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Inside the Classroom

What’s Up With… Social and Emotional Learning?

The concept of social and emotional learning (SEL) can be traced back to ancient times. The Greek philosopher Plato described the foundation of holistic education as a balance of physical education, the arts, math, science, character, and moral judgment. He wrote that, “By maintaining a sound system of education and upbringing, you produce citizens of good character.”

Over the past 25 years, social and emotional learning has evolved from an abstract idea into a hot educational buzzword. Today, SEL is gaining recognition as a crucial component of whole learner education and student success. But what is SEL, and why is it so important?

What is SEL?

Social and emotional learning is defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) 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 has identified 5 competencies of SEL.

5 Competencies

Why is SEL important?

Students today face high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression that are often amplified by the pressures of social media use. Social and emotional learning gives children the tools they need to deal with these challenges in a constructive way, which also positively affects classroom learning and student success. According to a 2011 meta-analysis of 213 studies involving more than 270,000 students, those who participated in SEL programs scored 11% higher on achievement tests than students who received no SEL instruction. Incorporating SEL into the classroom gives students strong foundational skills to identify and regulate emotions, resolve conflict, feel empathy for others, and make responsible decisions in all aspects of their life.

How can I incorporate SEL into my school?

There are many ways to incorporate social and emotional learning into the classroom. A good first step is to define SEL goals for your school and outline expectations about specific behaviors. Teachers can then integrate the SEL competencies and principles into their curriculum and lesson plans. Opening topical discussions in which students can freely and safely express their views is a great way to teach kids how to communicate constructively. Learning how to respect others’ opinions prepares students to be successful beyond the classroom.

Teachers can also deliver explicit SEL instruction using an evidence-based program, and digital learning can play a key role in educating and preparing kids to deal with complex social and emotional issues. The right CASEL-aligned SEL program can get students actively engaged in their own social and emotional learning, which in turn helps them take ownership of their academic path.


CASEL. (2017). Promoting positive youth development through school-based social and emotional learning interventions: A meta-analysis of follow-up effects. CASEL. Retrieved from https://casel.org/2017-meta-analysis/

Edutopia. (2011, October 6). Social and emotional learning: A short history. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/social-emotional-learning-history

Malone, D. (2018, November 14). Applying social and emotional learning (SEL) in your classroom: SEL and self-awareness. Where Learning Clicks. Retrieved from https://blog.edgenuity.com/sel-and-self-awareness/

About the Author


Ryan Zaharako

Ryan is a former Marine who graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a B.S. in Radio/TV/Film with a focus on writing. In 2005, he became a copywriter in entertainment advertising in Hollywood, California before recently joining the marketing team at Edgenuity. Ryan is excited to be working in the rewarding world of education technology.