The rise of social emotional learning skills
April 2022 | The Learning and Wellbeing Team

Social-emotional learning refers to the development of the attitudes, and knowledge and skills needed to understand and manage our emotions, set and achieve positive goals, make responsible decisions, as well as establish and maintain positive relationships. These are the skills that every parent hopes their children will develop, and the skills that every adult needs to excel at work and at home. Teaching students these skills is considered a priority for most schools and colleges.  They can be effectively taught and acquired at any age over the course of your lifetime. 

Traditionally, skills such as learning how to get along with others or how to manage your emotions and how to manage have been considered ‘soft’ skills, unlike ‘hard’ skills, which usually involve specific technical knowledge and training, such as learning coding, accounting, plumbing or engineering. ‘Soft’ skills, like knowing how to communicate expectations or resolved conflict, were never taught in school. It was assumed that most children develop these social-emotional skills within their families during childhood and adolescence. However, it is now widely understood and accepted that these socalled ‘soft’ schools are essential to every student (and adult) to realize their full potential both at work and outside of work throughout their entire lifetime.  These skills are now considered so very important that they are taught as part of a general education in most school boards.


Did you know? 

Teaching social-emotional learning skills is so very important that many counties and states have legislated that these skills be taught alongside mathematics, science and languages. In 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), into law which contained new provisions that support social and emotional learning in schools. Since then, over 30 states have passed similar legislation to ensure that SEL skills are taught in school. 

The five domains of social-emotional learning.

Traditionally, social-emotional learning has been divided into five broad domains, including;

  • Self-awareness, which is the ability to accurately recognize and name what you are feeling and thinking and how those feelings and thoughts influence on behaviour
  • Self-management, which is the ability to effectively manage difficult thoughts and feelings, regulate inappropriate behaviour in different situations, and to set and achieve both personal and academic goals.
  • Social awareness, which is the ability to understand and empathize with the experiences and difficulties that others experience, whether they come from shared or very different backgrounds and cultures.
  • Relationship skills, which is the ability to establish and maintain healthy and fulfilling relationships with all types of people, whether they come from shared or very different backgrounds or cultures.
  • Responsible decision-making is the ability to make constructive and respectful choices about your own personal behaviour with others, which takes into account how your choices and behaviour will affect both yourself and others and your community.

The power of SEL skills

To date, there have been more than four meta-analyses (i.e., an analysis of a number of similar studies) of social emotional learning involving more than 320,000 students from more than 213 school-based SEL programs. 1 

Results of these studies showed that:

  • Social emotional learning skills can be taught by educators to large groups of students.
  • Students in SEL programs reported a decrease in depressive and anxious symptoms, as well as a decrease in behavioural problems 
  • Students in SEL programs experience on average, an 11-point improvement in academic performance.

Follow-up studies showed that:

  • Students in SEL programs continued to experience an improvement in skills even after they had completed their programs 
  • The benefits of these programs last for at least 3 to 5 years.

What skills do you need more of?

Several questionnaires have been developed that are designed to help people identify their strengths and opportunities for growth within each of these five domains. Understanding the areas in which you may improve your skills is the first step in ensuring that you have acquired all the different social-emotional learning skills that we generally accept are critical.

How to increase your skills?

There are dozens of skills within each of these five broad domains, which can generally be acquired within a short period of time but may take months and sometimes years to fully develop or master. There are now hundreds of programs which are implemented in both elementary and secondary schools which will typically focus on a subset of the skills within each domain. With so many skills within each domain, it may be difficult to decide where to start. And for some people, that may make starting harder than it needs to be. The best way to start is to pick one skill from one of the domains that was identified from the social-emotional learning skills quiz as an opportunity for growth. Once you pick a skill, say, for example, knowing how you feel, start with the skill which is described in a brief one-pager.

The learning and well-being team will update this page as we add more skills within each of these domains. If you review the skills page on the learning and well-being website, you’ll find that many of the skills listed there map onto one of these five domains. For example, skills such as saying how you feel, using exit plans and pivots, as well as setting boundaries all fall within the domain of relationship skills. Pick a skill and start to make it part of your daily routine. You may you will usually discover some immediate benefit which will be enough to keep you going. The harder part will be maintaining that skill, ensuring that you can use this skill in those situations in which it can help. So start with one or two skills and make them part of your day. Once you’ve attained a level of competence, and can use that skill with regularity, consider adding a second skill. Or you might find that you face a challenge that might be best addressed with one of these many social-emotional skills. In trying to address that problem review the skills page or this page here and think about what skill might help you solve your problem or cope with your difficulty.

Specific skills in each domain:

We are continuously updating the tips, skills and learning resources on the Learning and Wellbeing website. The are a number of ways to stay up to date on what is new. You can follow us on Instagram or Facebook for weekly updates or join our email list for our monthly newsletter.

How to say how you feel
Discovering your signature character strengths

How to recharge and destress 
Relaxation breathing and mindfulness
Managing intrusive negative thoughts
Finding good things and tracking accomplishments

Social awareness: 
Awareness and impact of social comparison
Understanding neurodiversity
Dealing with bias and discrimination

Relationship skills: 
How to maintain friendships
How to set-boundaries
How to have tough conversations with parents 
Dealing with stressful parents

Responsible decision-making: 
How to build grit and achieve goals

A brief history of SEL 

In 1994, the Collaborative to Advance Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) funded a series of meetings bringing together researchers, practitioners (e.g., educators and psychologists), and child advocates with a mission “to make social and emotional learning an integral part of education from preschool through high school” (CASEL, 2017).

In the following two decades, researchers evaluated dozens and dozens of school-based programs designed to improve social-emotional learning skills and examined their benefits for both emotional well-being and success.

In 2016, CASEL initiated a program to help school boards throughout the states to develop and implement social-emotion learning programs.

School boards in provinces and states in countries across the globe of since introduced similar programs and recommendations, with varying degrees of rigour and uptake.  

1Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405–432.

2 CASEL. (2017). National commission on social, emotional, and academic development. Retrieved from


Looking for more updates? Click here.

Help spread the word. Please share this content with others:


Make sure you get the newest tips, strategies and questionnaires each week.  Follow us on Instagram or Facebook.  Join our monthly email list. Share us with others.


Thanks for stopping by.

Make sure you get the newest 
quizzes, strategies and articles
each week. 

Join us on Instagram
or Facebook. 
Share us with a friend. 

And, if you have already signed up, our thanks once again. 
Hope to see you soon!