Social and Emotional Education in Schools (SEL)

05 Feb 20203-minute read
Girl writing maths equation on blackboard

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is the development and refinement of skills that enable us to build resilience and effectively manage our emotions, behaviours and relationships with others in the world around us.

Why is Social and Emotional Learning important?

Because not only do the skills garnered from SEL empower students to achieve academically and socially but they also play a vital role in creating healthy, happy and resilient adults.

Many people enter adulthood without the advantage that SEL brings so, the earlier SEL is taught, the better the results.

In an interview with EdSurge, Christina Cipriano, Director of Research at the Yale Centre for Emotional Intelligence and Research Scientist at the Child Study Centre at the Yale School of Medicine, confirmed that social-emotional competencies underscore a person’s ability to learn, as well as their ability to teach.

Cipriano says, “These are skills that all people and all learners across [their] lifespan need to continuously develop, and invest their time and energy in, to be… positive contributors to their life, and those around them.”


There are five main domains of SEL. You might be aware of them by different terms like ‘resilience-building’, ‘moral compass’ or ‘caring for the whole child education’ but the following components form the most widely recognised areas of SEL:

Self-Awareness; Self-Management; Social Awareness; Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision-Making (see ‘Resources’ at end of article: Improving Social and Emotional Learning in Primary Schools: Guidance Report)

1. Self-Awareness

Self-Awareness deals with teaching the student to understand their emotions, as well as developing their personal goals and values. In order to do this, a person needs to understand their personal strengths and limitations; possess the ability to maintain a realistic, positive mindset; and have a well-grounded belief or optimism in their abilities to deal with certain situations (self-efficacy).

High levels of Self-Awareness require the ability to recognise the way in which thoughts, feelings, and actions are all interconnected.

2. Self-Management

In the context of SEL, Self-Management is the development of skills and processes that enable a person to regulate their emotions and behaviours. This includes the ability to resist short-term temptation or shortcuts, preferring instead to work harder and reap the rewards of that work at a later point in time (delayed gratification).

Self-Management also focuses on stress management, controlling a person’s impulses to lash out and/or behave inappropriately, and the ability to work through challenges in order to achieve personal and educational goals (resilience).

3. Social Awareness

In the SEL framework, Social Awareness means developing a sense of compassion and understanding, or empathy with, people from minority groups – culturally diverse backgrounds, non-binary identities (LGBTQI community) and so on. It also includes an appreciation of both individual group differences and similarities.

4. Relationship Skills

Relationship Skills help students establish and maintain healthy, rewarding relationships. Part of this involves the development of skills for communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating with others, resisting inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict in a constructive way and asking others for help when it is needed.

5. Responsible Decision-Making

Responsible Decision-Making involves learning how to make constructive choices about your behaviour and how your decisions affect those around you in a range of different settings. It requires people to develop the ability to consider moral and safety concerns, accurate behavioural norms  for risky behaviours, the health and well-being of yourself as well as the people around you, and to understand that actions have consequences.


SEL equips children with the skills needed to succeed at school and in their professional careers. Well-developed SEL competencies are also essential for good mental health and healthy relationships right throughout our lives – and these are competencies that need to be taught.

Take the time to consider how your children or your students interact with others, how they negotiate challenges and how they behave in different social settings. Early detection of a child struggling to develop these skills could suggest deeper learning challenges. Addressing them sooner rather than later will help ensure all children get the most from their education opportunities.

Many schools around Australia and internationally are now implementing Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) and a number of insights are readily available online.

The following resources discuss introducing SEL at primary school:

Improving Social and Emotional Learning in Primary Schools: Guidance Report

Social-Emotional Learning Programs for Preschool Children, research by Karen L. Bierman and Mojdeh Motamedi

The University of Melbourne has developed a range of self-directed learning materials for school staff to deliver effective SEL activities and build resilience across the whole school community. To access these materials, visit:

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)  is one of the early advocates of SEL in the USA. Visit: