What Is Social and Emotional Learning?


Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. 

SEL programming is based on the understanding that the best learning emerges in the context of supportive relationships that make learning challenging, engaging, and meaningful. 

Social and emotional skills are critical to being a good student, citizen, and worker. Many risky behaviors (e.g., drug use, violence, bullying, and dropping out) can be prevented or reduced when multiyear, integrated efforts are used to develop students' social and emotional skills. This is best done through effective classroom instruction, student engagement in positive activities in and out of the classroom, and broad parent and community involvement in program planning, implementation, and evaluation. 

Effective SEL programming begins in preschool and continues through high school.

The Five Social and Emotional Learning Core Competencies

CASEL has identified five interrelated sets of cognitive, affective, and behavioral competencies. Learn more about the definitions of the five competency clusters for students.

Outcomes Associated with the Five Competencies

The short-term goals of SEL programs are to (1) promote students' self-awareness, social awareness, relationship, and responsible-decision-making skills and (2) improve student attitudes and beliefs about self, others, and school. Learn more about how these, in turn, provide a foundation for better adjustment and academic performance.

The Promotion of Students' Social and Emotional Learning

Educators, parents, and policymakers who recognize that the core SEL competencies are necessary for effective life functioning also know these skills can be taught. Learn more about how extensive research demonstrates that school-based SEL programs can promote and enhance students' connection to school, positive behavior, and academic achievement. 

Frequently Asked Questions about Social and Emotional Learning

Over the years, we've received questions about SEL, why it's important, and how it looks in practice. CASEL's team of researchers and educational leaders has devised a series of responses to the most common questions. Learn more about SEL on our FAQ page.