Though largely attributed to the No Child Left Behind Act, academic success has long been measured by standardized testing and achieved credits and grades from core curriculum as a metric for achievement, leaving students’ emotional needs and social development neglected and undervalued. However, thanks in part to the federal ESSA law around education introduced in 2015, schools are starting to understand and accommodate the need for curriculum that highlights social-emotional learning (SEL). SEL curriculum is dedicated to helping students gain skills and understanding in areas such as goal-setting, responsible decision-making, self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, and building relationships.

Teachers and administrators have begun working to incorporate inclusive SEL curriculum into classrooms through redefining education practices and standards in their schools. Teachers and administrators are able to use SEL to support whole child learning and ensure success in learning and life objectives for students.

They do so by creating a distinct curriculum that focuses on social-emotional well-being, incorporating social-emotional learning principles into current curriculum, defining means of mapping curriculum, and monitoring progress toward SEL goals and learning objectives. Addressing the social emotional needs of students has been linked to: 

  • Healthier attitudes about self, increases in emotional wellness, and decreases in emotional stress for students

  • Better student-teacher relationships

  • Improved relationships with peers

  • Increased academic success, including higher graduation rates

  • Less challenging behavior and decreases in instances of bullying

  • Success after graduation, including decreased likelihood to utilize government assistance and increased job readiness and job retention

Social emotional learning for students is key to success in schools. 

Social-Emotional Learning Skills & Competencies

Social and emotional learning curriculum is the integration of SEL skills and strategies into a pre-existing curriculum. This can include everything from establishing rules and expectations for respectful classroom behavior to students collaborating in pairs and groups while working on research projects for History. Some SEL topics, such as classroom rules and expectations, will be something taught for only part of the year, whereas topics such as peer-to-peer communication, teamwork, and respect for cultural differences will be embedded in curriculum year round.

The goal of social-emotional learning is to teach students the essential skills needed to cope with their emotions, emotions of others, and the world around them. The specific skills and core competencies that this curriculum aims to provide students includes:

  • Self-awareness: Understanding of their own strengths and limitations

  • Self-management: Controlling their own emotions and behaviors

  • Social-awareness: Respect for differences and ideas of others

  • Relationship skills: Promote and maintain positive relationships

  • Goal-directed behavior: Completion of tasks with increasing difficulty helps them face regular challenges in life

  • Personal responsibility: Being careful and reliable

  • Decision-making: Using values to guide decisions

  • Optimistic thinking: Confidence and hopefulness to help them conquer life issues

Gaining these skills helps students interact with their world, accept others, improve behavior and learning, and combat depression. 

Social-Emotional Learning Activities

There are hundreds of social-emotional learning activities available for all grade levels. With a wide variety of activities to choose from, teachers are certain to find something that suits their classroom best. Implementing these activities can help students look inward and give them time to reflect on their emotions. This is essential because children of today have busy lives filled with distractions. Although there are hundreds of social emotional learning strategies and activities to choose from, some of the easiest to implement include:

  • Journaling

  • Calm-down corner for self-reflection

  • Arts and crafts activities

  • Hold discussions about managing emotions and providing strategies for handling situations.

  • Implement problem-solving activities

  • Use group projects to teach students about teamwork

  • Celebrate diversity

These activities and so many others can be used with students of all ages to help build emotional intelligence. Starting early, when students are in kindergarten or elementary school, makes it much easier to ensure they can handle situations throughout their lives. 

Social-Emotional Learning Programs  

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has been a leading force in defining, pushing understanding of, and informing policy around social-emotional learning for more than two decades. Teachers can find multiple tools to help support teaching social-emotional curriculum on the CASEL website, which features definitions for SEL terms, teaching approaches, SEL competencies, and guides for measuring and assessing the success of SEL lessons in your classroom.

The Toolbox Project is another great great social-emotional learning curriculum. It identifies 12 “tools” with which teachers should equip students for increased academic and life success. These “tools,” or social competencies, include skills/resources, such as breathing, quiet/safe spaces, empathy, patience, “please” and “thank you,” using our words, and personal space among others.

Social-Emotional Learning Examples 

SEL has been shown to be most effective when it is consistently taught through a variety of teaching models and curriculum themes that provide students with regular opportunities to learn and improve SEL skills. You can create opportunities for SEL in your classroom through:

  • Establishing rules and expectations and modeling behavior to students

  • Having classroom meetings

  • Providing opportunities for partner and group work

  • Supporting differentiated instruction by utilizing learning centers and introducing gamified learning

  • Facilitating student-directed learning by empowering students to make choices about how they learn

  • Performing daily check-ins/check-outs

  • Creating classroom jobs

Building inclusive social-emotional learning themes into curriculum requires understanding the social-emotional needs and learning styles of your students and responding to those needs. Only you know how your classroom is best served by SEL education and how best to introduce SEL curriculum to aid your students in building their social and emotional health.

Find more activities to integrate social-emotional learning into the classroom here.