What is Social and Emotional Learning?

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is the process of developing fundamental skills for life success within supportive, participatory learning environments.

Photo: Students and Teacher in the ClassroomAttained through both curricula and instructional practices, SEL skills include recognizing and managing emotions, developing caring and concern for others, establishing positive relationships, and making responsible decisions. These crucial capacities can be taught by classroom teachers to students of every background.

NoVo Foundation believes that SEL, brought to scale, holds the potential to play a significant role in shifting our society away from systemic inequality and violence toward greater collaboration and partnership. SEL aligns directly with NoVo Foundation’s commitment to help nurture a new generation with the skills and motivation to build a more equitable, cooperative, and just world. Human rights and social justice aspirations undergird our thinking.

Although Social and Emotional Learning happens in many settings, we have chosen to focus primarily on schools. SEL programming and practices vary; some interventions involve formal curricula, delivered as part of a core academic subject, such as social studies or language arts. Other curricula and practices focus specifically on emotions and relationship skills. Still other SEL strategies primarily address school climate, actively promoting positive student engagement with school.

Photo: Boys Working TogetherStrong evidence of SEL’s potential has been developing for more than 20 years. We recognize that children learn, grow, and remain motivated when their cognitive, social, and emotional skills are engaged and developed in unison, and in the context of positive relationships. Exclusive focus on “cognitive” attainment ignores the integrated, holistic nature of human growth. Similarly, much effort has been spent in education making a false distinction between “hard” and “soft” skills: the first are touted as essential, the second dismissed as optional.

A more science-based, integrated, and accurate picture of growth and development erases these categories, understanding that teaching and learning are relational, calling on the full range of human dimensions, which combine for the most powerful growth. The outcomes of well-implemented, evidence-based SEL interventions demonstrate this advantage by helping to produce consistently stronger academic achievement, accompanied by reduced aggression, lower emotional stress, and positive school climates.

NoVo’s Initiative for Social and Emotional Learning’s core goal is to demonstrate SEL’s positive impacts at scale. Maximizing students’ growth and learning involves deliberate attention to human connections and community. SEL brings this relationship focus into classrooms, schools, and districts.