Building a better future: The importance of social and emotional learning in education

Building a better future: The importance of social and emotional learning in education

Did you know that 61% of teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 are stressed over producing satisfactory grades? This is just one example of the social and emotional challenges that many students face. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is an approach to education that focuses on developing the social and emotional skills that students need to navigate these challenges and succeed in both school and life.

In this article, we’ll explore what social emotional learning is, current trends in the field, the skills it develops, and its future directions.

Understanding social-emotional learning

SEL is not a specific curriculum, but rather a framework for teaching and learning that focuses on building students’ abilities to understand and manage their emotions, establish positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. SEL is based on the fact that students who develop these skills are better equipped to handle the challenges of school and life, and are more likely to succeed academically and in their personal relationships.

The importance of SEL

SEL is important for several reasons. First and foremost, developing social and emotional skills helps students succeed academically. Students who are emotionally healthy and socially connected are more engaged in their learning and more likely to achieve academic success. Additionally, social and emotional skills are essential for success in the workplace and personal relationships. Employers now recognize the importance of these skills and are actively seeking candidates who possess them. Finally, social and emotional skills are critical for mental health and well-being. Developing these skills can help students  manage stress and anxiety, build resilience, and maintain positive mental health throughout their lives.

Byron Sanders, President & CEO of Big Thought, an organization creating creators for a 21st-century world, emphasizes the importance of social and emotional learning (SEL) in both in-school and out-of-school environments, especially during the pandemic. According to Sanders, SEL can help students better identify and understand their emotions, develop empathy, increase self-control and manage stress, and build better relationships and interpersonal skills that will serve them in school and beyond.

SEL Skills

SEL skills can be broadly categorised into five core competencies:

  1. Self-awareness: understanding one’s own emotions, strengths, and limitations.
  2. Self-management: regulating emotions, setting goals, and making responsible decisions.
  3. Social awareness: empathy and understanding of others’ perspectives.
  4. Relationship skills: communication, collaboration, and conflict resolution.
  5. Responsible decision-making: considering ethical and safety concerns and making choices that are in line with one’s values.

Developing these skills helps students navigate social and emotional challenges, build positive relationships, and achieve academic and personal success. By understanding and mastering these competencies, students are better equipped to manage their behaviour, form positive relationships, and make responsible decisions both inside and outside the classroom.

A brief history of SEL

SEL has its roots in the humanistic psychology movement of the 1960s and 1970s, which emphasized the importance of individual experience, feelings, and personal growth. In the 1980s and 1990s, researchers began to develop frameworks for teaching social and emotional skills in schools. This work was largely driven by concerns about violence in schools and the need to promote positive school climates. In the early 2000s, interest in SEL began to grow, and several comprehensive SEL programs were developed and implemented in schools across the United States.

Current trends in SEL

Today, there is a growing focus on social and emotional development in schools, and many educators and policymakers recognize the importance of SEL in promoting positive school climates and supporting students’ academic success. Schools are increasingly incorporating SEL into their curricula and extracurricular practices, and many states have developed SEL standards or guidelines to support this work. There is also a growing body of research supporting the effectiveness of SEL programs in promoting positive outcomes for students, including improved academic achievement, reduced disciplinary problems, and improved mental health and well-being.

Integrating technology and SEL

Technology can provide educators with innovative ways to deliver SEL programs to students. Here are some ways in which technology can be used to enhance SEL programs:

Digital storytelling: Storytelling is a powerful tool for enhancing social and emotional skills. With digital storytelling tools, students can create and share stories that reflect their emotions, experiences, and perspectives. This helps them develop empathy, self-awareness, and communication skills.

Virtual reality: Virtual Reality (VR) is a powerful tool that can help students experience social and emotional scenarios in a safe and controlled environment. For example, VR simulations can help students practice conflict resolution, decision-making, and perspective-taking.

