What is Social and Emotional Learning?
To succeed in school, students need to be engaged, interested, and excited to be there. They need to know how to focus their attention on their work, keep trying even when they get discouraged or face setbacks, work effectively with other students and adults, and be good communicators and problem-solvers. These skills form a foundation for young people’s success not just in school, but in their adult lives. Social and Emotional Learning is a process for helping children (and adults) develop the fundamental skills for life effectiveness. SEL teaches the skills we all need to handle ourselves, our relationships, and our work, effectively and ethically.
These skills include:
- recognizing and managing our emotions
- developing caring and concern for others
- establishing positive relationships
- making responsible decisions
- handling challenging situations constructively and ethically
These are the skills that allow children to calm themselves when angry, make friends, resolve conflicts respectfully, and make ethical and safe choices.
Socially and emotionally competent children and youth are skilled in five core areas:
- They are self-aware. They are able to recognize their emotions, describe their interests and values, and accurately assess their strengths. They have a well-grounded sense of self-confidence and hope for the future.
- They are able to regulate their emotions. They are able to manage stress, control impulses, and persevere in overcoming obstacles.
- They can set and monitor progress toward the achievement of personal and academic goals and express their emotions appropriately in a wide range of situations.
- They are socially aware. They are able to take the perspective of and empathize with others and recognize and appreciate individual and group similarities and differences. They are able to seek out and appropriately use family, school, and community resources.
- They have good relationship skills. They can establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships based on cooperation. They can resist inappropriate social pressure; constructively prevent, manage, and resolve interpersonal conflict; and seek and provide help when needed.
- They demonstrate responsible decision-making at school, at home, and in the community. In making decisions, they consider ethical standards, safety concerns, appropriate social norms, respect for others, and the likely consequences of various courses of action. They apply these decision-making skills in academic and social situations and are motivated to contribute to the well-being of their schools and communities.
Why is Social and Emotional Learning Important?
The research is clear: attending to the social and emotional learning of children is a hugely profitable investment in their success in school and their future success as adults.
- Recent research clearly shows that students who receive SEL programming academically outperform their peers, compared to those who do not receive SEL. This includes greater motivation to learn and commitment to school, increased time devoted to schoolwork and mastery of subject matter, improved attendance and graduation rates, and improved grades and test scores. One major multi-year study found that by the time students who received SEL in grades K-8 were adults, they had an 11 percent higher grade-point average, significantly greater levels of school commitment, and a higher attachment to school at age 18.
- Effective SEL programming drives not only academic learning, but also important social outcomes such as positive peer relationships, caring and empathy, social engagement, and health-related behaviors.
- Research has shown that in addition to SEL programs producing positive effects in students, they also prevent negative outcomes. Learning social and emotional skills leads to reductions in problem behavior such as drug use, violence, and delinquency. The retention rate of students who received SEL in grades 1-6 was 14 percent, versus 23 percent of students not in SEL programs. The same students at age 18 showed a 30 percent lower incidence of school behavior problems, a 20 percent lower rate of violent delinquency, and a 40 percent lower rate of heavy alcohol use than their peers.
The 5 Core Competencies
CASEL has identified five interrelated sets of cognitive, affective and behavioral competencies. The definitions of the five competency clusters for students are:
- Self-awareness: The ability to accurately recognize one’s emotions and thoughts and their influence on behavior. This includes accurately assessing one’s strengths and limitations and possessing a well-grounded sense of confidence and optimism.
- Self-management: The ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations. This includes managing stress, controlling impulses, motivating oneself, and setting and working toward achieving personal and academic goals.
- Social awareness: The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures, to understand social and ethical norms for behavior, and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.
- Relationship skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. This includes communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, resisting inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict constructively, and seeking and offering help when needed.
- Responsible decision making: The ability to make constructive and respectful choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, the realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and the well-being of self and others.
Outcomes Associated with the Five Competencies
The short-term goals of SEL programs are to: one, promote students’ self-awareness, self- management, social-awareness, relationship, and responsible decision-making skills; and two, improve student attitudes and beliefs about self, others, and school.
These, in turn, provide a foundation for better adjustment and academic performance as reflected in more positive social behaviors and peer relationships, fewer conduct problems, less emotional distress, and improved grades and test scores.
There is a growing awareness in the U.S. among educators and policymakers about the importance of social and emotional development for successful student performance in preschool and elementary school. The five sets of SEL competencies are important from very early in life but are especially relevant as children begin to spend time with adults outside the home and to socialize with peers.
Social and emotional skills play a role in determining how well-equipped children will be to meet the demands of the classroom. They also help determine whether students are able to engage fully in learning and benefit from instruction.
Powerful Evidence Supporting the Impact of Enhancing Students’ SEL
Research shows that SEL can have a positive impact on school climate and promote a host of academic, social, and emotional benefits for students. Durlak, Weissberg et al.’s recent meta-analysis of 213 rigorous studies of SEL in schools indicates that students receiving quality SEL instruction demonstrated:
- better academic performance: achievement scores an average of 11 percentile points higher than students who did not receive SEL instruction;
- improved attitudes and behaviors: greater motivation to learn, deeper commitment to school, increased time devoted to schoolwork, and better classroom behavior;
- fewer negative behaviors: decreased disruptive class behavior, noncompliance, aggression, delinquent acts, and disciplinary referrals; and
- reduced emotional distress: fewer reports of student depression, anxiety, stress, and social withdrawal.