Social and emotional learning (SEL) for inclusive education


Students not only develop academic skills during universal or general classroom instruction, but they also develop socially and emotionally. When schools intentionally infuse social and emotional skills into their academic programs, student academic performance improves, as well as their future career prospect. This is because social and emotional learning (SEL) provides students with those soft skills/ personal qualities, which help them initiate and maintain successful relationships with others. Research findings show that integrating SEL into instruction helps students to succeed in both academic study and the workplace. Moreover, alongside the positive impact on academic study and the workplace, SEL skills also benefit individuals in almost every area of life, including family and community relationships (Castle, 2022; PBIS, 2022). In addition, SEL skills advance educational equity and create a positive inclusive school environment (Castle, 2022). In this article, I discuss:

  • SEL influence on academic study and career prospect
  • What should a SEL program comprise?
  • How can schools develop SEL skills?
  • What are social skills and how should they be taught in schools?

SEL influence on student academic study and career prospect

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” (Castle, 2022). Integrating SEL into academic programs can achieve multiple benefits at different levels. At the academic level, students achieve greater academic success in terms of improved graduation rates, attainment of learning outcomes (LOs), as well as improved career readiness. On the other hand, they achieve similar improvements at both the social and emotional levels. For example, classrooms witness fewer behavioral issues, and less emotional distress, bullying and teacher stress. In turn, this results in positive social behaviors, better teacher-student relationships, and a positive school climate. Moreover, students who develop social and emotional skills are more prepared to succeed in the workplace because employers seek individuals who can solve problems, work effectively in teams, and maintain good relationships with others. Moreover, SEL provides students with essential employment skills as it helps them to improve behavior, develop communication and leadership skills and become lifelong learners. Students having such skills are more likely to have more opportunity, higher pay, and greater success. Research shows high return on investment for schools spending on quality SEL (Castle, 2022; PBIS, 2022). In addition, 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” (Castle, 2022).

What should a SEL program comprise?

SEL is where schools integrate social and emotional skills into their academic programs. Alongside developing students academically, educational programs also seek to develop students socially and emotionally as essential skills for students to succeed in personal life, academic study, and future career. While social skills should be taught to help students develop essential skills, such as positive friendship skills, social values, and empathy, emotional development helps students to understand feelings, develop emotional awareness and coping skills, and to understand and manage anger (Castle, 2022; Miller, Fenty, Scott, & Park, 2010; PBIS, 2022).

Fig 1 shows an academic program should intentionally plan to develop five key SEL skills. Three of them are intraindividual skills (Self-awareness, Self-management, and responsible decision-making) and two interindividual skills (social awareness and relationship skills). To develop self-awareness, academic programs should help students to learn how to identify and recognize their own emotions, values, and personal goals. For example, teachers can encourage students to reflect on who they are by uncovering the beliefs and values that form their frame of reference. Once students understand the elements of their personality, including their weaknesses, strengths, as well as the qualities matching and contradicting those of their society, they are in a position to exercise self-management and control these personality elements. Academic programs should also help them develop skills to regulate their own emotions and behaviors. For example, they need to address their weaknesses, resolve contradictions, and question their values so that they adjust and achieve their goals and translate them into acceptable and positive behaviors. The result of being aware of self and ability to regulate qualities enable students to make responsible decisions. Moreover, helping students to address their weaknesses and inconsistencies enable them to make ethical and constructive choices and translate them into positive personal and social behaviors (PBIS, 2022).

Fig. 1 Components of a social and emotional learning program.

     So far, the first three SEL skills help each individual to understand his/ her own self, handle weaknesses, build on strengths, and make decisions relating to their own selves. Once these three intraindividual skills developed, students can build and maintain relationships with others. The role of educational programs does not stop at developing the skills to understand and control themselves. They should also help students to develop interindividual skills, including social awareness by helping them not only to understand others’ backgrounds or cultures, but also to have compassion for them. When students understand the frame of reference of others, they are able to put themselves in their shoes and accept them as they are. For example, students would be more compassionate with indigenous people and peers when they understand their history. A simple rule is I might be you, had I been in your place. Helping students to develop self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, and social awareness skills forms a sold foundation for them to establish and maintain healthy relationships with others (relationship skills) as well as to manage and resolve conflicts (PBIS, 2022).

How can schools develop SEL skills?

Bringing SEL into the classroom can be done in simple steps. First, schools define their academic and SEL goals, including behavior expectations. Second, they need to break down these goals into the skills and knowledge each goal involves in all areas. Third, schools should develop a schoolwide infrastructure, where they identify the resources required to support SEL, including planning cycles and assessment. Fourth, schools align SEL programs with the school goals to allow SEL skills to be taught and practiced in their natural context (e.g., school bus or cafeteria). Fifth, schools prepare teachers to teach SEL by integrating SEL skills into their academic work and natural context with a focus on modeling and practice. Sixth, teachers need to create and provide opportunities for students to practice SEL skills, including the classroom, cafeteria, playground, and school bus. Seventh, SEL skills instruction requires a regular check-in to assess emotional ability and mental health. It is important for teachers to connect with and learn from other teachers as well as specialists who have successful SEL practices (PBIS, 2022). In the next section, I discuss how social skills should be taught, which could be also used to teach emotional skills.

What are social skills and how should they be taught in schools?

Social skills are the abilities that allow individuals to initiate, build, and maintain positive social relationships with others. Social skills include communication skills, problem solving, decision-making, self-management, and peer relations. In order for students to learn, practice, and maintain expected social behavior, social skills must be taught within the different school settings, such as classroom, cafeteria, playground, and school bus, being the settings where students interact with each other and the staff each day. As for the instructional strategies, teachers must explicitly teach, model, and reinforce the expectations and rules for appropriate classroom, cafeteria, playground, and bus behavior. As students learn and practice skills in their environments regularly, they are more likely to generalize them to other settings. While social skills are infused into classroom instruction, they should be taught as part of the Classroom Management Plan (Gould, 2021; Miller, et al., 2010). Miller, et al., (2010) suggest teaching social skills as follows:

  • Identify the social skill to be taught and justify why they should be taught.
  • Model target skills and provide examples.
  • Provide guided practice.
  • Provide opportunities for independent practice.
  • Monitor student progress and adjust instruction.


Castle. (2022). Fundamentals of SEL. Retrieved on February 22, 2022 from: Fundamentals of SEL – CASEL.

Gould, E. (2021). Strategies for Teaching Social Skills in the School Environment. Retrieved on April 5, 2021 from: Strategies for Teaching Social Skills in the School Environment | W&M School of Education (

Miller, M., Fenty, N. Scott, T. & Park, K. (2010). An examination of social skills instruction in the context of small-group reading. Remedial and Special Education, 32(5), 371-381.

PBIS (2022). Teaching Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in the classroom. Retrieved on February 14, 2022 from: