Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)

By FCPS & Fairfax County Government
June 25, 2020

A majority of students have proven to be resilient learners equipped with necessary social and emotional skills to handle the distance learning world and manage new life stressors related to COVID-19. While faced with handling “big” feelings like worry, anger, or confusion, students have found ways to cope with stress and connect with others for support...all while social distancing. Families and school team members have been valuable role models by facilitating conversations about feelings, normalizing them, and sharing healthy ways to make these experiences more manageable. This is a real-life example of social and emotional learning.  

What is Social and Emotional Learning? 

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), defines social and emotional learning (referred to as SEL) as “how children and adults learn to understand and manage emotions, set goals, show empathy for others, establish positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”   

    SEL may sound new, but it has been around for more than two decades. However, a focus on providing SEL in schools is gaining significant momentum in FCPS and school systems nationwide...and it easy to see why. Research shows that SEL provides numerous benefits to students including:

    • An increase in academic achievement by an average of 11 percentile points.
    • An increase in prosocial behaviors including kindness, sharing, and empathy.
    • An improvement of attitudes toward self, others, and school.
    • A reduction in mental health problems including depression and high levels of stress.
    • A decrease in dropout rates, behavior issues, drug use, and teen pregnancy.
      Research shows that for every dollar invested in SEL programming, there is a savings of $11 dollars that would have been spent on costly interventions.

      FCPS is committed to providing social and emotional learning for all students across all of their classrooms throughout the school day. SEL has been shown to work best when it is incorporated into all parts of student's lives including when they are in their homes and communities.

      CASEL identifies five core competencies of SEL that can be taught in many ways across many settings. Over the next few months, Healthy Minds plans to bring you more information focused on each of these competencies. For now, begin by recognizing the five core competencies and trying out a few of the provided ideas to support social and emotional learning at home.  

      1) Self-Awareness

      The ability to accurately recognize one’s emotions and thoughts, and their influence on behaviors. This includes learning about different emotions, as well as exploring personal strengths and challenges.

      • Learn about feelings with FCPS School Psychologists! Check out these videos: Being Brave, Kindness, Cranky, Disappointed, Worry, and Hopeful.
      • Set a goal for the summer. What will it be...number of books read, handwritten notes to family, steps walked, miles traveled? 

      2) Self-Management

      The ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations. This includes using healthy coping skills to manage stress, motivate oneself, and work toward goals.

      • Try these simple self-regulation games to practice focus and manage impulses.  
      • Discuss your stress relieving strategies with family members or friends. Write down your top five and share! 

      3) Social Awareness

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

      • From writing letters to painting rocks, check out different ways to build gratitude.
      • Practice empathy. Spend some time watching a show or movie. At any given time, pause and discuss how the characters are feeling. You might ask: “How are they feeling?” and “How would you feel if that happened to you?” Use this conversation to build on considering how others feel, discussing social cues, and caring about their emotions.

      4) Relationship Skills

      The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. This includes skills such as communicating effectively, listening actively, and perspective taking.

      • Practice active listening by empathizing, showing understanding, reflecting back, and asking open ended questions.   
      • Celebrate individual and family strengths with an accomplishments box. Write down your accomplishments, no matter the size. Fill up a jar with each of your successes like learning to ride a bike, make a recipe, or play a game.  

      5) Responsible Decision-Making

      The ability to make constructive and respectful choices about personal behavior and social interactions.

      • Try strategy games with your children like Uno, Yahtzee, checkers, or chess. Each game provides opportunities for decision-making, as well as a good excuse for a game night!  


      Healthy Minds is for parents, educators, and community-based providers who are interested in supporting student mental health and wellness. It represents a collaboration between FCPS’ Office of Intervention and Prevention Services and the Fairfax County Government. SUBSCRIBE to Healthy Minds and receive a periodic digest of our most recent articles.