Social Emotional Learning (SEL) The Key for Developing the Whole Child


What is the goal of education in our society?

When asked this question, many people respond with the idea of creating productive members of our society. People hope that the educational system allows children to learn and grow in such a way that they will be able to contribute positively to our society in a variety of ways, and that they will ultimately be able to not only support themselves financially, but also to perhaps have a family, even to find a cure for cancer or other disease, develop something innovative that will help humankind, or otherwise live a life of happiness. After all, our country was founded on the principle of “Liberty, life and the pursuit of happiness.”

  • Aristotle once said, “Educating the mind, without educating the heart, is no education at all.”

These are all worthy and worthwhile goals for education. Yet, in order for students to become these productive members of society, they need to have a set of social skills that allows them to navigate the challenges they will face in a safe and productive way. These goals also ask that our students learn to work with others, to persevere through challenges, to care and have empathy for others, to be respectful yet assertive when needed, and more. Similarly, when asked what some of the critical issues facing young people and preventing success in schools, responses include lack of motivation, lack of persistence or perseverance, or lack of self-discipline.

Digging Deeper into Social Emotional LearningThus arises the importance of social-emotional skills. Social-emotional skills, or (SEL), can be defined as the ability to understand, monitor and regulate emotions. Teaching social-emotional learning, then, is helping students to attain the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors that people need to make successful choices. When students have developed social-emotional skills, they are better able to manage their emotions, seek help when needed, develop positive relationships, and problem solve in difficult situations.

The 5 Keys to Successful Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

Students will need a variety of these skills to be successful in their school, professional, and personal life.

1. Self-Awareness: The ability to recognize one’s own feelings, interests and strengths. Students can describe their emotions, as well as recognize the emotions of others. They can identify what triggers their emotions and analyze how their emotions affect others

2. Self-Management: The ability to handle daily stresses and control emotions during difficult situations. Students are able to set plans and work towards goals, overcome obstacles and monitor progress towards personal and academic short and long term goals. Regulating emotions such as impulses and aggression and managing person and interpersonal stress are also included, as well as the ability to control attention. Students who display self-management also show perseverance and determination and seek help when needed.

3. Social Awareness: The ability to take others’ perspectives into account and to empathize with others. Students identify cues to determine how others feel, predict and evaluate others emotions and reactions, and respect others.

4. Relationship Management: The ability to develop and maintain healthy relationships and resist negative social pressures, resolve interpersonal conflict, and seek help when needed. Students demonstrate the capacity to make friends and engage in cooperative learning and collaboration. Respecting diverse viewpoints, communicating effectively, providing help to others and demonstrating leadership opportunities are all indicators of effective relationship management.

5. Responsible Decision Making: The ability to exhibit ethics, respect and safety standards when making decisions. Students are able to identify problems and develop appropriate solutions to these problems. Students use strategies to resist peer pressure, reflect on how their choices affect the future, make decisions and reflect and evaluate the decision-making process.

In schools, the integration of SEL includes teaching students what these various emotions and skills as well as the behaviors associated with them. Through the integration of SEL, teachers help students to practice the skills in a safe environment in the classroom, pointing out when the skills are being utilized effectively, and when they need to be incorporated more deeply. Instruction in the actions and language associated with these topics benefits students as they navigate their world.

Research clearly indicates the benefit of incorporating SEL into instruction. Positive emotions and strong relationships can greatly benefit and facilitate learning in the classroom, and conversely, negative emotions, stress, and a lack of positive relationships can hinder or even stop the learning process. When students feel an emotional connection to the subject they are learning, they have increased retention and application of the knowledge and skills.

Additionally, negative and destructive behaviors such as bullying and drug use have been linked to poor social-emotional skills in students. When students develop SEL competencies, they are more pivoted to learn and are more committed to school and education. Students are more likely to have improved attitudes toward themselves and others and decreased problems such as acting out in class, getting suspended or held back. Beyond behavior, SEL integration has shown to increase academic achievement by an average of 11%. These results are consistent across all grade levels, rural and urban schools, and school types, including schools with ethnically and racially diverse student populations.

Some educators believe that because they do not have time to integrate SEL because they are trying to help students meet the standards. Yet researchers suggest that learning is 50% cognitive and 50% social-emotional, and SEL skills help students to master new, rigorous academic standards such as those found in the standards.

Across the country, the standards for mathematics require a new level of focus, coherence and rigor. When students become frustrated or confused by the content, they must persevere to meet the standards. Additionally, the standards for ELA require students to interact with more complex text, and gather evidence. Students need to be aware of what they do and do not understand the text, and be able to ask for help when they do not understand. For both mathematics and ELA, students need to have strong communication and collaboration skills as they interact with their teachers and peers.

If you would like to learn more about how your school may provide more Social Emotional Learning (SEL) strategies in the classroom, consider the following available self-paced facilitated online course titled “An Introduction to Social Emotional Learning (SEL), Grades K-12”.

The focus of this course is to show teachers how the integration of social & emotional learning into classroom instruction and procedures increases student engagement and academic achievement and creates a culture of learning, thereby minimizing classroom management disruptions

For more information please contact us at or toll-free 1-855-498-4400.