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Social-Emotional Learning


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Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults 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. (CASEL, 2018)

Social and Emotional (SE) competencies are important for whole-student development and well-being. We know that “brain function is hierarchical. We feel and then we think.” (Blodgett, 2015, Perry, 2006). A purposeful focus on implementing strong SE competencies fosters an environment where all individuals feel supported and can thrive.

Planning and implementation of Social-Emotional Learning should happen as part of a Multi-tiered System of Supports (MTSS), like Iowa’s Academic Standards. With Iowa’s focus on Social-Emotional-Behavioral Health (SEBH), social and emotional competencies for both adults and students serve as a foundation for the development and implementation of policies, instructional practices, and discipline practices, as well as supports that embrace trauma-informed and cultural responsiveness, as well as behavioral health supports in MTSS.

Initiated through Iowa’s School Climate Transformation Grant (2014–2020), Iowa’s focus on Social-Emotional Learning is the result of a multi-faceted, quality review process over several years. The Iowa Department of Education (IDOE) worked with national experts and diverse stakeholder groups to research, develop, and make recommendations to the IDOE on the process and content of the Iowa Social-Emotional Competency document. Through this process the decision was made to use the framework from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) with five Competencies as the focus for providing resources in Iowa. Use of this framework and these resources are completely voluntary and not required.

SEL Competencies, Learning Targets, and Developmental Indicators

Iowa’s Social-Emotional Learning Competencies are organized around the five core Competencies. Each Competency includes three to five Learning Targets that further organize essential skills, abilities, behaviors and attitudes. The five Competencies and Learning Targets are consistent across grade bands that include K–2nd, 3rd–5th, 6th–8th, and 9th–12th. Although Learning Targets are consistent across grade bands, Adult Examples for Instruction were developed considering the important changes in learners’ social and emotional development as they mature. Learner examples are provided for adults to recognize learners’ progress toward the competency. The expectation is for learners to demonstrate age-appropriate skills and not final mastery of any competency as all learners—including children, youth, and adults—continue to grow and evolve.

SEL Competencies Full Document with Examples: Iowa's Social-Emotional Learning Competencies

SEL Competencies Condensed by Grade Band:

Five (5) Social-Emotional Learning Competencies

The multi-section wheel represents the 5 social-emotional competencies in the center. In a sequence of circles around the competencies include: Classroom Curriculum and Instruction, School-wide Practices and Policies, Homes and Communities, and Family and Community Partnerships.
  1. Self-Awareness is the ability to accurately recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior. It is the ability to accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a “growth mindset." There are three (3) Learning Targets within this competency: Identifying Emotions, Accurate Self Perception, and Self-Confidence.
  2. Self-Management includes regulating one’s emotions, stress management, self-control, self-motivation, and setting and achieving goals. There are five (5) Learning Targets within this competency: Impulse Control, Stress Management, Self-Discipline and Self-Motivation, Goal Setting, and Organizational Skills.
  3. Social Awareness connotes perspective-taking; empathy; respecting diversity; understanding social and ethical norms of behavior; and recognizing family, school, and community supports. There are three (3) Learning Targets within this competency: Perspective Taking and Empathy, Appreciating Diversity and Respect for Others, and Civic Engagement.
  4. Relationship Skills connote building relationships with diverse individuals and groups, communicating clearly, working cooperatively, resolving conflicts, and seeking help. There are four (4) Learning Targets within this competency: Communication, Social Engagement, Relationship Building, and Teamwork.
  5. Responsible Decision-Making refers to considering the well-being of self and others; recognizing one’s responsibility to behave ethically; basing decisions on safety, social, and ethical considerations; evaluating realistic consequences of various actions; and making constructive, safe choices for self, relationships, and school. There are four (4) Learning Targets within this competency: Identifying Problems, Analyzing Situations and Solving Problems, Evaluating and Reflecting, and Ethical Responsibility.

The Iowa Department of Education convened the first group of stakeholders in the summer of 2017 and subsequently engaged additional stakeholder work groups, an internal Department SEL team, and a SEL State Advisory Team. The stakeholder work groups brought together a broad mix of voices from districts, teachers, regional area education agencies, higher education, school counselors, students, other state agencies, and community organizations. Feedback opportunities and an equity review were conducted with further refinement, resulting in the second version of the document in 2020.


Seminal Research

Durlak, J. A., Domitrovich, C. E., Weissberg, R. P., & Gullotta, T. P. (Eds.). (2015). Handbook of Social and Emotional Learning: Research and Practice. The Guilford Press.

Durlak, J.A., Weissberg, R.P., Dymnicki, A.B., Taylor, R.D., & Schellinger, K.B. (2011). The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-analysis of School-based Universal Interventions. Child Development, 82, 474–501.

Greenberg, M.T., Weissberg, R.P., O’Brien, M.U., Zins, J.E., Fredericks, L., Resnik, H., & Elias, M.J. (2003). Enhancing School-based Prevention and Youth Development Through Coordinated Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning. American Psychologist, 58, 466–474.

Jagers, Robert, Rivas-Drake, Deborah, & Williams, Brittney. (2019). Transformative Social and Emotional Learning (SEL): Toward SEL in Service of Educational Equity and Excellence, Educational Psychologist, 54(3), 162-184, DOI: 10.1080/00461520.2019.1623032

Taylor, R.D., Oberle, E., Durlak, J.A., & Weissberg, R.P. (2017). Promoting Positive Youth Development Through School-Based Social and Emotional Learning Interventions: A Meta-Analysis of Follow-Up Effects. Child Development, 88(4), 1156-1171.

Printed from the Iowa Department of Education website on November 26, 2021 at 7:11pm.