What is Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)? | Facing History & Ourselves
Boy watching video on laptop.

What is Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)?

Start integrating Social-Emotional Learning in the classroom with this high-level look at what SEL is, along with some helpful intro tools.
Last Updated:

Education leaders everywhere have been urging schools to center social-emotional learning (SEL) to give young people better tools to process trauma and upheaval. 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 lifeline in times of difficulty. It is crucial that teachers are equipped with an educational plan that begins with nurturing adolescents’ sense of community and connection at school. And it is also crucial that teachers 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 hows and whys of SEL, but there’s never been a better time to do so. Here’s what educators need to know about this essential framework.

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. 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 Resources.

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. We are among 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.

Learn more about Evidence for ESSA’s endorsement of Facing History here.

Access Resource