Answering the Call: Social-Emotional Learning

Here’s a look at the five core competencies and how they relate to social-emotional learning.

By Amber Chandler

My name is Amber Chandler, and I’m a National Board Certified Teacher, author of The Flexible ELA Classroom: Practical Tools for Differentiation, and the upcoming The Flexible SEL Classroom out in September.

This column, “Answering the Call,” is going to explore the many ways educators can and should implement social and emotional learning as a part of our daily teaching, in manageable effective doses instead of knee-jerk triage when tragedy strikes.

One of the advantages of a private education⏤religious or otherwise⏤has been the freedom to instill a particular world view. Parochial schools have long ingrained biblical principles and traditional values. In doing so, character education has systematically, yet seamlessly, been an integral part of the educational experience of generations of students.

As early as 1997, Educational Leadership’s article, “How to Launch a Social & Emotional Learning Program,” researched schools who integrated the social and emotional needs of students, specifically mentioning:

“Our site visits revealed that educators in public and private schools, including Jewish and Catholic schools, believed that social and emotional learning had an essential and proper role in the mainstream of educational concerns.”

The article goes on to explain how practitioners who embrace the whole child’s needs–social, emotional, and academic have an advantage in implementing quality SEL programs.

In this way, Catholic teachers fit the description that Educational Leadership’s article gives for a successful implementation: “

Unlike many educators, those implementing social and emotional learning realize how powerful the school is as a protective influence in the lives of children. Building a safe and collaborative classroom environment in which children can sort out their feelings, put aside their hassles, and appreciate the joy of learning provides lifelong benefits that children miss out on when they are too angry, hurt, or scared to participate in learning.”

It has been a tenet of parochial education that the social and emotional components of a child are at least as important as the academic side.

CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) was formed in 1994 to implement high quality and evidence based strategies. Later, in 1997, CASEL and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) partnered on Promoting Social and Emotional Learning: Guidelines for Educators

Flash-forward twenty years to 2017, and not only are educators still talking about the possible benefits of Social and Emotional Learning, but still hashing over the best methods of implementation, as well as creating standards around these goals.

Less than a year ago, the “SEL Movement” gained momentum when, according to Education Week’s blog, “Social-Emotional Learning: States Collaborate to Craft Standards, Policies”, CASEL agreed to “assist the states through consultation with its own staff and a panel of experts.

The participating states are California, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Washington. An additional 11 states that originally applied to join the collaborative will have access to the materials it develops. CASEL has provided the framework to help all interested parties to share the language necessary to move forward.

Here’s a brief overview of the 5 Core Competencies.


A student who is self-aware will recognize how his or her thoughts, emotions, actions, and values impact behavior and the student’s environment. Students who are self-aware are about to embrace a “growth mindset” because they are able to recognize that change is possible, and that they have the ability to become self-sufficient and confident. They recognize their own strengths and weaknesses, and they are able to make plans to improve.


Students who have developed self-management skills are able to regulate their own thoughts, emotions, and actions to align with the values they hold dear. More veteran teachers might recognize a strong resemblance to Robert Marzano’s Dimensions of Learning woven throughout the Competencies, but particularly in this area, as it emphasizes intrinsic motivation, impulse control, organizational skills, and goal-setting.

Responsible Decision-Making:

Students who make responsible decisions do so against an ethical framework, social norms, and safety. These students are able to evaluate an expected outcome of their decisions. This Competency is closely related to the 21st Century Skill of Critical Thinking, in that it requires identifying problems, analyzing solutions, evaluating, and reflecting.

Relationship Skills:

A student who has developed competency in relationship skills has learned to communicate effectively, engage in appropriate social behavior, and participate in collaborative activities with ease. Common Core Standards of Speaking and Listening are especially apparent here.

Social Awareness:

Students who reach this heightened level of understanding are able to empathize, including those with whom they disagree, as well as those from different moral, cultural, and ethical backgrounds. They are able to “try on” perspectives that are not their own and respect others, even if they disagree.

I’m excited to hear what other teachers who have answered the call to educate the whole child are doing in their classrooms, and I’d love to share the great work that you are doing. Email me at with ideas and comments. You can follow me on Twitter at @MsAmberChandler and subscribe to my website

Amber Chandler is a National Board Certified ELA teacher and the author of The Flexible ELA Classroom: Practical Tools for Differentiated Instruction in Grades 4-8. She’s online at