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RWC Module: Social Emotional Health and Learning


What is Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)?

Social and emotional learning is critical to education and human development. It is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions (CASEL, 2020). Social and emotional learning also advances educational equity and excellence through authentic school-family-community partnerships to establish learning environments and experiences that feature trusting and collaborative relationships, rigorous and meaningful curriculum and instruction, and ongoing evaluation. SEL can help address various forms of inequity and empower young people and adults to co-create thriving schools and contribute to safe, healthy, and just communities (CASEL, 2020). 

Why do we start with Social Emotional Learning (SEL)? 

“Maslow before Bloom”— we hear it all the time. The idea that educators should meet their students’ basic needs for safety and belonging before turning to challenging academic tasks is one that guides the work of many schools and districts. However, it is not as easy to do as it sounds. With several and sometimes, conflicting mandates requiring specific blocks of instructional time to be included within the master schedule of a school day, many teachers, especially those newer to the profession, maintain that they do not have the time to plan for or incorporate strategies such as brain breaks or consistent and regular individual or small group check-ins with students to see how they are doing.

Research indicates that failure to integrate social and emotional practices is a mistake that will further amplify mental health issues and traumatic stressors students experience. Child psychiatrist Pamela Cantor told Edutopia in 2019 that “when we’re able to combine social, emotional, affective, and cognitive development together, we are creating many, many more interconnections in the developing brain that enable children to accelerate learning and development.” Making time to integrate social and emotional learning into academics, in other words, is a better way for districts and schools to achieve their goals than a focus on academics alone.

Prioritizing personal connections and students’ ability to manage their emotions is challenging. CASEL, in partnership with Edutopia, has provided several strategies for districts and schools to infuse SEL in every aspect of the school day.  Most of the strategies within this toolkit are drawn from high-quality research and the experiences of successful teachers. They can be integrated into both physical and virtual classrooms. 

Benefits of SEL

More than two decades of research demonstrates that education promoting social and emotional learning (SEL) yields undeniable results. The findings come from multiple fields and sources, including student achievement, neuroscience, health, employment, psychology, classroom management, learning theory, economics, and the prevention of youth problem behaviors (CASEL, 2020). The benefits outlined below are derived from the decades of research (i.e., reports, reviews, meta-analysis, and summaries). Additional information and context surrounding the benefits can be accessed in the links provided under each categorical benefit listed. 

1. Leads to Academic Outcomes and Improved Behaviors

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, and 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 2019 summary of 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?"


2. Impact Is Long-Term and Global

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.



3. 11:1 Return on Investment


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. 
4. Can Help Reduce Poverty, Improve Economic Mobility
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 evidenced-based SEL programs as the core component of children's education. Read the report from American Enterprise Institute and Brookings Institution. 
5. Improves Lifetime Outcomes 


There are statistically significant associations between SEL skills in kindergarten and key outcomes for young adults years later. SEL decreased the likelihood of living in or being on a waiting list for public housing, receiving public assistance, having any involvement with police before adulthood, and ever spending time in a detention facility. Read the 2015 national study published by the American Journal of Public Health. 


Making the Case for SEL

This PowerPoint from CASEL brings together powerful scientific evidence of the benefits of SEL and survey results that reflect the growing demand for SEL from all sectors. It is presented in easy-to-understand, customizable slides.

Resource Library

CASEL's Resource Library features resources with a strong basis for better understanding SEL. The repository of readings, websites, videos, and more are categorized to help users gain the knowledge necessary to understanding fundamental areas of SEL. For additional trainings, guidance, and/or resources, contact the CDE Office of Health and Wellness.

NOTE: The content of the page was developed using content from CASEL and Edutopia

Next Module: How SEL and Mental Health Supports can be Incorporated into Daily Learning