      • Effective communication
    • However, executives across the US are struggling to find applicants who meet their needs, according to the Wall Street Journal.
    • Through a social-emotional learning curriculum, students develop the soft skills employers want so they can land well-paying jobs and succeed in the workplace.
  • Return on Investment
    • A 2015 study from the Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis looked at how much return schools got on investing in research-based SEL programs. The results showed the schools received an average of $11 in return for every dollar spent.

Conclusion

Students who don’t feel socially accepted at school, struggle with mental health challenges, or think school is too difficult have a harder time excelling in academics. With a research-based social-emotional learning curriculum, you can build their confidence and create a supportive classroom environment. The emotional intelligence and social skills you teach will help your students excel in school, in life, and in their future careers.


Help your students develop social-emotional learning skills with our PK-6 curriculum Studies Weekly Well-Being.

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