Social and Emotional Learning


What Is Social and Emotional Learning? 

Social and emotional learning (SEL) refers to a wide range of skills, attitudes, and behaviors that can affect student success in school and life. Consider the skills not necessarily measured by tests: critical thinking, emotion management, conflict resolution, decision making, teamwork. While unable to traditionally quantify, these can round out student education and impact academic success, employability, self-esteem, relationships, and civic and community engagement.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) identifies five competencies of SEL: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. CASEL claims that this SEL framework is key to establish equitable learning environments for learning and development. Additionally, other definitions highlight SEL’s ability to build career-readiness skills. These skills are learned in a variety of places, including the home, preschool, and schools. States set their own definitions of SEL and determine what, when, where, and how SEL works in the classroom. For example, Virginia requires the department of education to establish an SEL definition and develop guidance standards specific for all K-12 students. As for when, many states have found that SEL is best emphasized primarily in preschool, while a handful of other states have set SEL standards in the later grades as well. 

Under the federal law, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states may decide to account for the social and emotional learning happening in their schools and to use that data to make decisions about how best to support schools. In new state accountability systems, such as school climate or student engagement, states are considering using social and emotional learning indicators.

Research demonstrates that social and emotional learning can:

  • Improve Academic Achievement—In a 2011 meta-analysis of 213 school-based SEL programs spanning kindergarten through high school, researchers found that SEL participants demonstrated improved academic performance in an 11-percentile-point gain in achievement.
  • Make a Lifelong Impact on Students—A 2015 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found significant associations between social-emotional skills in kindergarten and young adult outcomes across education, employment, criminal activity, and mental health. 
  • Benefit the Economy – A 2015 report reveals every dollar invested in SEL programming yields $11 in long-term benefits. These benefits include reduced juvenile crime, higher lifetime earnings, and better mental and physical health.
  • Advance Educational Equity – In the CASEL Guide to Schoolwide SEL they highlighted that SEL fosters an equitable learning environment for students of all social identities, cultural values, and backgrounds.

SEL in Afterschool Programs

Afterschool programs have long supported skills-building and positive development in children and youth and can be an effective setting for supporting SEL because of the flexibility they have in their programming. Research demonstrates that children and youth who regularly attend afterschool programs that utilize evidence-based practices benefit from improved self-perception, positive social behaviors, reduction in student discipline programs, and increased achievement and attendance. The SEL that occurs in afterschool programs can also contribute to increased employability skills and career readiness. 

State Legislation

SEL legislative trends include establishing state task forces or commissions to study SEL in the state and make recommendations, legislation around training/ professional developement around SEL, pilot programs and around mental health/school safety.

Below are some examples of recently enacted SEL legislation in the above categories:

Legislation Related to SEL
Bills Summary
Washington HB 2816

ENACTED—Requires the Washington state school directors’ association to develop a model policy and procedure for nurturing a positive social and emotional school and classroom climate for all students.

Connecticut HB 7215

ENACTED—Creates the Social and Emotional Learning and School Climate Advisory Collaborative, which is tasked with developing an assessment tool for all students in grades 3-12 to determine whether they are at risk of suicide. The collaborative will submit recommendations to the general assembly in 2020 as to the assessment tool’s implementation.

Mississippi HB 1283

ENACTED—Requires the Department of Education to establish three pilot programs in six school districts to use evidence-based social and emotional curriculum to provide students in grades K-5 with skills to manage stress and anxiety in order to be better equipped to handle challenges in a healthy way and build resiliency.

New Hampshire HB 131 ENACTED—Creates a commission to examine social and emotional learning programs for all grade levels as a way to establish a culture of mental health in schools that adheres to safety protocols, is free of the stigmatization of mental health challenges, and reduces or prevents harm or violence.
Washington SB 5082 ENACTED—Creates a committee to promote and expand social emotional learning.
Illinois HB 3249

ENACTED—This creates the Emotional Intelligence and Social and Emotional Learning Task Force. The Emotional Intelligence and Social and Emotional Learning Task Force is created to develop curriculum and assessment guidelines and best practices on emotional intelligence and social and emotional learning.

Maine SB 450

ENACTED—Directs the Commissioner of Education to convene a task force, inviting the participation of experts and interested parties, to develop guidance for kindergarten to grade twelve administration on appropriate training and responses to childhood trauma. Develops social and emotional learning curriculum for K-8.

Illinois HB 355

ENACTED—Professional educator license renewal legislation that requires professional development in inclusive instructional practices and SEL.

Colorado SB 272

ENACTED—Creates a grant program to assist schools in providing professional development to teachers, administrators, and staff around crisis and suicide prevention.

Texas HB 18

ENACTED—Requires teacher prep institutions to include some training regarding the mental health of public school students in its teacher certification program.


The National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development (SEAD)

This Aspen Institute Commission is led by co-chairs Linda Darling Hammond, president and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute and Charles E. Ducommun Professor Emeritus at Stanford University; Governor John Engler, immediate past president of the Business Roundtable and former Governor of Michigan; and Tim Shriver, co-founder and chair of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and chairman of the Special Olympics. The Commission’s 25 members include two sitting governors, two leading school superintendents, and represent wide-ranging experiences and viewpoints from multiple fields, including education, research, business, policy, and the military.

Since its inception, NCSL has been a part of the Commission's partners collaborative, a group that offers advice on direction and feasibility and engages their members around the work. On January 15, 2019, the commission released its culminating report, From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope, and accompanying recommendations in research, policy and practice.

State Standards

State standards determine what SEL looks like in each state. Every state has comprehensive, free-standing standards for SEL with developmental benchmarks in preschool, however, just eight states have standards for SEL development for early elementary students and eight more expand their standards to K-12 grades. For an overview of CASEL's state standards scan, click here.

Additional Resources


Preschool SEL standards only

Preschool and early elementary SEL standards

Preschool and K-12 SEL standards

Click on states for additional external link.


The map above links to preschool standards in the states. The chart below hyperlinks to both the preschool and K-12 standards in the states that have them.

Preschool and K-12 Standards


Preschool SEL Standards

While Alabama has free standing standards for character development, CASEL does not categorize them as comprehensive or systematic across grade levels.


Preschool SEL Standards

Connecticut created the Kindergarden through Grade 3 Social, Emotional, and Intellectual Habits Framework.


Preschool SEL Standards

Idaho has free-standing SEL standards through 3rd grade


Preschool SEL Standards

Illinois has standards that describe the content and skill in grades K-12 for SEL


Preschool SEL Standards

Kansas has created social, emotional, and character development model standards for K-12.


Preschool SEL Standards

Maine has both P-12 standards and has a set of Guiding Principles that feature SEL.


Preschool SEL Standards

Massachusetts has a website that offers resources for SEL.


Preschool SEL Standards

Missouri offers the Show-Me Standards which emphasize key pieces of SEL and the Missouri Early Learning Standards for Social and Emotional Development and Approaches to Learning. 

New York

Preschool SEL Standards

New York provides SEL benchmarks for K-12.


Preschool SEL Standards

Ohio has SEL standards for K-12.


Preschool SEL Standards

Pennsylvania has created a Standards Aligned System which includes free-standing, comprehensive P-12 standards for SEL with developmental benchmarks.


Preschool SEL Standards

Tennessee offers guidelines to support SEL


Preschool SEL Standards

Vermont has Early Learning Standards and include standards for grades P-3. 


Preschool SEL Standards

Washington includes SEL standards for K-12 as part of their aligned standards

 Additional Resources