5 Guiding Principles of Social-Emotional Learning

With SEL Resources for Your Classroom

According to CASEL, social-emotional learning can be defined as: “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.”

While students’ emotional well-being and social skills has always been on educators’ radar, recent years have witnessed a shift towards a stronger focus on SEL in the classroom. Researchers have come to understand the connections between academic performance and SEL, as well as the importance of attending to the many facets of student learning experiences in an effort to educate the whole child.

But implementing SEL initiatives in your school or classroom can be a challenge — whether you’re looking to improve your school climate, integrate SEL lesson plans into traditional academic work, or partner with community organizations to meet your goals, gaining momentum to influence real change will be difficult. To help get you started, Annie Snyder, Learning Scientist from our Applied Learning Sciences team, has written a guide entitled Building Social Emotional Learning into the School Day: Five Guiding Principles. Find the full guide here, or read on for a synopsis:

5 Guiding Principles of SEL: Create, Integrate, Communicate, Instruct, Empower

1. Create

The purpose of this principle is to consciously create a nurturing, caring, and safe environment for students. In the guide, you’ll find find specific strategies and a full, narrative example for carrying out this principle.

Sample strategy: Provide multiple ways for students to report, discuss, and work through conflicts.

2. Integrate

The key to this principle is to incorporate SEL skill-building into academic instruction whenever possible. It’s about keeping social-emotional learning top-of-mind, and constantly revisiting your incorporation tactics to find new, creative ways to integrate. You’ll find strategies and a narrative example in the guide.

Sample strategy: Design a full classroom unit based on a real-life theme (e.g. helping a local organization increase environmental sustainability.)

3. Communicate

This principle takes your larger community into account, and stresses that you communicate early and often with all SEL stakeholders. Every educator a student encounters during the day should be aware of SEL objectives and communicate with colleagues or partners about concerns and progress. The guide provides individual strategies for communicating with parents, school staff, and community partners.

Sample strategy: When communicating with school staff, researchers recommend that schools form a core team of school staff and administrators to lead in the communication and integration of SEL into school-wide strategies.

4. Instruct

The purpose of this principle is to consider social-emotional learning as you would any other subject area — as information and lessons worth explicit, planned instruction. With clear guidance, you will ensure that your students fully understand SEL content and expectations. Find step-by-step strategies and narrative examples in the guide.

Sample strategy: Explicitly teach protocols and procedures for handling challenging social situations. Recognize that time spent on topics such as conflict resolution counts as a “teachable moment” just as time spent on academic content.

5. Empower

This principle gets at the core of any social-emotional learning instructional plan: to empower students to take charge of their own social-emotional learning. It’s about ensuring that students are supported and ready to take on the next phase of their academic and emotional lives with confidence.

Sample strategy: Provide data and feedback that students can use to modify and extend their own application of SEL strategies learned in the classroom.

Find the full guide here:


To find more resources for bringing SEL to your classroom, check out our Social-Emotional Learning Pinterest board:


For a PreK social-emotional learning solution offered in English and Spanish, check out:


For more SEL inspiration, resources, research, and strategies, watch this in-depth webinar: