Social Emotional Learning

What is SEL?

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults 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 Widely Used Framework Identifies Five Core Competencies.


Know your strengths and limitations, with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a “growth mindset.”


Effectively manage stress, control impulses, and motivate yourself to set and achieve goals.

Social awareness

Understand the perspectives of others and empathize with them, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures.

Relationship skills

Communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate with others, resist inappropriate social pressure, negotiate conflict constructively, and seek and offer help when needed.

Responsible decision-making

Make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety, and social norms.

Systemic Social and Emotional Learning

SEL can be more than just a 30-minute lesson. A systemic approach to SEL intentionally cultivates a caring, participatory, and equitable learning environment and evidence-based practices that actively involve all students in their social, emotional, and academic growth. This approach infuses social and emotional learning into every part of students’ daily lives—across all of their classrooms, during all times of the school day, and when they are in their homes and communities.

SEL Impact

Increased Academic Achievement

Academic Achievement

According to a 2011 meta-analysis of 213 studies involving more than 270,000 students, those who participated in evidence-based SEL programs showed an 11% point gain in academic achievement.

Improved Behavior

Improved Behavior

Studies show decreased dropout rates, school and classroom behavior issues, drug use, teen pregnancy, mental health problems, and criminal behavior.

Leads to Academic Outcomes and Improved Behaviors

Long term

SEL interventions that address CASEL’s five core competencies increased students’ academic performance by 11 percentile points, compared to students who did not participate in such SEL programs. Students participating in SEL programs also showed improved classroom behavior, an increased ability to manage stress and depression, and better attitudes about themselves, others, and school. Read the 2011 meta-analysis of 213 studies involving 270,000+ students. Read a 2019 summary of the practical benefits of SEL that answer questions such as “Should we use this program in my school?” and “Would this new program really be helpful or worthwhile for our students?”

11:1 Return on Investment

Long term

SEL programming can have a positive impact up to 18 years later on academics, conduct problems, emotional distress, and drug use. Read the 2017 meta-analysis of 82 research studies involving 100,000 students worldwide.

Impact Is Long-Term and Global

Long term

The average return on investment for six evidence-based programs is 11 to 1, meaning for every dollar invested there is an $11 return. Read the 2015 review from Columbia University.

Can Help Reduce Poverty, Improve Economic Mobility

Long term

SEL competencies are critically important for the long-term success of all students in today’s economy. A bipartisan 2015 report recommends several steps to scale up high-quality, evidence-based SEL programs as a core component of children’s education. Read the report from American Enterprise Institute and Brookings Institution.