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SEL Competencies: What They Are, Why They Matter, and How to Develop Them with Students

December 2nd, 2021

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has identified five areas of social-emotional learning (SEL) competence that support students’ development and well-being—known as the CASEL framework. These five SEL competencies are intended to cultivate skills that advance students’ learning and development. 

What are the CASEL 5 Core SEL Competencies?

CASEL’s 5 core SEL competencies are:

Self-management: Managing one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations. This includes the capacity to manage stress, and maintain motivation and agency to accomplish personal and collective goals.

  • Self-management examples: Identifying and using stress management strategies, keeping materials organized, and being on time

Responsible Decision making: Making caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across situations. This includes the capacity to consider ethical standards and safety concerns, and to evaluate the benefits and consequences of various actions for personal and collective well-being.

  • Responsible decision making examples: Completing homework on time, studying, and anticipating and evaluating consequences of one’s actions

Relationship Skills: Establishing and maintaining healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups. This includes the capacities to communicate clearly, listen actively, cooperate, work collaboratively to problem solve and negotiate conflict constructively, navigate settings with differing social and cultural demands and opportunities, provide leadership, and seek or offer help when needed.

  • Relationship skill examples: Cooperating with peers, developing positive relationships, demonstrating cultural competency, practicing teamwork, and collaborative problem-solving

Social Awareness: Understanding the perspectives of and empathizing with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts. This includes the capacity to feel compassion for others, understand broader historical and social norms for behavior in different settings, and recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.

  • Social awareness examples: Being polite to others, demonstrating empathy and compassion, identifying diverse social norms, understanding and expressing gratitude

Self-awareness: Understanding one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts. This includes capacities to recognize one’s strengths and limitations with a well-grounded sense of confidence and purpose.

  • Self-awareness examples: Identifying one’s emotions, demonstrating honesty and integrity, linking feelings, values and thoughts, examining prejudices and biases, and having a growth mindset

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is directly linked to student achievement, equity, and long-term well-being. One study found that students who participate in SEL programs have, on average, an 11-point gain in academic achievement. SEL has also been linked to the development of important skills, such as homework completion and engagement. 

The Importance of Supporting SEL Competencies: New Research on the Pandemic’s Effect on Students’ Social, Emotional and Mental Well-being

Though providing resources to support students’ well-being was already a top priority for districts, the pandemic has exacerbated the need. In fact, social, emotional, and mental health is prioritized before accelerating academic achievement in the U.S. Department of Education’s Return to School Roadmap.

Research conducted by the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) summarizes what is currently known about the pandemic’s impact on students’ social-emotional well-being:

  • A significant portion of young people, upwards of 30 to 40 percent, have experienced negative impacts on their mental or social-emotional health during the pandemic.
  • Students who learned remotely for long periods of time and historically marginalized students were more likely to experience negative effects.
  • Rates of anxiety and attempted suicides, already on the rise pre-pandemic, appear to have increased among all students, especially among girls.
  • While some students fared well initially—or even fared better—when learning remotely than they did in person before the pandemic, these positive effects did not last. Negative effects for students increased over time.
  • Schools and districts, especially in rural areas without a strong social-service infrastructure, lacked systems to track student well-being or strategies to address and improve it.

A report from the Centers for Disease Control reinforces the need for mental health resources. In 2020, there was a 24 percent increase in emergency room visits related to mental health for children ages 5 through 11, and a more than a 30 percent increase in visits for those between 12 and 17 years old.

In addition to these impacts, the pandemic is also affecting some students’ growth in core subject areas—including math and reading. The latest iteration of the Nation’s Report Card also revealed a growing gap between high- and low-performing students—a “matter for national concern.” 

NAEP’s report found that when average scores for most students were stagnant, scores for the lowest-performing students were down; when scores for most students were down, scores for the lowest-performing plummeted.

What can be done? How can schools help mitigate these impacts and effectively bolster student success?

Facilitate Early Intervention and Prevention Efforts with SAEBRS 

Today, districts are launching robust initiatives to help students build solid SEL foundations necessary to prevent long term mental health problems. To find success in these efforts, districts should leverage evidence-based SEL resources and supports to help students succeed socially, emotionally, and academically. 

Universal screening is an efficient, research-proven way to address social-emotional behavior (SEB) concerns and support early intervention efforts and SEL programming.  Screening can inform educators where to target universal and prevention efforts including:

  • Selecting an SEL curriculum that matches students’ specific and unique needs
  • Pinpointing social-emotional needs in the classroom
  • Identifying students in need of more intensive supports

Aligned with the CASEL 5, Illuminate’s Social, Academic, and Emotional Behavior Risk Screener (SAEBRS) helps you facilitate early intervention and prevention efforts. To learn more, reach out.



Illuminate Education equips educators to take a data-driven approach to serving the whole child. Our solution combines comprehensive assessment, MTSS management and collaboration, and real-time dashboard tools, and puts them in the hands of educators. As a result, educators can monitor learning and growth, identify academic and social-emotional behavioral needs, and align targeted supports in order to accelerate learning for each student. 

Ready to discover your one-stop shop for your district’s educational needs? Let’s talk.

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