What is Social Emotional Learning (SEL)?

SEL is the process by which social emotional competencies (SEC) develop. With SEL, individuals learn how to recognize emotions in themselves and in others and then use that information to manage themselves, their relationships and their decision-making. These skills grow from the connections made between students and between students and educators.

CASEL.org (the governing organization for SEL) has divided SEL skills into 5 core competencies:

  1. Self-awareness – recognizing emotions in your self and knowing your strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Self-management – being able to regulate your emotions and behaviors in order to achieve your personal goals.
  3. Social awareness – the ability to understand and empathize with others, including those with different cultural backgrounds, and recognizing social norms of behavior.
  4. Relationship skills – being able to form healthy relationships, through communication skills and conflict resolution skills.
  5. Responsible decision-making – being able to make constructive choices in accordance with your personal desires across a wide range of settings.

These competencies are the skills that allow people to connect with one another, lead fulfilling lives and achieve personal goals. As such, they are not just needed to be taught to students in order for them to feel more successful, teachers themselves need to embody these skills. SEL education is thus necessary for both students and teachers.

The Research on Social Emotional Learning

Everyday, students experience a lack of motivation or focus, poor behavior from fellow students, uncontrolled impulses, or feelings of loneliness, hurt or anger. These are social emotional issues that seriously hinder students’ academic success. Emotion regulation is at the heart of these issues. SEL focuses on emotion regulation and thus enhances not only academic achievement but personal self-worth.

Furthermore, the impact of social emotional learning can not be denied. Peruse the CASEL.org website and you will find abundant research proving the multiple benefits of SEL across the board:

+ The 2011 meta analysis published in Child Development is likely the most cited study that proved that supporting a child’s SEL skills shows an 11% gain in academics, a 9% improvement in attitudes, 9% improvement in positive behavior, 9% decrease in conduct problems, and a 10% decrease in emotional distress. [1]

+ Long-term implications were proved in 2017 when analysis of 82 research studies with over 100,000 students found that 18 years after being exposed to SEL in school, graduates continued “to do better than a number of their peers on a number of indicators: positive social behaviors and attitudes, skills such as empathy and teamwork, and academics. And they have fewer conduct problems, less emotional distress, and lower drug use, among many other benefits.” [2]

These benefits have caught the attention of educators and employers

+ Teachers themselves have weighed in on the issue: 93% value SEL in schools. [2]

+ Employers look for employees with strong SEL skills as they tend to have better work ethic and performance and get along better with peers than employees who were not exposed to SEL in school. [9]

For an excellent summary article on the benefits and need for SEL, please refer to Kimberly A. Schonert-Reichl and Shelley Hymel’s article, “Educating the Heart as Well as the Mind” here: http://www.jcsh-cces.ca/upload/Educating_Heart_Spring07-1.pdf.

The authors clearly link the benefits of an SEL education to reduced violence, bullying and victimization. They also outline the positive increases SEL causes to mental health and life long success. [3]

Today, educators are asked to do more for their students’ health and wellness (i.e. bullying prevention, drug awareness, character development, healthy relationships) while achieving high academic and state standards. Indeed, when asked to do so much with so little time, SEL programs have thus far proven to be a comprehensive answer to many of the pressures and problems we face in education today. As the research shows, SEL is the foundation of health and wellness and a proven route to academic success.

The Cost Effectiveness of Social Emotional Learning

Social emotional learning programs are a cost effective approach to prevention, academic achievement and overall health and wellness:

~ $202 billion is the cost of lost productivity and crime spending related to mental illness in Americans under the age of 24. [4]

~ Mental illness and substance abuse cost employers an estimated $225.8 billion each year, according to a study by Stewart, et al. 2003, that featured a random sample of over 28,000 workers in the US. [4]

~ When “researchers analyzed the economic impact of six widely-used SEL programs [they] found that on average, every dollar invested yield[ed] $11 in long-term benefits, ranging from reduced juvenile crime, higher lifetime earnings, and better mental and physical health. Very few interventions can boast such strong economic returns. [5]

Why is SEL Needed

That’s a great question, so let us ask you a few questions to answer it.

Today’s youth face many challenges and SEL skills help with all off them. Yes, we said it: ALL off them. As you read the questions and answers below, you will discover how social emotional competencies help your students not only develop resilience but to thrive in the face of adversity.

Are your students being bullied?

160,000 students miss school every single day in the United States for fear of being bullied [6]. At heart, bullying is a result of poor emotion regulation, a lack of empathy, and a weak sense of self. Most SEL programs address the first two issues. YSS addresses all three.

Are your students using drugs or alcohol? Is it from peer pressure? For emotional escape? To fit it?

The reasons are varied but a weak sense of “self” is at the core, quickly followed by a void in social and emotional confidences. That means SEL skills are essential to managing this area of life. YSS addresses the void and the self. 

How much of a factor is Mental Illness in your school?

