What is Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)?

Posted by Kaitlin Smith on July 28, 2020

Girl gesticulating while participating in a virtual classAmid the traumas and upheavals sweeping our communities over the last many months, education leaders everywhere have been urging schools to center social-emotional learning (SEL) this fall. Whether one’s coursework will be conducted online, in person, or through a hybrid format, SEL is a foundation of effective teaching in the best of times and a vital lifeline in times of difficulty. In these times, it is crucial that educators come equipped with an educational plan that begins with nurturing adolescents’ sense of community and connection at school. And it is also crucial that educators come prepared to acknowledge the diverse array of experiences that community members are bringing back into the classroom. The demands of teaching don’t always allow educators to take a deep dive into the how’s and why’s of SEL but there’s never been a better time to do so. Here’s what educators need to know about this essential framework this year.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines social-emotional learning (SEL) as “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 outlines five core competencies central to SEL: 

  1. Self-awareness: Do I have insight into my strengths, limitations, and needs?
  2. Self-management: Can I manage my emotions and physical behaviors in ways that align with expectations in a range of circumstances?
  3. Social awareness: Can I empathize with those who are different from me? Can I accurately detect the rules of social engagement relevant to my current context?
  4. Relationship skills: Can I cultivate and deal with the challenges inherent in maintaining relationships with diverse individuals and groups?
  5. Responsible decision-making: Can I deliberate and settle upon a course of action with adequate attention to various considerations and possible outcomes?

SEL is vital for nurturing an ethic of inclusion in schools and classrooms, and this is particularly essential in this moment. To this end, CASEL has developed Reunite, Renew, and Thrive: Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Roadmap for Reopening School in which they help school leaders navigate reopening, and discuss “leveraging social and emotional learning to promote equity and healing.”

But what about individual classroom educators eager to implement SEL and derive its deep benefits right away? Facing History invites them to use our Back-to-School 2020 Resources, complete with tools designed to help teachers attend to the unique challenges that have emerged over the last several months.

Facing History is a teacher’s best ally as they implement SEL in the classroom, and the data bears this out. 

Facing History is the only History and English Language Arts program endorsed by “Evidence for ESSA”a resource that identifies and ranks programs that exemplify the educational standards outlined in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) based on evidence of their efficacy. Facing History is only 1 of 4 programs approved for high school, 1 of 8 programs approved for middle school, and 1 of 25 programs approved for social-emotional learning. ESSA recommends adoption of approved programs across K-12 environments and requires that schools seeking particular forms of federal funding implement only approved programs.

We invite you to learn more about Evidence for ESSA’s endorsement of Facing History and invite educators to join us in centering SEL as our communities return to school.

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Topics: Back-To-School, SEL, Social and Emotional Learning

At Facing History and Ourselves, we value conversation—in classrooms, in our professional development for educators, and online. When you comment on Facing Today, you're engaging with our worldwide community of learners, so please take care that your contributions are constructive, civil, and advance the conversation.


Welcome to Facing Today, a Facing History blog. Facing History and Ourselves combats racism and antisemitism by using history to teach tolerance in classrooms around the globe.

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