What is Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and Why is it Important?

woman teaching boy social skills

A growing number of studies are showing the importance of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) to a child’s success in school, in after-school programs, and beyond, but what exactly is SEL and how is it making a difference?

In this post, we’ll cover the basic definition of what SEL is and provide an overview of research that shows why you should be integrating it into your curriculum.

What is SEL?

Social-Emotional Learning, or SEL, is the process through which individuals:

  • Develop healthy identities
  • Feel and show empathy for others
  • Manage emotions
  • Achieve personal and collective goals
  • Establish and maintain supportive relationships
  • Make responsible and caring decisions

Why is SEL Important?

Studies have shown the many positive benefits of SEL for students, schools, and society as a whole. 

Benefits of SEL for students:

  • Helping students learn to recognize and communicate about emotions, giving children the language and self-regulation skills they need to manage strong feelings and control aggression
  • Improved attitudes and behaviors, including a greater motivation to learn, improved relationships with peers, and a deeper connection to their school
  • Reduced emotional distress, including fewer reports of depression, anxiety, stress, and social withdrawal

Benefits of SEL for schools:

  • Various SEL programs have been found to decrease by half the annual number of student fights, decrease violent behaviors by 19 percentage points, and reduce classroom hostility (USDE).
  • In 2015, researchers at Columbia University concluded that for every dollar a school spends on social-emotional learning programs, it sees an eleven dollar return on its investment (Belfield et al., 2015).
  • SEL programming improved students’ achievement test scores by 11 to 17 percentile points, indicating that they offer students practical educational benefits (CASEL).

Benefits of SEL for society:

  • 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.
  • SEL skills improve students’ academic performance, citizenship, and health-related behaviors. Moreover, such skills predict important life outcomes, including completing high school on time, obtaining a college degree, and securing stable employment.

In order to set students up for success, we must expand our definition of education to include SEL skills. SEL sets students up to develop self-esteem, healthy relationships, empathy, and social awareness, all skills needed to help students thrive in school and through adulthood.

Everyday Speech is dedicated to providing no-prep Social-Emotional Learning resources to meet the needs of every student, including supports for general and special education settings.

Learn more about how Everyday Speech materials support SEL.

Related blog: SEL During COVID-19


“Everyday speech is so convenient to use with my students, to target specific social and emotional goals. I love how you can search by topic, and there are a variety of materials that are ready to use!”

– Kathryn Bunker, M.S. CCC-SLP

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