Understanding Social-Emotional Learning: Definition, Examples, and Outcomes



Welcome to our comprehensive guide on Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) – an essential component of modern education. In this guide, we'll delve deep into what SEL is, why it's crucial for academic success, and provide a framework for educators to help illustrate its impact on students' lives.


Social-emotional learning, often abbreviated to SEL, refers to the process through which individuals 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.



Social-emotional learning encompasses various interconnected skills and competencies, including self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills, responsible decision-making and self-management.

These competencies are essential for students to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally.

  • Self awareness is the ability to recognize and accept one’s own emotions, thoughts and values, and is the foundation for all of the other social emotional building blocks.
  • Social awareness is the ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others.
  • Relationship skills involve creating and maintaining healthy relationships by communicating clearly, listening well and cooperating with others and requires self awareness and social awareness. 
  • Responsible decision-making is the ability to make constructive choices which takes the needs of self and others into account, and involves identifying problems, analyzing solutions and more.
  • Self management is the ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts and behaviors, and involves impulse control, stress management, self-motivation, self discipline and organizational skills and it's the last to develop. 

The sequential nature of social-emotional skills

Social-emotional skills develop in a specific order, with self-awareness forming the crucial foundation. Just like building a pyramid, each skill builds upon the one before it, ultimately leading to self-management at the peak. Understanding this sequence is essential for educators to effectively support their students' social-emotional growth.

Partnering with experts, like Mariposa Education's instructors, can equip teachers with the knowledge and tools to nurture these skills in the most impactful way.


Core Building Blocks of SEL


The importance of SEL cannot be overstated. Research has consistently shown that students in schools with SEL programs demonstrate:

  • Improved academic performance
  • Better behavior
  • Increased emotional well-being
  • Stronger relationships with peers and adults.

Moreover, SEL lays the foundation for lifelong success by equipping students with the skills they need to navigate the complexities of the modern world.

MYTH: Social-emotional learning takes time away from and gets in the way of academics.

FACT: Social-emotional competency is more predictive of academic performance than IQ or family background.

Effective vs. ineffective social-emotional learning approaches for teachers

Many schools are looking for new ways to strengthen social-emotional learning (SEL) for teachers, because common approaches are proving to be ineffective.

Here are three examples:

  • Teachers are dedicating significant time to SEL programs, yet students are continuing to grapple with basic concepts.
  • Teachers are spending an inordinate amount of energy (and funds, sometimes) creating reward systems, and the same children miss out on or get the rewards.
  • SEL practices like calming corners or "zen dens" buy teachers some time, but then the same challenging behavior comes back the next day.

Why aren't these approaches working?

It turns out that real change occurs when adults understand how social emotional skills develop in children: through relationships with emotionally skilled adults.

Here's the exciting part: adults can acquire the tools to cultivate social-emotional skills in children, leading to a calmer learning environment and a decrease in challenging behaviors.


Why activities alone aren't enough for SEL

When educators research examples of social-emotional learning in practice, they typically get a list of activities that can be done in the classroom.

Some of these "SEL activities" include:

  • Daily check-ins with students
  • Songs to help with feelings
  • Playing games
  • Doing arts and crafts to help identify their emotions

While these activities can be beneficial, they don’t promote social emotional learning in the long term. Research shows that SEL actually develops through relationships with emotionally skilled adults, specifically with early childhood teachers.

To effectively implement SEL, we need to understand the order in which these skills develop and how educators can play a role in shaping them.

The power of relationships in social-emotional learning

Educators have a huge impact on how to develop SEL skills. It often requires unique training to equip teachers with the tools to become emotionally skilled adults. Having these skills will have a tremendous impact on the child-teacher relationship.

When a child experiences an adult-child relationship in which they each feel understood, are able to express feelings authentically, have boundaries and hold each other accountable, they will develop social-emotional resilience.

How teachers foster social-emotional skills

Adults who interact and respond to children with predictable skills and behaviors.

Here's how educators can cultivate the five essential social-emotional skills in their students:

  • Self-Awareness: Develops when an adult is attuned to a child’s emotions and shows that they understand, accept and value their emotions, both positive and negative. 
  • Social Awareness: Social awareness is built when adults express their own emotions authentically, respectfully and without judgment. Because children learn to truly understand others and read social cues when adults share in this manner. And this transfers to other relationships. 
  • Relationship Skills: When adults validate a child's feelings and perspectives without judgment, while also sharing their own emotions authentically, it fosters the development of strong relationship skills. This is because emotionally intelligent adults provide a safe space for children to learn and practice healthy communication.
  • Responsible Decision-Making: Develops when adults guide them through a process to solve problems, while identifying the goals of each involved to come up with solutions that are satisfying and meet the needs of the child and others, with real challenges in real time. 
  • Self-Management: Develops when adults reinforce clearly, specifically and neutrally the positive efforts and actions of children, as well as clearly outline expectations and boundaries to change negative behaviors in ways that are not judgmental. 

