Defining Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is a strengths-based, developmental process that begins at birth and evolves across the lifespan (Weissberg et al., 2015). It is the process through which children, adolescents, and adults learn skills to support healthy development and relationships.

 Adult and student social and emotional learning competencies include self awareness, self management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making (Weissberg et al., 2015).  

Research indicates that social and emotional learning promotes academic achievement, well-being, positive life outcomes, decreased teacher burnout and can be a powerful tool for prevention and resilience when embedded with intentionality in curriculum, instruction, and school climate (Durlak et al., 2011; Taylor et al., 2017).  

Systemic social and emotional learning is one component in a Multi-Tiered System of Support, and it includes school-wide and district-wide integration to promote positive school climate (Berg & Moroney, n.d.) and authentic family, caregiver, youth, and community partnerships (Weissberg et al., 2015).

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) includes the following five competencies (Weissberg et al., 2015):

SEL Competency Definition Video
Self-awareness The abilities to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts. This includes capacities to recognize one’s strengths and limitations with a well-grounded sense of confidence and purpose and includes having a growth mindset. Check out this video
Self-management The abilities to manage one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations. This includes the capacities to delay gratification, manage stress, and feel motivation and agency to accomplish personal and collective goals. Check out this video
Social awareness The abilities to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts. This includes the capacities to feel compassion for others, understand broader historical and social norms for behavior in different settings, and recognize family, school, and community resources and supports. Check out this video
Relationship skills The abilities to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups. This includes the capacities to communicate clearly, listen actively, cooperate, work collaboratively to problem solve and negotiate conflict constructively, navigate settings with differing social and cultural demands and opportunities, provide leadership, and seek or offer help when needed. Check out this video
Responsible decision-making The abilities to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations. This includes the capacity to consider ethical standards and safety concerns, and to evaluate the benefits and consequences of various actions for personal, social, and collective well-being. Check out this video

Access a downloadable Fact Sheet with video links and citations here