Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in Schools

June 29, 2023

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in Schools

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is an important aspect of education, and needs to take place along with, or even before, other types of learning.  Students learn best when they are in a safe, supportive environment, and when their physical, mental, and emotional needs are met. 

What is SEL?

SEL has been defined as an ongoing process of gaining self-awareness, connecting, and getting along with others, developing self-control, emotional control, communication skills, problem-solving skills, making good decisions, and setting and achieving goals.  All these skills contribute to school, work, and life success, and make learning more accessible, meaningful, and engaging. 

Students who have their mental and emotional needs met learn better.

Schools can help to meet these needs by implementing meaningful SEL programs and practices into the school culture, environment, and curriculum. 

Benefits of SEL include the following:

  • Increases prosocial behaviors
  • Enhances relationships
  • Improves social skills
  • Improves conflict resolution
  • Improves communication
  • Increase feelings of connection to school
  • Reduces depression
  • Reduces stress
  • Improves self-esteem
  • Improves decision-making
  • Helps with managing daily challenges
  • Improves anger management
  • Improves coping skills
  • Helps to regulate emotions
  • Increases empathy

Components of SEL

  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Management
  • Relationship Skills
  • Social Awareness
  • Responsible Decision-Making

Defining SEL Components


Self-awareness is the ability to notice our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.  It is about being honest with ourselves, and seeking to understand all aspects of ourselves.  It involves looking at connections and patterns in our own thoughts and behaviors over time.  It can include looking at what situations tend to make us react in certain ways.  With that, we can begin to understand why we might do certain things, which sets us on a better path to healing.  It lets us change what we want to change, improve upon other things, and develop strengths and skills out of talents, attributes, and interests.

Self-awareness is a great place to start with just about anything in life, which is why it is an important life skill to acquire.  It is beneficial for students to embrace self-awareness and make self-discovery an ongoing activity in their lives. 

There are lots of ways to increase and improve self-awareness.  We are all learning about ourselves every day.  Through every experience, interaction, decision, there are lessons to be learned.  We just need to pay attention to what these lessons are.

It is an ongoing process, and one we get better at – and benefit more and more from – over time.  It is a journey and a gift that gives and gives (through self-discovery and self-awareness, we can accomplish so many other valuable things).  The key is to be open to the lessons we learn along the way.  We can make a conscious decision to get to know ourselves better and better. 

Here are some suggestions for helping a child engage in self-discovery and increase self-awareness.

  • Provide opportunities for a child to learn about him/herself (strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, etc.).
  • Have the child do interest and talent inventories and worksheets.
  • Encourage them to journal.
  • Have conversations with the child about what you see in him/her.
  • Compliment the child on tasks he or she does well
  • Ask the child questions about him/herself, what he/she likes and dislikes, what he/she sees as strengths and weaknesses, etc.
  • Introduce the child to various activities to discover aptitudes and interests
  • Other ideas: meditation, art, yoga, creative projects, travel, and outings

Self-Awareness sets us on a better path to healing, learning, growing, and improving.  It lets us change what we want to change, improve upon other things, and develop strengths and skills out of talents, attributes, and interests.  It leads us to better insight (which is a deeper level of self-awareness, knowledge and understanding), and self-acceptance.  It allows us to be honest with ourselves and others, to be our authentic selves, to change, learn, and grow, and to become and achieve what we want.


This involves regulating our behavior and our thoughts and emotions.  It includes impulse-control, self-control, anger management, taking responsibility for our actions, managing stress, and using coping skills.  It can also include goal-setting and achieving, behavior monitoring, and self-reinforcement.

Self-Management includes:

  • Impulse-control
  • Self-control
  • Anger management
  • Taking responsibility for your actions
  • Managing stress
  • Using coping skills.

It can also include goal-setting and achieving, behavior monitoring, and self-reinforcement. 

Self-management allows us to be in control of our actions or reactions rather than just acting without thinking, or being impulsive.  We can make a choice.  We can make good decisions and handle things in more mature, healthy, appropriate, and positive ways.

Relationship Skills

This involves how we get along with other people.  It is connecting with and cooperating with others, working together, and supporting each other.  It involves communication, conflict resolution, social skills, listening, respecting others, and being a good friend.

We all have many different relationships, including with family members, friends, neighbors, teachers, and others.  Having good and healthy relationships requires having certain skills and qualities.  Some relationships skills might include communication skills, listening skills, having good eye contact, being patient, kind, respectful, helpful, and caring, sharing and cooperating, and more.