Fifty percent of lifetime cases of mental disorders begin by age of 14. And that’s when they are  diagnosed – many of the symptoms of these disorders (ADHD, ODD, CD, anxiety, depression) begin in elementary school. Intervening early, by teaching students how to regulate their emotions, is thus critical in being proactive about mental health. [7].

Given the national average, approximately what percentage of your high school students are suffering with depression?

Fourteen percent. That means, a classroom with 22 students contains approximately three students who are unable to focus on academics due to depression [8].

Given the national average, approximately what percentage of your high school students are suffering with anxiety?

Eight percent. That means, a classroom of 23 students contains approximately two students who are unable to focus on academics due to anxiety. Moreover, teens rate their stress levels as higher than adults [8].

Are your students disturbing the classroom with poor behavior?

Behavior is a symptom of the thoughts and feelings we have about who we are. When we don’t know who we are, and/or we feel overwhelmed by complex emotions, we are unlikely to effectively manage our behavior. YSS focuses on self-development as well as the powerful social and emotional skills needed to regulate emotions and keep impulses in check.

What skills are future employers hoping you will teach your students?

Eight in ten employers say SEL skills are the most important to success and yet they are the hardest skills to find in future employees. Of the top five skills employers seek, four of them are social emotional skills. Social emotional skills are necessary for students to finish school and enter the work force with the skills needed to obtain and stay employed [9].

How would your students describe how they feel at school?

Seventy-five percent of the words students use to describe how they feel at school are negative. Students most commonly report feeling tired, stressed and bored at school. When students and teachers both possess strong social and emotional competencies, then the classroom feels like a welcome environment where students feel motivated and valued [10].

What percent of your middle school students feel verbally abused by their teachers?

Shockingly, sixty-four percent of middle school students report experiencing stress symptoms because of verbal abuse from teachers [11]. These sobering numbers underscore the need for teachers to be more mindful of the SEL skills they are demonstrating each day. Strong SEL skills increase connections between teachers and students and thus students are less likely to feel abused or neglected. Thus, teachers need Professional Development (PD) in SEL just as much as students need SEL programs.

How is the empathy level in your school community?

A University of Michigan study of 14,000 college students, found 40% less empathy today than students in the 1970s. The biggest drop in empathy was found in the year 2000 when social media hit the scene. [13].

How do teachers feel about SEL?

Teachers agree with the research findings that SEL initiatives demonstrate better academic performance, motivation to learn, school behavior, and attendance. In fact:

– Eight in ten teachers (77 percent) think SEL will have a major benefit on students’ abilities to stay on track and graduate and will increase standardized test scores and overall academic performance.

– Three-quarters (75 percent) believe SEL will improve student academic achievement.

– A majority of teachers (87 percent) believe SEL will be a major benefit in preparing students for the workforce.

– More than half of teachers in prekindergarten and elementary school (65 percent), middle school (64 percent), and high school (55 percent) want SEL in their state standards. [12]

Bottom Line

Social and emotional skill sets are what connect us to one another and enable us to thrive in our endeavors. These skills form the core purpose of our survival and humanity. Without such skills, we lead a life less passionate and strife with emotional turbulence. Now more than ever, these skills are needed to help students beat the odds that are so unnaturally stacked against them.

The more we develop SEL in our future generations the more we create the possibility of a future filled with peace, happiness and compassion. YSS teaches these skills while developing strong identities so that students can become the best expressions of themselves. No other program offers this combination of SEL and SELF development. No matter whether you choose YSS as your SEL program or another one, your students need SEL skills for LIFE success.

To start supporting your students today, click here.

To learn more about how the YSS program works, click here.

Sources for the above information:

1.Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D. & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1): 405–432.

2. Domitrovich, C.E., Syvertsen, A. K. & Calin, S. S. (2017). “Promoting Social and Emotional Learning in the Middle and High School Years.” Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center, Pennsylvania State University, page 5. https://www.rwjf.org/content/dam/farm/reports/issue_briefs/2017/rwjf441241

3.  http://www.jcsh-cces.ca/upload/Educating_Heart_Spring07-1.pdf


5. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/rulesforengagement/SEL-Revised.pdf

6. www.nveee.org/statistics/

7. http://www.samhsa.gov/capt/sites/default/files/images/windows-opportunity-char-l1g6.jpg

8. https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

9. The Conference Board report, “Are They Really Ready To Work?” from http://www.p21.org/storage/documents/FINAL_REPORT_PDF09-29-06.pdf.


11. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201612/why-our-coercive-system-schooling-should-topple

12. The Missing Piece: A National Teacher Survey on How Social and Emotional Learning Can Empower Children and Transform Schools. Civic Enterprises with Peter D. Hart Research Associates.

13. http://ns.umich.edu/new/releases/7724-empathy-college-students-don-t-have-as-much-as-they-used-to

Every school is in need of this effective and extraordinary social emotional learning addition to their program, all young people are in need of these skills more than ever to navigate through today's society successfully.

The Your Self Series team, Chris Parrott and Paula Prentis, could not be more professional and hands on with training, and their availability, not only at the program's inception, but throughout the years we have been using it.

Donna M. Pirro