Building Block of Social Emotional Skills You Need to Know

SEL Components Image

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.


The five broad, interrelated areas of competence are: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. To dig deeper, check out Interactive CASEL Wheel.

Building Block of Social Emotional Skills

Building Block of SEL Image

From the Building Block of Social Emotional Learning book, authors Tracy A. Hulen and Ann-Bailey Lipsett provided Vignette: The Story of Daniel:

Maria Smith, Daniel’s teacher, sat alone in her classroom after school, reflecting on her day. She wondered how she was supposed to meet Daniel’s needs while also teaching him reading, writing, and mathematics and keeping the other students safe. Rightly so, she wondered how she could be proactive in changing his behaviors so that she was not left in near-dangerous situations.

To begin changing Daniel’s behaviors, Maria needs to look at his actions as more than simply behaviors but instead as clues into Daniel’s unique, individual profile. She needs to identify what skills he may be missing to comfortably access learning. Why can’t Daniel lose a game without melting down? Why does independent work make him so angry, yet he can complete the same work if he is sitting next to the teacher? Why can he appear to be perfectly happy and then suddenly erupt with anger and violence? Why can’t Daniel sit still during focus lessons, remember to raise his hand when he has a question, and wait in line without bumping into the person in front of him?

What’s going on with Daniel and other students like him, who seem to have something keeping them from moving forward?

Hulen and Lipsset use the example of our fictitious student named Daniel and his teacher Maria to help you define what SEL is, understand the importance of teaching it, learn how to support students’ emotional regulation, teach emotional regulation strategies, and discover students’ neurological development and its relationship to behaviors.

Hulen and Lipsset 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).

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)

In reflecting on Daniel’s abilities and needs, his teacher realized he is still developing a strong sense of self. Daniel is yet not able to identify what makes him happy, sad, or frustrated, although he knows the vocabulary words. Before Maria can expect him to stay calm in her classroom, she recognizes that she will first need to help him understand when he is getting frustrated, without getting overly frustrated herself. “How am I ever going to have time to give Daniel those skills on top of everything else I must do?” she wondered. “There must be a better way to reach Daniel and all the other students.”

You will read blog posts that show how Daniel develops a strong sense of self, and how his teacher, Maria, integrates Social Emotional skills in her lessons.

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