Social Awareness

This is about being aware of our surroundings and social circumstances and being mindful of the perspectives of others.  It involves understanding others’ point of view, being understanding, and having empathy.  It includes seeing how our actions impact others, respecting cultural differences, and being ethical.

Part of Social Awareness is putting ourselves in someone else’s  shoes, or trying to see something from another person’s perspective.  Sometimes, we might be quick to judge or get annoyed by what someone else is doing.  Instead of jumping to conclusions, it is a good idea to consider the other person’s perspective.  That person might have a reason for acting a certain way.

Responsible Decision Making

This involves making good choices, doing the right thing, and being responsible.  It includes problem-solving, weighing the options, thinking about consequences, planning, looking ahead, and setting and achieving goals.

We make numerous decisions every day.  Many of those decisions are easy to make, or even automatic – we do not give much thought to them.  Other decisions are tougher and more complicated, and require more thought.  Some are problems that need to be solved.  Some involve choosing one thing over another.  Whatever kind of decision we make, we want to make the best, most responsible one possible.    

Decisions can range from quick and simple (such as deciding to make our bed in the morning or not, or making a choice between eating an apple or an orange with breakfast), to more complex (like deciding to do our homework even if we do not feel like it, or not doing it, and suffering the consequence of getting a bad grade). 

Every decision we make has a consequence or a result.

How do we make good, responsible decisions?  For simple decisions, we often already know what to do.  For bigger decisions, we need to think it through, weigh the options, gather any needed information, and then make the best choice. 

Problem-solving is a form of decision-making that involves a more complex series of decision making, and often includes steps or a process.

How Schools Can Implement SEL

Schools can incorporate SEL components through a combination of implicit and explicit practices.  They can set the stage for a kind, compassionate, cooperative school atmosphere, from the principle’s office to each individual classroom, to the playground, to extracurricular activities and beyond.

Schools can build a solid foundation that fosters learning by creating safe spaces and a welcoming climate and culture, and having policies and procedures that emphasize kindness and acceptance, and zero tolerance for bullying.  They can have well-defined boundaries and expectations, open communication, and access to helpful resources. 

Schools might also consider creating a Wellness Center, a safe and supportive place where students can take a break, relax, unwind, or decompress, as well as access mental health assistance, referrals, and resources. 

Individual classrooms can be spaces where all students feel safe, respected, and heard.  Teachers might post and discuss classroom rules and expectations, which include acceptance, consideration, and kindness.  Teachers can give students opportunities to succeed, to discover, develop, and utilize their talents and strengths, give praise and rewards.  Other ideas include: doing daily mental health check-ins and/or check-outs; engaging in relaxation exercises; teaching coping skills; doing social skills role-playing activities; playing soft music; and so on.

Schools can integrate SEL concepts into the standard academic curriculum itself, and/or create specific curriculum that explicitly teaches students about SEL and its components.  Some subject curriculum has SEL concepts embedded in it.  Otherwise, the school could adapt activities related to a topic in English or History, for example, to include SEL concepts. 

Another option is to present SEL as its own subject.  In this case, teachers present lessons about SEL in general (what it is, why it is important, and how to practice it), and its individual components – self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. They can provide information on and discuss each topic, and let students practice with worksheets, games, and activities.  Schools may decide how and when they present this curriculum, such as daily, weekly, in the morning before other subjects, during homeroom, in assemblies, in small groups, etc.

Additionally, schools can increase the benefits of SEL efforts by keeping parents in the loop by providing them with information and tips to use at home.  School could send home information sheets, materials, and newsletters, hold parent trainings, orientations, or workshops, and encourage parent involvement. 

By addressing students’ mental health and social-emotional needs, we increase their ability to focus on learning.  Through SEL, students learn and practice crucial concepts and skills, improve their social and life skills and their capacity to think critically, cope, problem solve, relate to others, and make good decisions.  Teaching these skills sets students up for educational and life success.

SEL Resources for Educators

Get the Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Worksheet packet here!  It includes worksheets related to each of the SEL Components.  These worksheets help students learn about and practice using  SEL concepts.  They can be a helpful and useful addition to SEL programs and practices.

These worksheets make a great addition to any SEL program, lesson, discussion, session, or activity.  They can be used by teachers in the classroom, to supplement lessons and to facilitate conversations and practice of pro-social skills, by counselors, psychologists, and other mental health specialists with students or clients, individually or in groups, or by anyone who works with children and is interested in promoting SEL concepts.

Lori Granieri is a School Psychologist, Writer, and Owner of Enrichment Source: Creative Resources for Life Improvement.  Find out more at

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