Subscribe Here!

    5 min read

    How Social-Emotional Learning Helps Students Succeed

    Written By

    Get access to ALL our resources and premium unit plans by joining the Future Focused Learning Network

    Words Per Min: 200
    How Social-Emotional Learning Helps Students Succeed

    Chance are by now, if you’re a teacher or parent or both, you’ve heard of social-emotional learning. It’s also a safe bet that you’ve got some important questions. If one of them concerns how this type of learning can help your child, you’re not alone.

    As with many trends in education, educators and parents everywhere are wondering how social emotional learning helps students in school and in life.

    We want to do two things here. First, we want to clarify what social emotional learning actually is and why it matters. Secondly, we want to make sure we draw from sources that have had experience with it to help you understand the benefits it has.

    No matter if you’re getting your kids to school or teaching them when they’re there, hopefully what follows will answer many of your questions.

    What Social-Emotional Learning Means

    In our article 5 Ways Social-Emotional Learning Benefits Academic Performance, we described SEL as follows:

    “… 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.” 

    Why do all these things matter? Because they are the both the aspects of a holistically healthy individual and the chief ingredients for living a life of peace and prosperity both in and beyond school.

    They differ significantly from cognitive academic skills, as they deal more with how we perceive and manage ourselves and our emotions, and how we interact with others.

    Obviously other factors beyond these will contribute to a learners’ maturation over time. Nevertheless, social-emotional instruction provides an excellent foundation for personal development to thrive. 

    Let’s talk now about how social emotional learning helps students succeed in school and in life. For this, we’ll hear from proponents from around the Web who have experienced it and believe in it as strongly as we do.

    How Social Emotional Learning Helps Students

    We’ll begin with a study published by OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). This particular study collected responses from learners between the ages of 10 and 15 from various cities and countries, beginning in 2017.

    The framework used in this study is know as the Big Five model: 

    • openness to experience (open-mindedness)
    • conscientiousness (task performance)
    • emotional stability (emotional regulation)
    • extraversion(engaging with others)
    • agreeableness (collaboration)

    Here are some key findings produced by the study:

    • An analysis on the effects on occupational outcomes found that social and emotional skills are almost as influential as cognitive skills
    • Conscientiousness, with the highest correlation coefficients, was ranked top for all work performance criteria
    • Those with higher social and emotional skills at young ages are much less likely to have behavioural problems as they grow older
    • Delay of gratification at the age of 4 (an indicator of self-control) was associated with higher levels of cognitive and self-regulatory competence and coping at the age of 16, including higher scores in college entrance exams
    • Ten-year-olds who exhibited high levels of self-control were also shown to have greater academic attainment four years later

    These and other unique findings are available to read in the full study by OCED.

    In the past, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) published findings from three different reviews regarding the effects of applying social-emotional learning disciplines in teaching elementary and middle-school students. Some of the most important ones are below: 

    • SEL programs had positive effects on social-emotional skills; attitudes towards self, school, and others; social behaviors; conduct problems; emotional distress; and academic performance
    • Studies that collected data at follow-up indicated these effects remained over time — although they were not as strong as the results at post.
    • Student performance demonstrated an average gain on achievement test scores of 11 to 17 percentile points
    • SEL programs implemented by school staff members(e.g.,teachers, student support personnel) improve children’s behavior, attitudes toward school, and academic achievement. 
    • Overall, SEL programs appear to be among the most successful youth-development interventions ever offered to K-8 students

    You can read this entire study at

    Another study about the positive affects of social-emotional learning comes from the The Aspen Institute. The report was made by the institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development. The key findings are as follows:

    • Social, emotional, and academic development matters. These interdependent competencies are essential to success in school, workplace, home, and community. Their integration also improves school climate and teacher effectiveness, and children benefit regardless of where they live, their racial/ethnic background, or their socio-economic status.
    • Social and emotional skills are malleable. As with cognitive skills, we can teach and develop them throughout childhood, adolescence, and beyond. High-quality programs and practices shape environments and experiences to positively affect students’ social and emotional learning as well as their academic outcomes.
    • Schools play a central role in fostering healthy social, emotional, and academic development, particularly when their work is reinforced by safe and supportive family and community environments. Success depends upon consistent implementation, modeling by adults and peers, and professional development that deepens school staff social and emotional skills.
    • Supporting the integration of social, emotional, and academic development is a wise public investment, well worth the expenditure of effort and resources. Higher social and emotional competencies are associated with wage growth, job productivity, and long-term employment. Such competencies can reduce violence, drug use, delinquent behavior, and mental health problems and provide internal support for children who experience the stress of poverty, violence, and trauma in their families or neighborhoods. They have the potential to help create a more equitable society where all children can succeed.

    This full study can be read here

    Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

    Originally published Aug 29, 2019, updated September 30, 2021

    Information & Legend

    Read line
    Read line max progress
    Read area visibility bounds
    Read text bounds
    Source code available on GitHub

    Related Articles

    Students are leaving school before you know it. One minute they're handing in assignments and the..

    Growth mindset is gaining increasing traction in education. However, it remains an unfamiliar..

    Growth mindset is characterized by the belief that an individual’s abilities can be developed,..