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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.

Iowa SEL Foundations Video

The 18 minute video includes:

  • the definition and framework adopted from the Center for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)
  • a brief introduction to the five Social-emotional Competencies and Iowa’s Learning Targets
  • explains how to use the Iowa Social-Emotional Competency Guide for ideas on implementation and indicators within specific grade bands from Preschool through 12th grades (this guide is not a curriculum)
  • approaches to implementing comprehensive Social-emotional learning with academics
  • the benefits for adults, students, and families
  • contact information for consultants at the Iowa Department of Education for further information

The video can be used as an introduction or clarification of Iowa’s Social-Emotional Learning efforts with:

  • Leadership Teams
  • Educators
  • Staff
  • Professional Learning Communities
  • Parents/families
  • Communities

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 grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. 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.

Iowa's Social-Emotional Learning Competencies - Full document with examples

SEL Competencies by Grade Band:

Five (5) Social-Emotional Learning Competencies

  1. The CASEL wheel representing 5 Social-Emotional competencies and key settings in which social-emotional learning occurs.
    Self-Awareness is the ability to accurately recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts, and experiences 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.”
  2. Self-Management is the ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations.
  3. Social Awareness is the ability to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts.
  4. Relationship Skills includes the ability to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups.
  5. Responsible Decision-Making is the ability to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations.

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.