Social Emotional Learning: A Vital Component for Students to Grow and Succeed

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is an extremely important part of an educational environment where students feel secure and have the confidence to explore, grow, and succeed. Students that participate in an academic SEL program show improvement in standardized test scores and an increase in average GPA. CASEL, a leading organization in the field of social emotional learning, has identified five core competencies of SEL:

  • Self-awareness: identify emotions, recognize strengths, self-perception, self-confidence, self-efficacy
  • Self-management: self-discipline, self-motivation, stress management, organizational skills
  • Social-awareness: empathy, perspective, respect for others 
  • Relationship skills: communication, social engagement, building relationships, teamwork
  • Responsible decision making: identify and solve problems, analyze situations, reflection, ethical responsibility

Social Emotional Learning: Fostering Emotional Intelligence in Our Students

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is an important component of education in our schools today. It helps students develop their emotional intelligence and provides important conflict resolution skills. Teachers who have taken the time to develop SEL programs in their classrooms have found that the benefits are far-reaching and well worth the investment.

Before we can delve into the advantages of SEL programs, it is important to define exactly what “social-emotional learning” is. As Vanessa Vega explains in her recent Edutopia article, there are “five key competencies of SEL [that] provide the foundation for maintaining high-quality social relationships and for responding to the challenges of life." Those five competencies are: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.

While students can develop the skills gained from social and emotional learning both in and out of the classroom, research is showing that programs that specifically target and build these skills can reap many benefits. A meta-analysis of 213 school-based social-emotional learning programs showed that they increased academic achievement and reduced aggression and emotional distress. Further, not only do SEL programs foster better relationships and communication between students and their parents, families, teachers and peers, but they also help children gain life skills such as self-regulation and stress-management.

In a successful school with a healthy learning environment, it’s easy to think “that all sounds great, but in my classroom or school things run smoothly; we don’t need a program like that.” If you are skeptical, take this into consideration: As Vega reports, according to a national survey of middle and high school students, less than one third indicated that their school provided a caring, encouraging environment and less than half reported that they had competencies such as empathy, conflict resolution, and decision-making skills. With such statistics, no school can afford to ignore the benefits of social emotional learning.

A lack of classroom management issues does not mean that students can’t benefit from an SEL program. Sometimes the quietest, most obedient students in the class are dealing with issues that could be helped by an SEL program. Social and emotional learning develops empathy and communication skills that can serve anyone well throughout life.

Teacher Emily Cherkin has been working in the field of SEL for many years. She holds a Masters Degree in Education with a focus on conflict resolution in peaceable schools and she has seen firsthand how powerful and beneficial SEL can be. As she writes: “Teachers who say they don’t have time to do SEL are missing the point. When you make the time to talk about these issues, you are buying so much more time down the road because your class feels respected and in turn respects you.” She also makes the point that employers value the skills taught in SEL programs now more than ever before.

When you implement social emotional learning in your school, you will find that the time dedicated to fostering successful conflict resolution and emotional intelligence is well spent. To find out more about SEL programs, two places to start are and, where you can hear more from Emily Cherkin as well as others. With these helpful tools, you will be on the road to implementing your very own social emotional learning program in a classroom, school, or district.


Social-emotional learning (SEL) is an educational concept based on teaching kids key elements including self-awareness, self-management, relationship skills and responsibility to improve their emotional well-being and ability to learn. Basically, it’s teaching kids how to get along in the world with a focus on the necessary skills from an emotional perspective to become a better learner.

The concept is relatively new as a formal part of the curriculum and has grown as an education topic because of the increased focus on the emotional health of students. Kids are stressed out right now. They are dealing with things like school shootings, their phones, the divorce rate and bigger economic divisions between students, not to mention how learning has become metrics-driven with students facing performance indicators like assessment test scores. Social-emotional learning has grown in prominence because schools recognize students’ stress level is high. Schools know they need to provide safety and the ability to understand others before learning can happen.

Does SEL work? Research from the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASL), a noted SEL curriculum provider, found the academic performance of students exposed to an SEL program averaged 13% higher than non-SEL peers, and conduct issues, emotional distress and drug use was significantly lower for students who went through SEL programs.

The importance of the physical environment

The learning environment is never neutral. It will either assist or detract from the learning experience. The environment can say something to a person and speak to your senses as a human being through things like the amount of natural light that’s getting into the room and the hardness or softness of the furniture. All of these things are contributing to your emotional reaction to the world you live in whether you are at home or in a classroom.

The impact of the physical environment is what most interests me about social-emotional learning. Let’s say a school district has committed to teaching SEL. That commitment means there’s a recognition SEL is an important part of the learners’ journey, and the teachers’ journey as well. At that point, what does the learning environment say about the importance of SEL?

It can be easy to talk a big game about providing kids more emotional fortitude and better understanding of themselves and others. That sounds awesome and makes sense, but if the physical environment where they are applying these newly learned skills isn’t conducive to reinforcing those concepts, the impact of social-emotional learning is greatly hampered.

For example, collaboration is key part of relationship building and management and a key part of social-emotional learning as well. If you’re in an environment that doesn’t have furniture that allows you to easily collaborate – such as allowing you and me to sit across from each other practicing and exercising the things we’ve learned about relationship skills – that’s a problem. Ideally chairs and desks and tables should be easy to move and get into a physical orientation that facilitates collaboration.

Even the basic layout of the classroom can have an impact on SEL. A core message of social-emotional learning is that relationships matter. When we have a classroom where all the desks are aligned in perfect rows and everyone is looking forward and no one is looking at each other, does that reinforce social-emotional learning? No, that says something completely different to the students in that classroom.

Students may be under more stress and pressure than ever, but schools are using social-emotional learning to meet this challenge. Because the environment is never neutral, taking the physical space into account should be an important aspect of a social-emotional learning curriculum.

Mark Hubbard | January 24, 2019 l Paragon Inc