Mastering these five key social-emotional skills requires dedicated learning. Our expertise empowers educators to cultivate positive outcomes in their students, including reduced challenging behaviors, lower stress levels, and stronger child-teacher relationships.


The outcomes of SEL programs are multifaceted and far-reaching:


  • Improved Academic Performance: Students who possess strong SEL skills are better able to focus, manage their time effectively, and persist in the face of challenges, leading to enhanced academic achievement. Administrators reported a 90% improved attendance year-over-year
  • Positive Behavior: SEL fosters a positive school climate by reducing disciplinary issues, bullying, and dropout rates, while promoting a sense of belonging and community. Administrators reported a 21% reduction in bullying-related suspensions. 
  • Enhanced Emotional Well-being: SEL equips students with coping mechanisms and resilience to navigate stressors, anxiety, and peer pressure, resulting in improved mental health outcomes.
  • Stronger Interpersonal Relationships: By developing empathy, communication, and conflict resolution skills, students form healthier relationships with peers, teachers, and family members.
  • Preparation for Future Success: Ultimately, SEL prepares students to become responsible, compassionate, and productive members of society, equipped to tackle the challenges of the 21st century.


Mariposa Education's Social-Emotional Learning Outcomes:

At Mariposa Education, our commitment to evidence-based practices is underscored by the data we've collected, showcasing the tangible impact of the Mariposa Method.

Reduction in Stress:

Our initiatives have led to a remarkable 50% decrease in teacher stress levels. Educators across our programs consistently report feeling less stressed within their work environments, contributing to a more conducive atmosphere for both teaching and learning.

Improved Student-Teacher Relationships:

Teachers participating in our SEL interventions have reported an impressive 80% enhancement in their relationships with students. This improvement extends to the creation of safer learning environments, fostering trust and rapport between educators and their pupils.

Increased Social-Emotional Competencies in Children:

Our data reveals a significant 66% improvement in social-emotional competencies among students. Educators have noted enhanced classroom management skills and a notable decline in teacher-student conflicts, indicating a positive shift towards healthier interactions and emotional regulation.

Reduction in Challenging Behaviors:

Through our programs, teachers have gained valuable insights into addressing challenging behaviors, leading to a 66% decrease in conflicts within the classroom. Educators report a heightened understanding of underlying needs contributing to behavioral issues, coupled with enhanced strategies for managing disruptive student behavior effectively.

These data points underscore the efficacy of Mariposa Education's SEL initiatives in promoting holistic student development, fostering positive teacher-student relationships, and creating supportive learning environments conducive to academic and emotional growth.


In conclusion, Social-Emotional Learning is not just a buzzword; it's a fundamental aspect of holistic education. By prioritizing SEL in schools, students can thrive academically, socially, and emotionally, laying the groundwork for a brighter future. It is important to ensure that any SEL approach is based on research and daily interactions between adults and children. This will continue to champion SEL initiatives and prioritize the well-being of our students.



Social-Emotional Learning That Actually Works: Reducing Stress and Unlearning Misguided Approaches

If you want to build social-emotional skills in your students but typical SEL courses aren’t working, this course is for you.

The teaching field has changed dramatically:

  • Challenging classroom behavior is on the rise
  • Teacher burnout is higher than ever 
  • Even experienced teachers are at a loss

Most social-emotional learning (SEL) strategies focus on fixing childrens’ behavior without addressing the needs of teachers. At Mariposa, we give you the language, tools, and science behind childrens’ behavior that you can use to inform every student interaction, making SEL a built-in part of your teaching rather than an added burden.

Our introduction to the Mariposa Method is an online, self-paced course created by educators for educators.

Learn More

Defusing Classroom Power Struggles: The Balance Between Compassion and Control


If you’re struggling to gain control in the classroom while also building trusting relationships with their students, this course is for you.

If you’re struggling with:

  • Setting effective classroom boundaries
  • Defusing stressful power struggles in the moment
  • Hiding your own frustration and finding compassion through understanding

Most teacher training on diffusing power struggles ignores the most important factor: teacher needs. At Mariposa, we give you a transformative new approach to communication so that you can both lower your own stress and your students’ at the same time.

This course is online and self-paced, created by educators for educators.

Learn More