Building Block of Social Emotional Skills You Need to Know

SEL Components Image
Table of Contents

    What is SEL?

    Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which 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 according to CASEL.


    CASEL has identified five interrelated cognitive, affective, and behavioral competencies. The definitions of the five competency clusters for students are:

    1. Self-awareness

    The ability to accurately recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior. The ability to accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations, with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a “growth mindset.”

    2. Self-management

    The ability to successfully regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different situations — effectively managing stress, controlling impulses, and motivating oneself. The ability to set and work toward personal and academic goals.

    SEL Image

    3. Decision-making

    The ability to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms. The realistic evaluation of the consequences of various actions, and a consideration of the well-being of oneself and others.

    4. Relationship skills 

    The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. The ability to communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate with others, resist inappropriate social pressure, negotiate constructively conflict, and seek and offer help when needed.

    5. Social awareness

    The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures. The ability to understand social and ethical norms for behavior, and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.

    Building Block of Social Emotional Skills

    From the Building Block of Social Emotional Learning book, authors Tracy A. Hulen and Ann-Bailey Lipsett discuss SEL skill development through the lens of developmental building blocks (Building Block of Social Emotional Learning Picture above).

    These building blocks closely interrelate and correspond with CASEL’s five core competencies. CASEL presents SEL in five core competencies: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision making, relationship skills, and social awareness (CASEL, n.d.f).

    I like when Hulen and Lipseset made an analogy of the building block with Jenga. Hulen and Lipsset ask you to imagine this developmental block tower, return to the image of playing the popular game, Jenga.

    ” Think of each individual Jenga block as being made up of various combinations of social, emotional, and cognitive skills and one’s beliefs (identity, perspective, and values). The goal in Jenga is to remove blocks from the tower itself to make the tower higher without it falling down. If you have played Jenga once or twice, you know that to avoid knocking down the tower, you try to resist removing too many pieces from the base of the tower. Once these pieces are removed, your tower is more likely to fall. No matter how neatly and precisely you place a block on the top of the tower, it is far more likely to fall if there are gaps in the foundation below. The same is true for social-emotional development and learning. Keep the block tower in mind as you work with students. When it seems a student can perform the skills and shows the abilities in one of the higher building blocks, but is still having trouble, consider what might be missing from the tower. Which block is not fully developed?” (pg 22)

    Check out the following posts related to Building Block of Social Emotional Learning:

    Effective SEL Teaching Practices You Need to know In the Classrooms

    What You need to Know SEL Lesson Planning

    SEL as Empowerment

    Remember Imgage

    Teachers are responsible for instructing students on the process of making informed decisions on the various choices and problems they encounter. A student with exceptional subject matter expertise, but deficient social or problem-solving abilities, is susceptible to manipulation. Likewise, students who can anticipate the outcomes of their activities may be more adept at making sound judgments.

    Social and emotional learning encompasses more than just preventing students from getting into trouble. It involves cultivating life skills that can be used in various contexts, according to authors Douglass Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Dominique Smith of the book All Learning Is Social and Emotional Learning.

    Fisher, Frey, and Smith hope students will learn how to identify problems, analyze problems, and solve problems. To do so, they need to confront a wide range of challenges that are academic, social, and emotional—and their teachers need to equip them with the right tools to engage in these processes. Authors intent is to provide teachers with a toolbox of strategies that will help transform students into empowered, all-purpose problem solvers.

    Fisher, Frey, and Smith strongly emphasize that classroom teachers play a vital role in the integration of social and emotional learning (SEL), and that their purposeful actions to cultivate students’ social and emotional abilities are of utmost importance. Partly, because teachers are already involved in this form of education with pupils through an implicit curriculum. However, authors also express this sentiment due to the number of pupils who require these talents to achieve success.

    SEL and Equity

    It is crucial to emphasize that social and emotional learning encompasses far more than simply cultivating children who exhibit kindness, cooperation in the classroom, and active participation in civic matters. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is also a matter of fairness and equality.

    Fisher, Frey, and Smith strongly believe that students’ behavior is due to poverty, neglect, and abuse, which all influence a child’s ability to learn. However, we must not allow our inability to eliminate these circumstances to serve as a justification for taking no action whatsoever. We can recognize the existence of these circumstances and make deliberate efforts to mitigate their effects.

    Integrated SEL

    Authors organized “big ideas” contained under the umbrella of SEL into five broad categories:

    Identity and Agency:

    Children’s and adolescents’ sense of identity is shaped by a myriad of factors, including experiences inside and outside school. Their identity materially governs their agency, which is their belief in their ability to influence the world around them.

    Blog Post: Identity and Agency Important Foundation of a Human Being

    Emotional Regulation:

    Students are judged by adults and peers based on how well they regulate their emotions. Those who struggle to regulate their emotions may have difficulty developing and maintaining healthy relationships with others.

    Cognitive Regulation:

    Learning isn’t passive. Acquiring knowledge and skills requires students to engage in certain habits and dispositions.

    Social Skills:

    Quality relationships are the basis for effective interactions inside and outside school, because they allow productive and positive collaboration. Students need to be equipped with tools to foster, maintain, and repair relationships, and this requires substantial adult guidance.

    Public Spirit

    This final aspect of our integrated SEL model is the basis for a democratic way of life, and essential to creating and sustaining a social structure in which people are valued and treated fairly. We see public spirit evidenced in the ways that people contribute to and steward their communities.

    A Word About Integrating SEL to Develop A Positive Classroom Culture

    According to Kathy Perez, author of Social Emotional Learning Toolbox, an integrated approach to SEL amplifies the many opportunities students receive to apply the principles to their lives in a natural way. It can often lead to fewer behavior problems, stronger social-emotional health, and higher academic motivation and achievement, especially for our students who are more likely to struggle in school.

    You can checkout Integrating SEL Into Your Curriculum Strategies You Need to Know to see strategies used in lesson plan.