Social Emotional Learning

What is SEL?

Working together, building relationships, and being mindful of our own emotions and the feelings of others, has always been a critical component of child development. The term social and emotional learning or SEL is used to describe how people of all ages build skills around several core competencies, including showing empathy, making decisions, and connecting with others.

Social-Emotional Learning Every Day

Social-emotional learning is part of the work happening every day in classrooms throughout the world. Educators create spaces for students where they can learn together with their classmates. In these spaces, students learn more than just academic content. They learn skills that are foundational to their interactions both inside and outside of the classroom.

Although students can build self-awareness and responsible decision-making skills organically, social and emotional learning is an intentional process. SEL skills can be taught explicitly through experiential learning and teacher modeling. Like all skills that students learn in school, they require practice, feedback, and plenty of opportunities to apply these skills in an authentic environment.

Thumbnail image of group of early elementary aged children working together building with blocks with text "Social Emotional Learning Guide and Activity Ideas for Educators"Thumbnail image of group of early elementary aged children working together building with blocks with text "Social Emotional Learning Guide and Activity Ideas for Educators"

SEL in Action

A commitment to SEL skill-building can take many forms. By setting an intention to this practice, you can connect your social and emotional learning goals to the English Language Arts skills you already focus on during the school year. SEL skill-building activities can go hand-in-hand with your literacy goals when students listen, share, read, and reflect together.

We’ve created an SEL Guide for educators to help you unpack the term social-emotional learning and bring SEL into your classroom in a purposeful way this school year. First, we’ll begin with an introduction to social and emotional learning, so you are well-versed in CASEL’s core competencies for SEL. Then, we’ll look at activities you can try out in your classroom any time of year. These activities focus on one area of the five social and emotional learning competencies in CASEL’s framework. You’ll also find Capstone resources to enhance your SEL instruction with students.

What are the 5 SEL Competencies?

To begin our dive into SEL together, let’s start with the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. Often referred to simply as CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning created and refined the definition for social and emotional learning shared below (CASEL, 2021):

“Social and emotional learning (SEL) is an integral part of education and human development. SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions, achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.

SEL 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.”


Simply put, SEL is a lifelong journey of learning: how to better know ourselves and how to connect and collaborate with others to reach goals and support our communities.


CASEL Framework

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) conducts research on the benefits of SEL and how to measure SEL in educational environments. They have also created a framework with five core competencies. These core competencies include: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness.


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Students demonstrate self-awareness when they understand how they feel in different situations. This can include naming their own emotions, describing what is important to them, and even identifying bias. Students building this skill can also talk about their strengths and areas where they are working to improve through the development of a growth mindset.




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Students demonstrate self-management when faced with a variety of situations. This can include moments when they are frustrated and stressed. Students building self-management skills work on setting goals, implementing stress management techniques, and planning effectively.




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Responsible Decision-Making

Students demonstrate responsible decision-making when asked to weigh options, consider different perspectives, and reflect on their role as members of a group. This can include asking students to analyze information and consider pros and cons when making decisions. Students building responsible decision-making skills can talk about the thought process behind a decision they made.




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Relationship Skills

Students demonstrate relationship skills when navigating social situations that ask them to communicate clearly, work together as a team, and handle disagreements. This can include times when students use conflict resolution strategies and demonstrate leadership in a group setting. Students building relationship skills pause in a conversation to listen to their classmates and work together with students with different life experiences.




Image with text Capstone Supports Social Awareness Social Emotional LearningImage with text Capstone Supports Social Awareness Social Emotional Learning

Social Awareness

Students demonstrate social awareness skills when they show empathy and concern for others and take on someone else’s perspective. This can include understanding the norms of a situation based on context and understanding how systems and organizations function. Students building social awareness skills have a deeper understanding of their community, including the diversity present in different situations.



How Can I Support SEL in the Classroom?

Social and emotional learning can take place within individual classrooms and benefits from the support of a school and district commitment. A commitment to social and emotional learning asks stakeholders to establish a mission and create opportunities for students to explore SEL competencies.

Setting an intention should include:

  • Carving out time for planning
  • Allocating time for reflection
  • Providing opportunities for feedback

The activity ideas in our SEL Guide are designed to help you incorporate SEL skills within traditional learning experiences, such as time allocated for English Language Arts instruction during a literacy block. Each activity has suggested resources for student readers from the Capstone Connect library and PebbleGo Health. Try incorporating multimedia with a creation tool, like Buncee, in with your SEL activities to spark students' creativity.  

Children's books, like these recommended Capstone picture books, can be wonderful resources in your SEL tool kit to help build and reinforce important social emotional learning skills, from identifying and processing emotions to developing empathy and embracing different perspectives. Our picture books are great read-alouds to share with children to develop these crucial SEL skills.  

There are so many ways to incorporate Social Emotional Learning practices in your school. Collaborate with your peers and customize to meet the needs of your students. The growing body of research clearly shows SEL’s impact on student’s academic achievement and mental and physical health, setting them up for success in and out of school.

Looking For More SEL Resources?

SEL Infographic

SEL Activities

SEL Books