Last week CASEL shared its updated definition and framework for understanding and implementing Social-Emotional Learning (SEL).
"Social and emotional learning (SEL) is an integral part of education and human development. SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.
SEL advances educational equity and excellence through authentic school-family-community partnerships to establish learning environments and experiences that feature trusting and collaborative relationships, rigorous and meaningful curriculum and instruction, and ongoing evaluation. SEL can help address various forms of inequity and empower young people and adults to co-create thriving schools and contribute to safe, healthy, and just communities."
CASEL, which stands for the Collaborative for Social and Emotional Learning, has been a leading organization in school-based SEL programs and practices for over two decades. While this new definition of SEL includes the same five core competencies, its expanded framework has important implications for educators working to promote students’ social and emotional development in their schools and classrooms.
Here are three key takeaways from the new definition that all educators should be aware of:
1) SEL is a Mechanism for Addressing Educational Inequity
CASEL’s new definition brings to light the important role of SEL in promoting equity in education. Traditionally, SEL was viewed as a way for individual students to learn skills essential for school, relationships, and their future careers. However, we now know that student success goes beyond teaching and promoting these finite skills. Despite our best efforts, many students will experience different opportunities and outcomes based on their race, ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic background. In order for all students to be successful, SEL should be used to build awareness of existing inequities as well as form partnerships with families and communities to ensure that schools are environments where all students are supported and have the opportunity to succeed.
2) Identity, Agency, and Belonging are Critical Social-Emotional Assets
The expanded definition of SEL also emphasizes the importance of promoting students’ personal identities, agency, as well as their sense of belonging in the classroom, school, and larger community. Often schools tend to focus on the behavioral side of SEL and teach social and emotional skills as a way to improve student focus, productivity, and positive social behaviors. While these are important skills to have, educators must not forget that when students have a positive and integrated self-concept, a strong sense of agency, and feel connected to their schools and classrooms, they are more likely to be engaged in their school work and build and maintain healthy relationships. In other words, these qualities can be viewed as foundational assets that academic and social-emotional learning is built upon.
3) SEL Should be Integrated into the Broader Curriculum and Learning Contexts
One of the big changes to the SEL framework has been the inclusion of multiple key settings and contexts that contribute to students’ social-emotional development. This means that SEL efforts should be coordinated and integrated within and across these settings. Stand-alone lessons and activities focused on social and emotional skills are not enough to contribute to systemic and lasting change. SEL needs to be embedded into all academic learning and school practices and policies as well as the interactions and relationships among school leaders, teachers, families, and communities. This is a major shift in terms of how we view and understand education, learning, and development.
At Branching Minds, we strive to support districts and schools in making education more equitable and improving outcomes for all students. We see SEL as a critical lever in building positive school and classroom communities where all students are given the same opportunities to succeed. Our new SEL features and partnerships were developed with the goal of embedding SEL into the larger MTSS practice. Moving forward, we will continue to support districts in their SEL initiatives using CASEL’s updated framework as a blueprint and guide for effective SEL implementation.
Essie Sutton is an Applied Developmental Psychologist and the Director of Learning Science at Branching Minds. Her work brings together the fields of Child Development and Education Psychology to improve learning and development for all students. Dr. Sutton is responsible for studying the impacts of the Branching Minds on students’ academic, behavioral, and social-emotional outcomes. She also leverages MTSS research and best practices to develop and improve the Branching Minds platform.