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What is Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)?

What is Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)?

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines SEL as the process students take to acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to:

  • Manage emotions
  • Set and achieve positive goals
  • Feel and show empathy for others
  • Establish and maintain positive, meaningful relationships
  • Make responsible choices and decisions1

It’s essential that students embody SEL skills in the classroom and at home, as these skills are not only critical to success in school, but also to success in college, the workforce, and relationships.

With all of the buzz in the education realm about the importance of social and emotional learning, we want to help parents and educators alike learn how to help students develop and strengthen important SEL skills.

The 5 Core Competencies of SEL

CASEL has identified five cognitive, affective, and behavioral competencies that drive social and emotional learning.2 To help your students or child develop the following social and emotional abilities, discuss and practice them, provide engaging curriculum that incorporates them, and demonstrate the importance of them in everyday life.

1. Self-awareness.

Having a strong sense of self-awareness means a student has the ability to identify his emotions, understand how his thoughts and feelings influence his behavior, and recognize the impact his words and actions have on others. When students engage in group activities, conflict mediation, reflective writing, and self-assessments, they begin to learn how to monitor their behavior and accurately respond to different social situations.

2. Self-management.

It’s important for a student to be able to self-motivate, have self-control, and regulate his thoughts, feelings, and behavior in various situations. Self-management can be promoted in many ways, like teaching breathing exercises to manage stress, helping students set and achieve goals, and discussing how to respectfully express one’s thoughts and opinions.

3. Social awareness.

Socially aware students have the ability to empathize with others and embrace diversity. This skill helps students connect with people from different backgrounds and cultures, build and maintain close relationships, and develop strong communities. Participating in volunteer projects, watching documentaries on important issues, studying social justice issues, and role-playing activities allow students to learn about different people and understand social and ethical norms.2

4. Relationship skills.

When a student has the ability to communicate and listen effectively, work cooperatively with others, resolve conflict, and resist improper peer pressure, they have the ability to forge healthy personal and professional relationships. Strategies to help a student improve his interpersonal and relationship skills can be as simple as practicing active listening, joining a team sport or club activity, and discussing how to resolve conflict respectfully.

5. Responsible decision-making.

Evaluating the positives and negatives of various actions and behaviors, and considering the well-being of oneself and others, brings responsible decision-making to life. Students begin to understand the importance of responsible decision-making in activities like one-on-one partner projects, classroom debates about social and ethical issues, and studying and discussing the news and events that are happening around the world.2

When students understand and embody these five interrelated core competencies, they learn about who they are, establish confidence in what they believe, and evolve into productive, independent young adults.

As an all-boys boarding school, we’re focused on helping young men advance exponentially in the classroom and the world. We know that when SEL is integrated into a young man’s education, stress and emotional tension is reduced, academic outcomes improve, positive behavior emerges, and his true potential is realized.

Do you feel your son would benefit from a more structured, personalized, SEL-centric high school environment?

Learn about Grand River Academy’s all-boys boarding school and discover how young men are thriving with strong social and emotional skills and growing into resourceful leaders.


1 The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). “What Is Social and Emotional Learning?” Accessed June 8, 2016.

2 The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). “Social and Emotional Learning Core Competencies.” Accessed June 9, 2016.

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