SEL is Important Key to School and Life Success Back »

Written by Andrea Knox, former SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Development & Resiliency Field Specialist.


As parents, guardians and those working with young people, we want to do all we can to prepare them for life success both in and out of school. One basic, yet often overlooked approach which is key to unlocking the door of life success is social emotional learning (SEL). SEL is the process in which youth and adults alike gain knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to manage emotions, demonstrate caring and concern for others, create positive relationships, make responsible decisions and handle challenging situations constructively (CASEL, 2013). These foundational SEL skills create a ripple effect in that they provide positive outcomes not only in social and emotional development, but in overall health, motivation and academic development as well.

Research involving 213 studies of SEL in schools showed that students who received quality SEL experienced the following:

  • Better academic performance: achievement scores an average of 11 percentile points higher than students who did not receive SEL instruction;
  • Improved attitudes and behaviors: greater motivation to learn, deeper commitment to school, increased time devoted to schoolwork, and better classroom behavior;
  • Fewer negative behaviors: decreased disruptive class behavior, noncompliance, aggression, delinquent acts, and disciplinary referrals; and
  • Reduced emotional distress: fewer reports of student depression, anxiety, stress, and social withdrawal

It makes sense that our emotions and relationships affect our learning including how we learn, what we learn and how we use what we learn. This has an effect not only in school, but in our family, community and work experiences. The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) organization has identified the following areas as crucial for SEL.

  • Self-awareness: The ability to accurately recognize one’s emotions and thoughts and their influence on behavior. This includes accurately assessing one’s strengths and limitations and possessing a well-grounded sense of confidence and optimism.
  • Self-management: The ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations. This includes managing stress, controlling impulses, motivating oneself, and setting and working toward achieving personal and academic goals.
  • Social awareness: The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures, to understand social and ethical norms for behavior, and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.
  • Relationship skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. This includes communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, resisting inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict constructively, and seeking and offering help when needed.
  • Responsible decision making: The ability to make constructive and respectful choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, the realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and the well-being of self and others.

With the help of parents, schools and other youth organizations young people can master these skills and enjoy success in school and life. They are likely to become more confident, well-adjusted and happier students, family members, friends and workers. Social emotional learning is often an overlooked approach, but has the ability to unlock the door to ensure a healthy, positive life.

For more information visit the CASEL website.


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