What is Social-Emotional Learning?

girl meditation in the morning circle

What is SEL?

According to CASEL, the leading organization for the research and advancement of social and emotional competencies, SEL can be defined as:

“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.


CASEL's 5 SEL Competencies

Every lesson in Empowering Education’s curriculum supports at least one of CASEL’s Five Core Competencies; taken as a whole our curriculum is a comprehensive foundation for all five competencies.

CASEL has identified five interrelated sets of cognitive, affective, and behavioral competencies. The definitions of the five competency clusters for students are:

1. Self-awareness

The ability to accurately recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior. The ability to accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations, with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a "growth mindset."

2. Self-management

The ability to successfully regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different situations — effectively managing stress, controlling impulses, and motivating oneself. The ability to set and work toward personal and academic goals.

3. Decision-making

The ability to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms. The realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and a consideration of the well-being of oneself and others.

4. Relationship skills 

The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. The ability to communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate with others, resist inappropriate social pressure, negotiate conflict constructively, and seek and offer help when needed.

5. Social awareness

The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures. The ability to understand social and ethical norms for behavior and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.

Free SEL Resources

positive affirmations for kindergarten

Activity Sheet on Positive Affirmations

Educators should build self-esteem through positive affirmations. Check out these four activities to try with kindergarteners today!

sel 5 days a week

sel 5 days a week

Empowering Education’s 5 Day SEL Plan

Interested in teaching an SEL curriculum daily? Try incorporating this calendar and template for delivering SEL every day.

solving problems 

Lesson Script for Solving Problems Peacefully

Conflict resolution is an important Social-Emotional Learning skill. Check out this restorative approach to conflict resolution!


Free Social and Emotional Learning Workshop Series

What are the benefits of SEL?

Research shows that SEL can have a positive impact on school climate and promote academic, social, and emotional benefits for students. 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
  • Reduced emotional distress: fewer reports of student depression, anxiety, stress, and social withdrawal.

However, in order for students to reap the benefits of social-emotional learning, the implementation must be schoolwide. Programs like Empowering Education provide a curriculum that is easy for teachers to use in every classroom.

Beyond the direct emotional and academic benefits to your students, SEL is now accepted as a critical factor in economic outcomes on individual and societal levels. Traditionally, economic success and employability were strictly linked to increasing cognitive skills (intelligence) in education. Recent research, however, all point to a more unified model of cognitive and non-cognitive skills.

SEL educates the heart, while traditional academic learning educates the head. The 21st Century model of educating “the whole child,” then, is the process of bringing these two together. SEL curriculum is designed to support both the social-emotional and academic growth of your students.

In other words, increasing social-emotional skills through effective SEL programming in schools will have a direct effect on graduates' employability and earnings, as well as the overall economic strength of countries embracing policies that support effective SEL programming and reform.

Over 90 Lessons and Additional Resources Included

Coping Skills

Conflict Resolution




Growth Mindset



Free Social and Emotional Learning Workshop Series

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Articles