What Are The Five Competencies of Social Emotional Learning

Defining the 5 SEL competencies and measuring the social and emotional skills children and adults need to succeed.

According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), social and emotional learning (SEL) is 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.

Social and emotional skills are the tools both children and adults use in social interactions and to manage everyday emotional responses. Things like social awareness, setting goals, and taking responsibility for oneself are imperative to maintaining healthy relationships and practicing self-care. But these skills can have a much broader impact than personal management and relationship building. In a recent study, students who participated in evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL) programs scored 13 points higher academically, had a 6 percent higher high school graduation rate, and were 11 percent more likely to graduate from college.

In a recent study, students who participated in evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL) programs scored 13 points higher academically, had a 6 percent higher high school graduation rate, and were 11 percent more likely to graduate from college.

Likewise, according to a CASEL 2011 meta-analysis of 213 studies involving more than 270,000 students, those who participated in evidence-based SEL programs showed an 11 percent gain in academic achievement compared to students who did not participate in SEL programs. And a 2015 study by researchers at Columbia University found that the measurable benefits of SEL provide an average return on investment of $11:1.

SEL sounds important. Tell me more about these skills.

CASEL has defined five competence areas (The CASEL 5) that lead to social and emotional success for children and adults. Those competence areas are Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social-Awareness, Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision-Making. The beliefs, attitudes, and resulting behaviors within each of these categories can influence and reflect the social and emotional competence of a child or adult. For example, if a student easily shows gratitude or empathy toward other students, but often turns homework in late, that student may have high Social Awareness but low Responsible Decision-Making skills. But one great thing about social and emotional skills is that they can be measured and taught. At Aperture Education, we have modeled our social and emotional competence framework off the CASEL framework, and have added subcategories based upon the extensive research and experience of our team. Aperture Education measures social and emotional competence based upon eight different areas.



At Aperture Education, we have divided Self-Awareness into two distinct constructs. We define Self-Awareness as how we view ourselves and our emotions, and in turn, how we interact with the world around us. Optimistic Thinking specifically refers to having a sense of optimism and hope for the future, speaking positively about oneself and others, and belief in the ability to attain future goals. We highlight Optimistic Thinking as its own competency due to this characteristic being a key aspect of resilience.


Self-Management is our ability to regulate our emotions and behaviors, and is a crucial stepping stone to developing relationships in school and work, in addition to developing adaptability when things don’t go the way we want or expect them to. Goal-Directed Behavior takes that concept one step further as the ability to plan our actions, complete tasks, and persist as we strive for the things we want to achieve.


Another key competency is Social-Awareness, or an individual’s capacity to interact with others in a way that shows respect for their ideas and behaviors and uses cooperation and tolerance in social situations.

Relationship Skills

Relationship Skills refer to an individual’s consistent performance of socially acceptable actions that promote and maintain positive connections with others. This includes offering help and exhibiting kindness to others.

Responsible Decision-Making

Decision-Making is the approach taken to problem-solving and includes learning from others and previous experience, using values to guide action and accepting responsibility for decisions. Personal Responsibility is the tendency to be careful and reliable, in addition to contributing to group efforts. These capacities, like the other competency areas, develop with us as we mature and grow.

These competency areas make it easier for educators to define and measure where students have strengths and where they have a need for instruction, or an opportunity to grow. It also provides a framework for specific social and emotional strategy development, so educators and students can work together to target a specific skill or set of skills to work on in a set time period.

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