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SEL: What is it Anyway?

We all love a good acronym. Sure, there's a thrill involved in pretending you know exactly what the acronym means while attempting to carry on the conversation long enough to learn what it means, or at least the context in which it's used. The biggest thrill though? Actually knowing what the acronym means and using it correctly to have an informed conversation about something that matters. SEL stands for "Social Emotional Learning" and it's arguably one of the most important acronyms in the world of education and child development at the moment.

Now that we understand the SEL acronym, what is SEL anyway?

Social Emotional Learning is an educational practice of human development that integrates 5 core social and emotional skills into everyday lessons and interactions. The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), defines SEL as the "process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions" ( ). Essentially, while traditional classes teach knowledge, concepts or facts like math or science, SEL works to make students mentally, emotionally and socially smarter by teaching them how to interact with others, how to use critical thinking and how to appropriately view themselves and others.

what are the 5 core SEL skills?

The five core SEL competencies are Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills and Responsible Decision-Making. While these skills are not explicitly taught by teachers, they can be easily incorporated into everyday life in a variety of ways. For example, teachers could implement weekly check-ins, where they encourage their students to identify how they're feeling and why they may be feeling that way or they can teach the importance of self-management by facilitating positive self-talk in the face of stress and fatigue. (For example, going from 'I have so much work to do and I don't understand it. I'll never be able to complete it on time' to 'I have a lot of work to do but I'll ask someone for help and it'll make it easier')

why does SEL matter? Is SEL effective in the classroom?

There is extensive research and statistics to back up the successful implementation of SEL in the classroom. While I could write a whole post alone on the benefits of SEL, I will spare you that and instead summarize them with some additional links to actual data and studies. So what are the benefits of SEL? SEL leads to improved academic outcomes and behaviors, creates long-term and global benefits, is a wise financial investment and helps improve lifetime outcomes. Need more proof that SEL works? Check out the following links:

"Does SEL Make the Grade" - Greater Good Magazine

In short, SEL (Social Emotional Learning) is an excellent long-term educational resource that, when used properly, can help form strong-minded, socially-aware citizens. School is one of the greatest running influences on a child's development and yet many schools still don't implement social emotional learning within their classrooms due to lack of funding or lack of awareness. For more information on SEL and specifically the CASEL framework, click here. Interested in how New Treks incorporates SEL into our outdoor education programs? Fill our a contact us form, check out our schools webpage or reach out to Linnea at

Happy Trekking,

New Treks


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