Social Emotional Learning

Why Social and Emotional Learning?

Intentional Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) skill development is a central strategy for bullying prevention and school climate improvement. Students may bully other students for many reasons. Problems at home may prompt some students to bully – they are directing the anger they feel at others. Some students may bully to compensate for their low self-esteem, while other students may bully because they lack the social and emotional skills to handle difficult situations. When students lack these skills, they may struggle socially, which can result in aggressive behavior toward other students. The impact of bullying affects all students and staff – bullying rattles the sense of safety and school connectedness they feel, and it interrupts the learning environment. What all students need are the social and emotional skills to help them succeed in both school and life.

Social Emotional Learning Defined

Social emotional learning (SEL) is broadly understood as a process through which people build awareness and skills in managing emotions, setting goals, establishing relationships and making responsible decisions that supports their success in school and in life.(1) SEL develops cognitive social competencies, such as self-awareness, self-management and social awareness, according to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL). Developing such competencies in students fosters positive social skills, reduces conduct problems, diminishes emotional stress and improves academic performance.(2)

When we develop social and emotional skills, our ability to form relationships and build social awareness increases, which enhances our ability to connect with individuals of diverse perspectives, cultures, languages, histories, identities and abilities. By implementing SEL on a macro-level in schools, we create more equitable, better-performing schools and communities. This type of systemic change creates school environments in which all students learn the skills they need to be prepared for career, college and life.

As an educational approach, SEL recognizes that students are complex human beings, whose learning and behavior are just as impacted by their emotions – and their control over those emotions – as they are by the quality of instruction and discipline.


SEL is a universal approach for all students – a universal approach to prevent and reduce bullying and improve school climate. The goal of SEL is to address the social and emotional needs of all students to ensure their success in school, career and in life. Developing students’ SEL skills improves their capacity to learn and prepares them to meet career- and college-readiness standards. In order to meet rigorous standards, students need to be able to: regulate their emotions when they become frustrated; collaborate with their peers; communicate their ideas; and take the perspective of others.(3)

SEL has positive impact on student achievement. According to a 2011 meta-analysis of 213 studies involving more than 270,000 students, those students who participated in evidence-based SEL programs showed an 11 percentile-point gain in academic achievement, compared to students who did not participate in SEL programs. Students who participated in SEL programs also demonstrated the following attributes: increased academic achievement; increased development of social and emotional skills; improved attitude toward self and others; improved positive social behaviors and decreased conduct problems and emotional distress.(4)

Too often, bullying interferes with teaching and learning in schools. In response to growing concerns about school safety and bullying in schools, the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act was signed into law in 2014. The law strengthens protections against the threat of bullying in Minnesota schools. This law established the School Safety Technical Assistance Center at the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) and the School Safety Technical Assistance Council, two entities tasked with supporting schools, providing leadership for bullying prevention, school climate improvement, and safety, and ensuring bullying prevention work is done throughout the state. The law encourages schools to implement safe and supportive school programming. The law (Minn. Stat. § 121A.031, subd. 5) explicitly calls for schools to use evidence-based social emotional learning to prevent and reduce bullying. Building students’ social and emotional competencies provides them with the knowledge and skill they need to deal with difficult situations they face, either academically or socially, which leads to less aggressive behavior, such as bullying.

Social and Emotional Learning under Minnesota’s ESSA Plan

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed in December 2015 as the nation’s new pre-K through grade 12 federal education law. ESSA reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), previously known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). ESSA empowers states to develop systems and policies that place a sharp focus on equity and continuous improvement for all students, and on ensuring all students have what they need to succeed and all teachers and administrators have supports in place to deliver on that promise. ESSA requires states to develop plans that address standards, assessments, school and district accountability, support for struggling schools, support for educators, and ensuring a well-rounded education for all students that prepares them for career and college. The focus on a well-rounded education means that students should participate in many different learning experiences in a wide range of disciplines—including language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, world language, physical education, the arts and many other fields—as a regular part of their school day, week and year. One way schools can promote a well-rounded education is to explicitly teach SEL.

Implementing Social and Emotional Learning

The School Safety Technical Assistance Center developed Social and Emotional Learning Implementation Guidance to provide school districts and schools with guidance and resources to help them integrate social emotional learning (SEL) into schoolwide teaching and learning practices. Review the SEL Implementation Guidance.

(1.) CASEL. (2015). What is Social and Emotional Learning?
(2.) Greenberg, Weissberg, O’Brien, Zins, Fredericks, Resnik, Elias. (2003). Enhancing school-based prevention and youth development through coordinated social, emotional, and academic learning. American Psychologist: 58, 466-474; Durlak, (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school based universal interventions. Child Development, 872 (1), 1-29.
(3.) Yoder, N. (2014). Teaching the whole child: Instructional practices that support social and emotional learning in three teacher evaluation frameworks. Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research Center on Great Teachers & Leaders.
(4.) Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D. and Schellinger, K. B. (2011), The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions. Child Development, 82: 405–432. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01564.x