Five Keys to Successful Social and Emotional Learning

Studies show that sustained and well-integrated social and emotional learning (SEL) engages students and improves achievement. Explore classroom practices that make up the most effective SEL programs.

Studies show that sustained and well-integrated social and emotional learning (SEL) engages students and improves achievement. Explore classroom practices that make up the most effective SEL programs.

Release Date: 5/14/13

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Find more resources and information on social and emotional learning at the website of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), or follow CASEL on Twitter.

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Five Keys to Successful Social and Emotional Learning (Transcript)

Pamela Randall: Social-emotional skills are the essential skills for success in school, work and life.

Natalie Walchuk: Social-emotional learning centers their mind and body. It reduces their emotional tension, so they can be open to new content and material. We find that academic outcomes increase exponentially when students are nurtured, loved and cared for. That we get much more out of them when we first address social-emotional needs. So for us, it's actually an academic intervention, and not just an emotional one.

Pamela: If we expect students to be college and career ready, it's important for us to focus on these skills and competencies: Self-Awareness; Self-Management; Social Awareness; Relationship Skills; and Responsible Decision-Making. Self-Awareness is the ability to identify your emotions. To be able to tie thoughts and feelings to behaviors.

Natalie: We find that Self-Awareness is one of the hardest things for young people. Being aware of their own body space, and the impact of their words and emotions on other people. So a lot of the work we do is reflective, through conflict mediation, through circles, through journaling. Having them see their own impact on the world, and then how to shift that or make a different choice next time.

Pamela: Self-Management is the ability to self-motivate, to have self-control, to regulate one's emotions.

Natalie: In a classroom, that may be a breathing exercise, or that might be counting to five, or taking a break.

Rose Ludwig: So with students who don't really know how to deal with their anger, or don't really know how to resolve conflict, we're giving them a tool that helps them deal with it in a less stressful way.

Pamela: Social Awareness is about embracing diversity, showing empathy for others. Activities might include service learning projects. Addressing social justice issues. Role playing is a great opportunity for students to address how a person might have felt in a conflict on the playground.

Teacher: We're going to see if other people have had some of the very same experiences around bullying that we've had.

Student: You're in my boat if you have a bully now.

Pamela: Relationship Skills are important in project-based learning. It's the ability to work cooperatively with someone, to resolve conflict.

Natalie: It's the one skill you need your whole life. You may not need calculus tomorrow, but you have to know how to work in a relationship, whether it's for a co-worker, or a life partner. You have to know how to handle conflict, and how to handle challenges.

Student: Sometimes at recess Maya would come over and like just start talking about us, and saying mean things.

Natalie: Is it your job to make Denay's job at school hard?

Student: No. I know it's a form of bullying. And sometimes I'll say, "Sorry" to her.

Natalie: So you choose to be someone's ally, and make a better choice.

Pamela: Responsible Decision-Making is considering the well-being for self and others. It's evaluating the consequences for various behaviors or actions. We do this through shared agreements. One-to-one problem-solving, or having students debate an issue.

Teacher: If you were like, "Hey, Kushida, can I-- how much does an egg cost in this class?" And you like took out your wallet, and I was like, "Eh, I think fifty bucks would work." Which one of us would be corrupt in that case?

Rebecca Heniser: We're truly teaching these students to be productive citizens. We're teaching them life skills. We're teaching them how to problem-solve effectively. We're teaching them how to be resilient.

Carlos Garcia: I think of all the billions of dollars we've spent on Title One, and all these intervention programs. And when all is said and done, what do we have to show for it? I think we're, you know, we're trying to teach technical things instead of devoting some of the resources to teach who you are as a person. Once you know who you are, then learning becomes exciting, because you've already established a discipline.

Pamela: It's important for teachers and Principals to understand that it can't be a binder off the shelf. It can't be something that happens from 2:15 to 4:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It has to be part of the school culture.

Natalie: Giving teachers flexibility, giving them a range of skills, giving them different ways that it can look, and allowing them to take their own personality and match that to what they want in their classroom has been the best way to get authentic true practice.

Carlos: If we continue to do what we've always done, we're always gonna get what we always got. Is that good enough? I don't think it's good enough for the 21st Century. We need to be the outliers to try things that have never been tried, and see if they work. What are we waiting for?


  • Directors: Zachary Fink, Alyssa Fedele
  • Editor: Daniel Jarvis
  • Associate Producer: Douglas Keely
  • Camera: Hervé Cohen, Mario Furloni, Zachary Fink, Cameron Trejo
  • Sound: Thomas Gorman, Douglas Keely
  • Graphic Design: Jenny Kolcun, Maili Holiman
  • Senior Manager of Video: Amy Erin Borovoy
  • Executive Producer: David Markus

© 2013 | The George Lucas Educational Foundation | All Rights Reserved

Comments (11)

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Teaching adolescents and

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Teaching adolescents and young adults the skills and knowledge needed to lead healthy romantic lives now and in the future is very compelling for them. And, evaluations show that when you teach young people to get smart about their love lives that violence both physical and verbal decreases both with their partners but more importantly, with their peers.

I'm the CEO of The Dibble Institute, a national, independent non-profit that uses research to develop teaching tools that teach SEL in the context of romantic relationships. Based in Berkeley, our materials are used in all 50 states in both co-ed and GLBTQ relationships. All young people deserve respect and all relationships could use relationship skills.

Director, Antioch Center for School Renewal

The Critical Skills Program

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The Critical Skills Program at Antioch University New England has been teaching teachers how to do this since 1985 by integrating the SEL piece with rigorous academic expectations and problem-based learning. We've had great results all over the world and are so pleased to see this conversation returning to the national stage!