Online SEL resources: Technology provides easy access to online SEL resources, such as videos, podcasts, and interactive games. These resources can help educators create engaging and interactive SEL programs that cater to diverse learning styles.

Communication tools: Technology provides communication tools that can help students and educators communicate effectively and build positive relationships. For example, chat tools, video conferencing, and social media can help students collaborate on projects, seek help, and share their experiences.

Types of SEL programs

There are a variety of SEL programs available to schools, each with its own approach and focus. Some programs focus on teaching social and emotional skills explicitly, through structured lessons and activities. Others take a more holistic approach, seeking to promote social and emotional development through the school culture and climate. Still, others focus on specific areas of social and emotional development, such as mindfulness or conflict resolution. Some examples of popular SEL programs include the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) program, the Second Step program, and the PATHS program.

Implementing SEL programs

Implementing SEL programs in schools can be a complex process, involving a range of stakeholders and considerations. Some of the key challenges associated with implementing SEL programs include funding, teacher training, and student engagement. Funding can be a principal challenge for schools, as many SEL programs require significant resources to implement effectively. Teacher training is also critical, as educators need to understand how to effectively teach social and emotional skills and integrate them into their curricula. Finally, student engagement is key to the success of SEL programs, as students need to be invested in the process of developing their social and emotional skills.

Opportunities for SEL implementation

Despite the challenges associated with implementing SEL programs, there are also several opportunities to promote social and emotional development in schools. For example, schools can use existing curricula and activities to integrate SEL into their programs, such as incorporating social and emotional learning goals into language arts or history lessons. Schools can also involve students in the process of developing their own social and emotional skills, by soliciting their input and feedback on SEL programs and activities. Finally, schools can partner with community organizations or other schools to share resources and expertise on SEL implementation. By taking advantage of these opportunities, schools can work to create positive school climates and support the social and emotional development of their students.

SEL and teacher well-being: Supporting educators to promote student success

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is not just about supporting students’ well-being; it is also about supporting the well-being of educators. Teachers play a critical role in implementing effective SEL programs, and their well-being and job satisfaction are essential components of creating a positive school climate.

Create a conducive school climate

Creating a positive school climate is critical  to supporting teacher well-being. This means establishing a culture of respect, empathy, and inclusivity, as well as promoting positive relationships among teachers, students, and parents. Schools can also implement policies and practices that prioritize teacher well-being, such as providing opportunities for flexible scheduling or reducing administrative tasks that take away from teaching time.

Recognize and value teacher contributions

It is essential to recognize and value the contributions that teachers make to their students’ lives and the school community as a whole. This can include celebrating their successes and milestones, providing opportunities for professional growth and development, and acknowledging the challenges and difficulties that teachers may face. By valuing and supporting their teachers, schools and districts can create a culture of care and well-being that benefits everyone.

SEL training for teachers

In addition to the above strategies, SEL training can also play a crucial role in supporting teacher well-being. SEL can help teachers develop the skills they need to manage stress and build positive relationships with their students and colleagues.

If you’re asking ‘What Can I Do with a Doctorate of Education in Leadership?’ it’s worth knowing that a Doctorate of Education in Leadership can open up a range of career opportunities for educators. Spalding University, for example, offers an online Doctorate of Education in Leadership that focuses on teacher well-being. The program is designed to help educators develop the knowledge and skills they need to promote student success and well-being, while also supporting their well-being. Graduates of the program may go on to work in academic departments, admissions, registrar’s offices  and student affairs. They may also use their knowledge and skills to promote SEL and student well-being in their current roles as classroom teachers or school counsellors.

Implementing SEL at home: Tips and strategies for parents and caregivers

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is not important only in the classroom; it is a crucial part of children’s development that should be nurtured at home as well. Parents and caregivers can play a significant role in supporting their children’s social and emotional growth by providing a safe and supportive environment, modelling healthy behaviour, and offering guidance and support when needed. Here are some tips and strategies for implementing SEL at home:

Create a positive home environment

One of the most important things parents and caregivers can do to support their children’s social and emotional development is to create a positive and supportive home environment. This means establishing routines and rituals that promote a sense of belonging and security, as well as setting clear boundaries and expectations for behaviour. Parents should also prioritize spending quality time with their children and creating opportunities for positive interactions and shared experiences.

