Social Emotional Learning

Last Updated: 2/28/2020 7:49 PM

What is Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)?

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is 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 Identifies Five Core Competencies

  • Self-awareness: The ability to accurately recognize one’s emotions and thoughts and their influence on behavior. This includes accurately assessing one’s strengths and limitations and possessing a well-grounded sense of confidence and optimism.
  • Self-management: The ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations. This includes managing stress, controlling impulses, motivating oneself, and setting and working toward achieving personal and academic goals.
  • Social awareness: The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures, to understand social and ethical norms for behavior, and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.
  • Relationship skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. This includes communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, resisting inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict constructively, and seeking and offering help when needed.
  • Responsible decision-making: The ability to make constructive and respectful choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, the realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and the well-being of self and others.















Aperture's DESSA System

The Devereux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA) is a 72-item, standardized, norm-referenced behavior rating scale that assesses eight social and emotional competencies that serve as protective factors for children in kindergarten through the eighth grade. The DESSA-mini is comprised of four 8-item parallel forms that are designed to be used on a universal (i.e. school- or program-wide) basis to determine the need for social and emotional interventions. The four 8-item forms are standardized, norm-referenced behavior rating scales that screen for social and emotional competencies which serve as protective factors for children in kindergarten through the eighth grade. Considering the use of the DESSA to measure outcomes for individual children, groups of children, and/or for program improvement purposes? Download a document that provides the rationale for examining outcomes along with providing specific approaches for measuring outcomes. View Document.


Aligned with CASEL Standards

The DESSA social-emotional learning (SEL) assessment contains a nuanced approach to SEL. While CASEL has defined 5 measures of a student’s social and emotional skills, the DESSA expands into eight competencies, which are believed to be the best predictors of a student’s SEL skills. You’ll gain a comprehensive picture that helps you create a more in-depth and fine-tuned SEL program. The DESSA is the assessment best aligned with the CASEL framework.






Students and Schools

SEL helps build a foundation that supports students’ success both personally and academically. When kids are equipped with social-emotional skills, they’re better able to learn and contribute to a positive school climate.

Workers and Workplaces

Communication, getting along with others, assertiveness, and problem-solving are all skills taught in an SEL program. These skills help people and organizations build a healthy, supportive, and successful work environment.

Life and Society

SEL gives people—from childhood through the full life span—the tools they need to build and maintain positive relationships, control strong emotions, and express empathy. Public health and safety also improve.



Systemic Social and Emotional Learning

SEL can be more than just a 30-minute lesson. A systemic approach to SEL intentionally cultivates a caring, participatory, and equitable learning environment and evidence-based practices that actively involve all students in their social, emotional, and academic growth. This approach infuses social and emotional learning into every part of students’ daily lives—across all of their classrooms, during all times of the school day, and when they are in their homes and communities.



Creating Environments for Learning

SEL is a deeply ingrained part of the way students and adults interact both in the classroom and out of it, and helps provide children with equitable, supportive, and welcoming learning environments.



Research for SEL Is Key

Rigorous research is essential in developing our social-emotional learning curriculum.


Students were 42 percent less likely to say they were involved in physical aggression


20% less bullying by students with disabilities


$11 returned for each $1 invested in social-emotional learning


5–12% decrease in school dropout rates associated with SEL


13% increase in academic achievement with SEL


79% of employers say SEL skills are the most important qualities for job success



SEL Works

More than two decades of research shows that SEL leads to:


Increased Academic Achievement

According to a 2011 meta-analysis of 213 studies involving more than 270,000 students, those who participated in evidence-based SEL programs showed an 11% point gain in academic achievement.


Improved Behavior

Studies show decreased dropout rates, school and classroom behavior issues, drug use, teen pregnancy, mental health problems, and criminal behavior.


Strong Return on Investment

A review of six SEL interventions in evidence-based SEL programs showed that for every dollar invested there was an economic return of 11 dollars.

  For more on the benefits of SEL

Visit SEL Impact





Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) have a tremendous impact on future violence victimization and perpetration, and lifelong health and opportunity. Working together, we can help create neighborhoods, communities, and a world in which every child can thrive.

ACEs are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood (0-17 years). For example:

  • experiencing violence or abuse
  • witnessing violence in the home or community
  • having a family member attempt or die by suicide

Also included are aspects of the child’s environment that can undermine their sense of safety, stability, and bonding such as growing up in a household with:

  • substance misuse
  • mental health problems
  • instability due to parental separation or household members being in jail or prison

ACEs are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance misuse in adulthood. ACEs can also negatively impact education and job opportunities.

However, ACEs are preventable. Creating and sustaining safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for all children and families can prevent ACEs and help all children reach their full potential. CDC has produced a resource, Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs): Leveraging the Best Available Evidencepdf icon, to help states and communities take advantage of the best available evidence to prevent ACEs. It features six strategies from the CDC Technical Packages to Prevent Violence.



Video Resources

How SEL Helps Students in College, Career, and Life

Social and emotional learning (SEL) develops people’s ability to make successful life choices, to achieve academically and to be college and career ready. In this video, Nick Yoder, AIR senior technical assistance consultant, explains how SEL can help students and what research says about its effectiveness.

What is SEL and Why SEL Matters?

What is SEL? Social-emotional learning (SEL) is the process of developing self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills that are vital for school, work, and life success. The creators of Second Step show us what social-emotional skills are and the important role they play throughout our lives.

Learn more at

5 Keys to Social and Emotional Learning Success

Studies show that sustained and well-integrated social and emotional learning (SEL) programs can help schools engage their students and improve achievement. Explore the classroom practices that make up the best and most effective SEL programs.

Learn more at Edutopia:



Web Resources