Social Emotional Learning Competencies in the Classroom - Ellipsis Education

⭐ Texas educators: our K-5 Tech Apps curriculum is a state-approved instructional material. Learn More.

Social Emotional Learning Competencies in the Classroom

January 9, 2020

Students bring more than just their brains to school. They bring their leadership styles, communication skills, and emotional coping mechanisms; they bring their personality traits, attitudes, and conflict resolution skills. Increasingly, educators are expected to nurture all of the things students bring into the classroom. As teaching topics extend from the academic to the ambiguous, students and teachers alike are challenged to think outside the box. Luckily, social emotional learning provides a framework for students’ development.

What is Social Emotional Learning?

Social emotional learning (SEL) is a theory that promotes the understanding and managing of emotions, productive goal-setting, responsible decision-making, and empathetic relationship-building. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines five main social emotional competencies:

CASEL has a competencies wheel that visually displays this framework.


Know your strengths and limitations, with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a “growth mindset.”


Effectively manage stress, control impulses, and motivate yourself to set and achieve goals.


Understand the perspectives of others and empathize with them, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures.


Communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate with others, resist inappropriate social pressure, negotiate conflict constructively, and seek and offer help when needed.


Make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety, and social norms.

Social Emotional Learning Research

There are multiple studies that prove the effectiveness of social emotional learning, from academic performance to mental health. Notably, research by Taylor, Oberle, Durlak, and Weissburg in 2017 studies social emotional interventions from kindergarten to high school. They found that 3.5 years after the last social emotional intervention, the academic performance of students exposed to SEL was 13 percentile points higher than those who were not exposed to SEL. Jones, Greenburg, and Crowley (2015) found that the social emotional skill of self-regulation was a statistically significant indicator for graduating high school on time, completing a college degree, and obtaining stable employment. Furthermore, Jones, Greenburg, and Crowley found that early prosocial skills in kindergartners had an inverse relationship with police involvement, incarceration, and binge drinking later in life.    

Social Emotional Learning in the Classroom

There are many ways to introduce social emotional learning to your school or district. Ranging from episodic to comprehensive, here are five strategies for incorporating social emotional activities into your day.


Classroom educators can introduce social emotional competencies through discussions or activities about specific content areas, like substance abuse, bullying, and mental health. has SEL-based resources and lesson plans available.


Project-based learning encourages students to work together to communicate, build trust, and achieve goals. According to Joseph E. Zins, educator, author, and social emotional pioneer, project-based learning creates engagement and increases student motivation. Cross-curricular group work can also be incorporated into your regularly scheduled school day. For example, incorporating your literature reading into a coding story-telling project is a great way to increase student interest.


SEL flourishes when there are caring relationships between students, teachers, and parents. When students feel as though they have a strong support network, they display increased motivation and effort at school. Small discussion groups, one-on-one teacher meetings, and special interest clubs are all ways to create community in your classroom.


Any large scale push for social emotional learning will be customized for your particular district. Think about your district vision. Are you trying to increase literacy? Model safety? Promote leadership? Your SEL integrations may look different based on your overall goal. For inspiration, explore the district plans implemented by CASEL here.


CASEL’s Collaborating States Initiative (CSI) is a great resource for understanding SEL at a state level. CSI has a library of tools, organized by state, to help educators get started with SEL. Furthermore, CSI’s interactive map highlights social emotional efforts in each state. Currently, 15 states, three territories, and Washington DC explicitly mention SEL in their education strategic plans, with many others on the way.

Overall, research has found that short term, isolated acts of social emotional learning are not as effective as long-term strategies. According to Mark Greenburg at Pennsylvania State University, the most effective SEL programs include three things:

  1. Interactive classroom instruction
  2. Respectful, supportive relationships
  3. Rewarding positive behavior

Regardless of your implementation plan, it’s all about finding the balance of these three elements that works for your school or district.

Codelicious and Social Emotional Learning

Codelicious includes opportunities to reinforce social-emotional learning competencies built into our curriculum. Particularly, our unplugged activities and digital citizenship discussions help develop skills in emotion management, goal setting, relationship building, and problem solving. When computer science and STEM curricula are taught only in front of a tablet or computer, it can be very isolating. Codelicious, however, incorporates engaged learning with interactive activities, critical thinking discussions, and interactive problem solving. Because of this, students gain the skills necessary for social-emotional growth.

To see how our curriculum reinforces SEL competencies, download our free digital citizenship lesson.