Social Emotional Learning (SEL) – A Lifelong Discipline

By Celestte Dills, MEd

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) – the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.[1] A natural reaction for most people is to focus on the reference to children and seemingly ignore the subsequent reference to adults. After all, it is children who need additional social and emotional skill development, right?


We tend to focus on the actual teaching which yes, is ideally deployed as a part of an individual’s early child development. The common thinking is that SEL is all about teaching children to say please and thank you, but lessons in common courtesy may be most often learned at a surface level while missing out on the deeper understanding of why kindness and compassion is an important part of being a global citizen. While basic manners are practiced and become a part of an innate response mechanism, SEL teaches how to manage strong emotions, and to be responsible for the reaction which may arise from those emotions. SEL teaches people how to have empathy for others, all culminating in a heightened ability to work with others and reach the highest levels of productivity, both as an individual and as part of a group. These 21st century skills go far beyond school-yard play. They are an indicator for life-long success, in work and in our personal lives.


This is the first in a five-part series of articles that examines the potential impact that SEL can have on four stages of life – early childhood, middle school, high school, and adulthood. SEL is the foundation of learning and when it is absent, it is felt in schools and reflected in the headlines. When successfully implemented, it has the potential to create a catalyst for far-reaching positive society change.


Next – Social Emotional Learning in Early Childhood