Social and Emotional Learning: what it is, why it’s important, and where Hero fits in.

Our Schools are Evolving.

Advances in technology has made information instantly accessible, and students are able to satiate their curiosities and learn on their own terms as a result. This has changed the dynamic between students, teachers, and the classroom. With students no longer relying on school as the sole source of their personal knowledge base, another benefit of the classroom—the social aspect—moves closer to the forefront.

“Content is more of a commodity. Children own what they want now, at very young ages. They will become self-directed. They can find the dates of the Civil War without learning it from a teacher. So the question that they’re bringing to school now is, Who am I? How do I work with you? How do I build a team? What is our purpose? Where do I fit?” Timothy P. Shriver, CASEL Board Chair

To Work Well With Others.

Call it character development, soft skills, or deeper learning, Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is teaching social skills to students, both formally and informally. According to The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), “Social and Emotional Learning enhances students’ capacity to integrate skills, attitudes, and behaviors to deal effectively and ethically with daily tasks and challenges.” After all, academic learning can only get you so far. The real world requires collaboration and communication, and SEL helps set up students for future success.

This video from Edutopia explains it well:

Video credit: “5 Keys to Successful Social Emotional Learning” via Edutopia

The SEL Core Competencies

As the video highlights, Social Emotional Learning can be broken down into five core competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. Edutopia does a great job explaining these competencies and ways to develop them within the classroom.

Self Awareness is the ability to identify emotions, and to tie thoughts and feelings to behaviors. This can be taught through conflict mediation or journaling, with the goal being to help students see the impact of their choices, and help them choose differently in the future.

Self Management is the ability to self motivate, to have self control, and to regulate one’s emotions. This can be taught through breathing exercise, counting to five, or taking a break. All these techniques aim to give students tools to deal with conflict in a less stressful way.

Social Awareness is embracing diversity and showing empathy for others. This can be taught through service learning projects, role playing, and addressing social justice issues.

Relationship Skills is the ability to work cooperatively with others and to successfully and peacefully resolve conflict. This can be taught through project-based learning.

“Relationship Skills is one skill you need your whole life. You may not need calculus tomorrow, but you have to know how to have a working relationship.”

Responsible Decision-Making is considering the well-being for oneself and others, and evaluating the consequences of behaviors and actions. This can be taught through shared agreements, 1-to-1 problem solving, and having student debates.


Image credit: modified version of the Core SEL Competency Wheel, via CASEL.

Where SEL is Taught

Casel goes on to explain (as shown in the chart, above) that Social and Emotional Learning should be taught across multiple settings in order to reach peak effectiveness. In the classroom, SEL can be taught through curriculum and integrated throughout daily instruction. At the school-wide level, administrators can set policies that make SEL programs a priority campus-wide, and at home, families are critical at modeling the desired attitudes and behavior.

Impact beyond the classroom

Numerous studies have proven that the development of life skills lead to a students’ long-term success academically and otherwise.

11% Academic Gains
A meta-analysis concluded that Social and Emotional Learning leads to an 11% point gain in academic achievement compared to students not involved with any SEL programs.

Favorable results on poverty
A 2015 report by the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution found that SEL competencies are “critically important for the long-term success of all students in today’s economy”

Improved Lifetime Outcomes
According to CASEL, a 2015 national study published in the American Journal of Public Health “found statistically significant associations between SEL skills in kindergarten and key outcomes for young adults years later in education, employment, criminal activity, substance use, and mental health.”

An 11:1 ROI
A 2015 study by researchers at Columbia found that “for every $1 invested in SEL programming, there is a return of $11.” That is an 11:1 return on investment, which is an incredibly powerful metric.

How Hero Helps you Track and Measure SEL

One of the suggestions for measuring SEL efficacy is to analyze teacher comments and align them to the core competencies. In practice, this means that if a teacher says that a student “works well with others”, a check would be placed in the “relationship skills” competency block.

But what if there was an easier—less manual—way?

Hero helps keep track of student behavior, and with a bit of customization, can be used to measure how well your SEL program is working. You could simply set up your Hero dashboard to track the five competencies of SEL: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making, and then have teachers and staff capture when students exhibit those behaviors. (Real examples of how these behaviors are exhibited can be found in this Edutopia download.)

Hero data will give you reports to see how your classrooms are performing. Are relationship skills trending upwards? Your teachers must be developing those skills correctly. Is social awareness plateauing? Maybe it’s time to have teachers run special lessons on diversity in an effort to increase that competency. The benefit of having real data to look at and run reports against through Hero is that you can accurately identify areas for improvement, and modify your programs accordingly. Manual tracking is incredibly time-consuming and hard to accurately assess, making it harder to get those SEL programs off the ground.

SEL: a Growing and Worthwhile Trend

Social and Emotional Learning and the holistic development of a student has been a trending topic, and rightfully so. In the quest to set students up for a lifetime of success, attention must be given to their social development. SEL may require a bit of a mindset shift, some learning, and practice, but the outcomes—for our students and our society—are worth it.

Want to start tracking the success of your SEL program? We can help.