The term social-emotional learning (SEL) emerged in the mid-1990s to describe many disparate programs supporting character education. It is sometimes referred to as a different way of being smart.

A significant player in this effort was the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL.) The organisation has identified the following five core competencies:

  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Management
  • Social Awareness
  • Relationship Skills
  • Responsible Decision-Making

Each of these five core competencies is expanded to embrace a set of specific skills in a later section.

CASEL created the acronym SAFE to describe their philosophy of education:

  • Sequenced: connected and coordinated activities to foster skills development
  • Active – active forms of learning to help students master new skills & attitudes
  • Focused – a component that emphasises developing personal & social skills
  • Explicit – targeting specific social & emotional skills.


What Is SEL?


It would be fair to say that there is not one clear definition of what SEL or social-emotional learning is. CASEL defines SEL as…

… the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

These skills and competencies are specifically featured and developed in the context of well-designed and facilitated adventure and experiential-based learning programs, particularly those involving the use of playmeo’s database of group games and activities.

When explored more deeply, these skills and competencies include:

  • Cognitive skills including executive functions such as working memory, attention control and flexibility, inhibition, and planning, as well as beliefs and attitudes that guide one’s sense of self and approaches to learning and growth.
  • Emotional competencies that enable one to cope with frustration, recognise and manage emotions, and understand others’ emotions and perspectives.
  • Social and interpersonal skills that enable one to read social cues, navigate social situations, resolve interpersonal conflicts, cooperate with others and work effectively in a team, and demonstrate compassion and empathy toward others.


SEL Competencies


Each of the five core SEL competencies has been further divided into specific skills.

In the context of experiential learning, some of the more significant skills are listed below for each competency.

1. Self-Awareness

The ability to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts & values and how they influence behaviour in different situations.

    • Identifying emotions
    • Linking feelings, values & thoughts
    • Identifying personal, cultural & linguistic assets
    • Recognising strengths, prejudices & biases
    • Demonstrating self-confidence, honesty & integrity
    • Experiencing self-efficacy
    • Having a growth mindset

Explore Self-Awareness Activities


2. Self-Management

The ability to manage one’s emotions, thoughts & behaviours effectively in different situations and to achieve goals.

    • Controlling one’s emotions
    • Identifying & managing stress
    • Demonstrating self-discipline & self-motivation
    • Setting personal & group goals
    • Taking initiative
    • Use planning & organisational skills

Explore Self-Management Activities


3. Social Awareness

The ability to understand the perspectives of and empathise with others including those from diverse backgrounds & cultures.

    • Taking other’s perspectives
    • Demonstrating empathy & compassion
    • Understanding & expressing gratitude
    • Appreciating diversity
    • Recognising strengths in others
    • Respecting others

Explore Social-Awareness Activities


4. Relationship Skills

The ability to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups.

    • Communicate & listen effectively
    • Seeking and/or offering support
    • Build positive relationships
    • Demonstrate cultural competency
    • Work collaboratively
    • Showing leadership
    • Resolving conflict constructively

Explore Relationship Skills Activities


5. Responsible Decision-Making

The ability to make caring and constructive choices about personal behaviour and social interactions across different situations.

    • Demonstrating curiosity & open-mindedness
    • Identifying problems
    • Making reasoned judgements
    • Identifying solutions
    • Anticipating & evaluating the consequences of one’s actions
    • Promoting personal & collective well-being

Explore Decison-Making Activities


With thanks to authors Dr Richard Maizell, Jim Schoel, and John Grund in their book The Full Value School and CASEL from which some of this content has been inspired.