Model healthy behaviors

Children learn by example, so parents and caregivers need to model healthy behaviours and emotions. This includes managing stress effectively, communicating openly and honestly, and practising empathy and compassion towards others. Parents should also encourage their children to express their emotions and feelings in a healthy way, such as by journaling, drawing, or talking with a trusted adult.

Teach problem-solving and conflict resolution skills

Conflict is a natural part of life, but children need to learn how to handle it effectively. Parents and caregivers can teach their children problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills by encouraging them to communicate their needs and feelings, listen actively and respectfully, and brainstorm solutions together. Parents should also help their children develop coping strategies for managing difficult emotions, such as deep breathing or taking a break to calm down.

SEL in higher education: Preparing students for success inside and outside the classroom

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is no longer limited to K-12 education; colleges and universities are beginning to recognize the importance of SEL for student success in higher education and beyond. Here are some ways that colleges and universities are incorporating SEL into their curricula and student support services:

Curricular integration of SEL

Colleges and universities are increasingly integrating SEL into their curricula, both in general education courses and in major-specific coursework. For example, a psychology course may include lessons on self-awareness and emotional regulation, while a business course may incorporate teamwork and communication skills. By explicitly teaching SEL skills, students can develop the competencies they need to succeed in their academic and professional lives.

SEL in student support services

In addition to curricular integration, colleges and universities are also incorporating SEL into student support services, such as counselling centres and wellness programs. These programs may include workshops or group counselling sessions that focus on stress management, emotional regulation, and relationship-building. By providing resources and support for students’ social and emotional development, colleges and universities can help students thrive both academically and personally.

Community-building and SEL

Finally, colleges and universities are recognizing the importance of community-building and SEL in promoting student success. This includes creating opportunities for students to build positive relationships with each other and with faculty and staff, as well as promoting a sense of belonging and inclusion on campus. By fostering a positive campus climate that values and supports students’ social and emotional development, colleges and universities can help students  reach their full potential both inside and outside the classroom.

Evolving SEL: Looking to the future

As we continue to learn more about social and emotional development, SEL will likely evolve over time. Some emerging trends in the field include a greater focus on equity and inclusion, an increased emphasis on trauma-informed practices, and a growing recognition of the role of culture and context in social and emotional development. These trends suggest that SEL programs will need to become more tailored to the specific needs of students and communities, and may need to address issues such as trauma, bias, and systemic inequality to be effective.

Integrating SEL with other educational initiatives

One way that SEL may evolve in the future is through greater integration with other educational initiatives. For example, some schools are beginning to combine SEL with academic instruction, by teaching social and emotional skills in the context of specific academic subjects. Others are integrating SEL with initiatives such as restorative justice or positive behavioural interventions and supports (PBIS), to create more comprehensive approaches to school culture and climate. These approaches suggest that SEL may become an increasingly central part of educational practice, rather than a separate or add-on program.

New research in the field

Finally, new research is also likely to shape the future of SEL. As scientists continue to investigate the social and emotional development of children and adolescents, we may gain new insights into effective practices and interventions. For example, some researchers are exploring the role of brain development in social and emotional development, and how interventions may affect neural pathways over time. Others are investigating the impact of different types of SEL programs on specific populations, such as English language learners or students with disabilities. By staying up-to-date on emerging research, educators and practitioners can continue to refine and improve their approaches to SEL.


In conclusion, SEL is essential for supporting students’ social and emotional development, promoting academic success, and preparing them for success in all aspects of their lives. By prioritizing SEL in education, we can create a more equitable and supportive society for all.

Comments are closed.