Social and Emotional Learning: What is it and why is it important to support student success?

“What is Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)? How does it help our students? Why do we need it? Is SEL just another ‘trend’ in education?” These are questions I am frequently asked, and maybe something you have wondered about as well, so let’s talk about it.

Social and emotional learning is vital to not only whole-student development but also education and academic success. It provides critical skills to meet the complex needs of our students. So what is SEL? There are many definitions for social and emotional learning skills. Mainly, social and emotional learning helps all individuals develop and apply skills to help identify and manage emotions, achieve goals, have and show empathy, maintain healthy relationships and engage in responsible decision-making. 

Building on the work from The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), the Iowa Department of Education established five social and emotional learning competencies to aid educators in supporting the development of these crucial skills. The competency areas include: self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making. These skills are not only central to development over time, but also support our mental well-being and aid students in becoming future-ready.

When SEL skills are taught, modeled and practiced, we see significant improvements for students. There are increases in academic performance, improved classroom behavior, ability to manage stress and depression and better attitudes about themselves, others and school. We also see improved outcomes for educators with higher rates of job satisfaction and decreased burnout. 

As we navigate life during the pandemic, the importance of SEL skills is clearer. Balancing life stressors in our ever-changing world can be overwhelming. Prioritizing SEL skills helps students, and all of us, prepare for and better cope with the challenges we are all facing. They help in creating a caring and supportive environment for students to thrive.

We all have a role to play in supporting social and emotional learning. Each and every adult has an opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child; supporting these skills will also improve our well-being.

MILLER DANA 101256Dr. Dana Miller is a School Psychologist and wellbeing lead for Central Rivers Area Education Agency (AEA). She can be reached at Central Rivers AEA supports the educators, parents, and the communities we serve as we work together toward one ultimate goal: to improve student learning. We provide support in the areas of quality classroom materials, curriculum planning, best practices in teaching and learning, safe and caring learning environment, appropriate educational opportunities for all learners, technology planning, professional learning, assessment, special education, leadership development, and more. Learn more at