Social-Emotional Learning (Definition, Examples, Pros & Cons)

Social-Emotional Learning

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) is an educational method that integrates the development of social and emotional skills into school curricula.

It is sometimes called “socio-emotional learning,” “social and emotional learning,” or “social–emotional literacy” (Denham & Brown, 2010).

This approach treats social and emotional skills with the same level of importance as academic subjects like math, science, and reading.

The goal of SEL is to prepare students to be knowledgeable, responsible, and caring adults (Zins & Elias, 2007).

Video Overview

Origins of SEL

The roots of Social-Emotional Learning trace back to the 1960s at Yale School of Medicine’s Child Study Center.

Here, Professor James Comer initiated the Comer School Development Program, focusing on the education systems of low-income African-American communities, specifically targeting elementary schools in New Haven, Connecticut (Yeager, 2017).

The program concentrated on the social and emotional needs of students and saw its methodologies adopted by the New Haven public schools due to their proximity to Yale University.

In 1987, Roger Weissberg, Timothy Shriver, along with other researchers and educators, established the New Haven Social Development program.

This led to the creation of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) in 1994. CASEL has been instrumental in promoting SEL by publishing influential guidelines for educators.

Emergence of T-SEL

Next, the concept of Transformative Social and Emotional Learning (T-SEL) emerged in 2019.

This approach encourages students to critically examine the root causes of inequity and develop collaborative solutions that promote personal, community, and societal well-being. In response to evolving educational needs, CASEL updated its definition of SEL in 2020 to emphasize equity more strongly and incorporated Transformative SEL as a key approach (CASEL, 2024).

With these foundations, SEL continues to evolve, addressing the complex social and emotional needs of students while aiming to integrate these critical skills into educational systems nationwide.

The Five Components of Social-Emotional Learning

Below are the five components of SEL according to CASEL.

1. Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is the ability to recognize and understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values. It involves being aware of one’s strengths and limitations and having a well-grounded sense of self-confidence and optimism (CASEL, 2024). This component is crucial as it enables students to understand their feelings, which can affect their decisions and actions. By fostering self-awareness, SEL helps students gain insights into their personal goals and values, enhancing their overall self-esteem and self-concept.

2. Self-Management

Self-management refers to the skills necessary to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations. This includes managing stress, controlling impulses, motivating oneself, setting and working toward personal and academic goals, and expressing emotions appropriately. Developing strong self-management skills allows students to stay focused and organized, which can lead to achieving more in school and in life (CASEL, 2024).

3. Social Awareness

Social awareness is the ability to understand, empathize, and feel compassion for those with different backgrounds or cultures. It also involves understanding social norms for behavior and recognizing family, school, and community resources and supports (CASEL, 2024). Through social awareness, students learn to appreciate diversity, respect others, and develop more profound and more meaningful relationships with those around them.

4. Relationship Skills

Relationship skills involve the ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. This component of SEL teaches essential skills such as clear communication, active listening, cooperation, resistance to inappropriate social pressure, negotiation, and conflict management. These skills enable students to interact positively with others, work in teams, and develop healthy, supportive relationships throughout their lives (CASEL, 2024).

5. Responsible Decision-Making

Responsible decision-making involves making choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms. This includes the realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and a consideration of the well-being of oneself and others (CASEL, 2024). By enhancing decision-making skills, SEL helps students make positive choices in academic and social situations, fostering their overall well-being and success.

Examples of Social-Emotional Learning

Below are some examples of how SEL is implemented in classrooms.

1. Role-Playing Exercises

Role-playing exercises are a common method used in SEL to help students practice and understand various social situations. By acting out scenarios, students can explore how to navigate conflicts, express empathy, and understand different perspectives. This hands-on approach allows students to experience real-life situations in a controlled, reflective environment, enhancing their social skills and emotional understanding.

2. Mood Meters

Mood meters are tools that help students identify and articulate their emotions. By regularly checking in with a mood meter, students learn to recognize their emotional states, which is a critical component of self-awareness. This practice helps them understand how their feelings can influence their thoughts and actions, leading to better emotional regulation and self-management.

3. Circle Time

Circle time is an activity often used in classrooms to foster social awareness and relationship skills. During circle time, students and teachers sit in a circle to share thoughts, discuss issues, and learn about each other. This activity promotes a sense of community and belonging, encourages active listening, and helps develop empathy among students.

4. Peer Mediation Programs

Peer mediation programs train students to help their peers resolve conflicts before they escalate. These programs empower students by giving them responsibility and teaching them crucial negotiation and communication skills. Peer mediation not only resolves immediate conflicts but also teaches students valuable life skills in understanding and managing interpersonal dynamics.

5. Social-Emotional Learning Curriculums

Specific curriculums like the RULER program, developed by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, are designed to integrate SEL into schools systematically. These curriculums include lessons on recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing, and regulating emotions (the “RULER” skills). By incorporating these curriculums, schools can provide structured and consistent SEL experiences across various grades, ensuring all students develop these essential skills.

Strengths of Social-Emotional Learning

One of the main strengths of SEL is its positive impact on students’ academic performance.

Research indicates that SEL not only improves interpersonal skills but also boosts academic achievement by helping students manage stress and anxiety (Jones & Doolittle, 2017; Schonert-Reichl, 2017).

SEL fosters a positive school climate and reduces incidents of bullying and aggression. It equips students with crucial life skills, such as empathy, teamwork, and problem-solving, which are essential for personal and professional success.

Criticisms of Social-Emotional Learning

Despite its benefits, SEL faces criticism, particularly concerning its implementation and underlying motives.

Some critics argue that SEL can be used as a vehicle for introducing political or ideological beliefs in schools, detracting from traditional educational focuses (Basu & Mermillod, 2011).

Concerns about privacy have also been raised, as SEL programs often involve collecting data on students’ emotional states, potentially overstepping parental boundaries.

Additionally, there are debates about the effectiveness of SEL, with some suggesting that the impact on academic achievement may be overstated or not as directly attributable to SEL programs (Jones & Bouffard, 2012; Jones & Doolittle, 2017).


Basu, A., & Mermillod, M. (2011). Emotional intelligence and social-emotional learning: An overview. Online Submission1(3), 182-185.

CASEL (2024). What is the CASEL Framework? From:

Denham, S. A., & Brown, C. (2010). “Plays nice with others”: Social–emotional learning and academic success. Early Education and Development21(5), 652-680.

Jones, S. M., & Bouffard, S. M. (2012). Social and emotional learning in schools: From programs to strategies and commentaries. Social policy report26(4), 1-33.

Jones, S. M., & Doolittle, E. J. (2017). Social and emotional learning: Introducing the issue. The future of children, 3-11.

Schonert-Reichl, K. A. (2017). Social and emotional learning and teachers. The future of children, 137-155.

Yeager, D. S. (2017). Social and emotional learning programs for adolescents. The future of children, 73-94.

Zins, J. E., & Elias, M. J. (2007). Social and emotional learning: Promoting the development of all students. Journal of Educational and Psychological consultation17(2-3), 233-255.

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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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