Experts agree that most of a

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Experts agree that most of a child's emotional development occurs before the age of 5. Dysfunctional families are part of the reason kids come to school with these deficits, so in a sense, many kids are learning these things (SEL) for the first time. In the fifties, Dr. Spock's ideas were a thread through our culture and the social and economic conditions of the nation and of families in general was significant in preparing kids to learn. Their social and emotional needs were met.
The prospects of changing a truly damaged child is low but most can work to their optimum potential, given that the conditions and opportunities of a level playing field and love exist.
In teaching, I found that respecting the child, meeting emotional needs like addressing feelings about home lives, occasional food, a pair of shoes that fit, naps, and meeting needs for love and attention created significant success in those previously labeled unable to learn. Caring is what counts, but teachers need to understand the bottom rung of Maslow's Hierarchy ladder first. I think the single most important thing new teachers can learn is that hungry, sleep-deprived, emotionally, and physically neglected kids can't learn and it is cruel to pressure them, punish them, berate, and label them out of teacher frustration at not knowing what to do. It is not a child's fault. it is society's fault if we do not meet the needs of these families and our responsibility to understand them and learn how to reach them. Anything less will most assuredly cause failure. I have also learned that children meet our expectations, low or high. It is because of teachers with high EI in the fifties that I found success, ( I also believe that many kids end up in Special Ed. for all the above reasons). Teachers teach the way they were taught, which is the good and bad of education. Given the success of early intervention, these SEL practices should be adapted and embedded in pre school and early childhood programs. Additionally, to "teach" these skills, the following caveat must be added: We learn by experience. (How many times did your mom tell you "if you do that you'll get hurt" and how did you learn eventually grasp that you really will get hurt? When did that knowledge become part of you rather than just mere words?). It will be essential to provide actual opportunities to "feel," and use those teaching moments. Those who feel SEL is "more work" like all the other trends and fads that come and go after exerting time and effort will find this is different. All the "methods" in the world won't work without a receptive learner. Teachers need to lean about learning, not teaching. SEL.reaches the essence of learning.; receptive kids. Teachers will see that in the long run it will be a lot less work as barriers to learning are removed. A little work now will make your job much easier in the long run and will alleviate pressure rather than add to it. I leaned most of this in the sixties in a book called "The Way it's Suppozed to Be" and this is the first real paradigm shift I've seen since I read it.
I also find it ironic that this is related to the problems with NCLB. How can we expect kids to learn under the current pressure? We need get kids in the proper emotional place where they feel free, relaxed, and eager to learn, as is their natural state when they come to school. Their minds will open and they will get better results on the NCLB in the long run because they will have learned to learn, be eager to learn, and love to learn, not fear failure, and the scores will rise incidentally.

SEL for College Students?

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An excellent introduction to SEL but I would like to hear more about how this might be applied to High School students.

An involved parernt with an idea inspired by son's School Counselor.

One small piece of the puzzle

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I love the emphasis on self-awareness. As simple as it seems, the "today I feel" magnet stuck on our fridge has been instrumental in teaching my three kids an emotional vocabulary as well self-identifying their emotions.
I have built an app based on the same poster and there is a professional version available to schools. If anyone has insight on how to introduce a creative, intuitive, modern version of a time tested tool to school administrators I would love to hear from you.

School Counselor, Specialized in age-appropriate Mindfulness Meditation

Dear Ms. Johanson, Thank you

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Dear Ms. Johanson,
Thank you for today's email which drew our attention to the urgent need for SEL in our schools! The video is exactly the kind of succinct, fact-driven, dynamic piece of media that could really change the minds of Superintendents -- encouraging them to fully integrate SEL into Curriculum and "Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before..."

As a California Credentialed School Counselor with almost 20 years of Mindfulness Meditation, I have created extracurricular programs in Brain-Based learning and SEL. I am highly motivated to become an SEL ADVOCATE in my community.

Although I have the courage, innovation, and passion to step up and lead, I would be more likely to succeed if someone at could MENTOR me. Is there someone who has successfully blazed this trail who has the time and resources to guide me through?

Please share any suggestions and direction... Thanks!


Is anything lost?

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This kind of pitch alarms me, because I always imagine 10 hours of something new brought in so that 10 hours of something old can be tossed out. That's the pattern for many decades; that's how the education establishment whittles away at content.

Add Peer_Led SEL

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The video is inspiring and the emphasis on integrating SEL throughout the classroom day is an essential strategy. I would have liked to have seen examples of how students can learn to provide SEL for each other through peer mentoring, peer helping, where students are trained and supervised to deliver SEL to others not just receive it themselves.

There used to be a program at

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There used to be a program at Pierce Community College which taught social-emotional learning through its aggie program, using as a project learning experience the care of dairy and beef cattle. Sadly, this was ended when the campus decided to build more buildings and eradicate the one place where students were really connecting with their studies/learning experiences.

Now there are workbooks and classes dedicated to social-emotional learning, as if that were a new thing. I suppose in the data-driven world of modern education, it may be a new thing.

But we fail our students when we fail to motivate them. I think anything that motivates a student to learn is a great thing, and an improvement on what already exists.

I'm glad to see this video and hope social-emotional learning, and project learning, become a part of every student's curriculum.

Agent representative for Dr. Michael Pritchard

Our society would greatly

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Our society would greatly benefit if these learning tools were also offered in adult education. Thankfully these programs are getting a head start with future generations who will lead the way.

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