Key takeaways

  • Learn about what CASEL is and what it means in regard to social and emotional learning.
  • Gather an overview of the core competencies and the subskills that fall under those competencies.

Maybe you’ve attended some social emotional learning training, or you've heard colleagues mention the CASEL framework, yet you were unsure what was being talked about. Here is a quick guide explaining the elements of the CASEL framework and how it could be useful in your classroom.
CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) is an organization that was founded in 1994 by notable national leaders within the area of social and emotional aspects of life. The aim of this group was to provide educators with resources to support high-quality, evidence-based, social, and emotional learning, seeing it as being a vital part of the education of all students from Pre-K to 12th grade. 

Since the beginning of the organization, it has produced a lot of groundbreaking guidance in the area of social and emotional learning in schools. These are guides on how to implement a district-wide policy, a school-wide policy, and a helpful guide to the quality/impact of social and emotional learning resources that districts and schools can access.

All this guidance is regularly updated and based on the most current research. Within education, the CASEL guidance is also referred to as the CASEL framework and is based on the model below.
CASEL wheel

Source: CASEL

At the heart of the model is the classroom instruction focus and the five competencies of Self Awareness, Self Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision Making. Around the classroom focus is the school-wide elements that support the social and emotional learning in the classroom and outside. This is the work we all do with families and communities to support social and emotional growth. It is not a standalone in-the-classroom program that is done in isolation from all the other elements that we know affect growth in this area. A classroom program that focuses on students’ growth in emotional learning is not efficient in a system where there are harsh school-wide consequences for emotional outbursts. With all the skills that students learn, they need time to get things wrong, practice using them, get it right, and see how it feels. By having a school-wide system that does not support this for emotional learning, the students get a mixed message about their learning. The idea of the CASEL framework for social and emotional learning is to make sure all the systems work together and are integrated so that the learning is happening in various ways across the places where these skills are practiced and used.

Why is social and emotional learning so important? 

Learning is an emotionally loaded activity. When learning something new, you have to be open to the possibility that you do not know something and that someone else is going to be in control of that. This can be scary for some students, as being in control is their way of coping with the world. Think about that student who sits quietly and says nothing in your class, when called upon, just says, ‘I don’t know.’ How could they be feeling? That student might be thinking, everyone else gets this, and I do not; I am stupid, I cannot do this, I am not as good as everyone else, I wish I could answer this question, I want to be brave, but others might make fun of me for not knowing, and it goes on. The idea of promoting social and emotional learning in classrooms as a separate area of work is to normalize these thoughts and feelings for all students so that they engage more in their learning. It also has the added bonus that if you have students who are able to talk about these things openly with staff, there are likely to be fewer negative behavior incidents as they feel more emotionally supported. In the long term, by teaching students these skills now, their overall wellbeing and mental health will be positively affected too.

All the research, brain-based and classroom-based, points to the fact that students who are happy and enjoying the process learn and achieve more. If a student is anxious, their brain can be full of survival chemicals that do not support the forming of new neural pathways needed for learning something new.

"Indeed, working memory, attention, response inhibition, and cognitive flexibility have all been found to be impaired by stress." (Girotti et al., 2017)

By helping students learn to regulate their emotions better, we are making our job as educators of all subjects easier.

For the CASEL framework in my classroom

The core competencies within the framework are Self Awareness, Self Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision Making, and these are used as a basis of social and emotional learning instruction within schools. Here is an explanation of the competencies in more detail.

  1. Self-awareness is where the students can reliably identify their feelings, thoughts, and emotions and understand how they affect their behavior. The student has a true picture of what they are good at and where their weaknesses lie, along with having a ‘growth mindset.’

  2. Self-management is where the student is able to manage their emotions, thoughts, and actions in a variety of situations. They are able to control their actions/impulses, cope well with stress, motivate themselves to make a goal and work towards achieving it.
  3. Social awareness is where a student is able to put themselves in another person’s shoes and see an issue from their point of view. They will be able to see the social limits there are on their behavior and understand how other influences (like family) impact their life and the lives of others.
  4. Relationship skills are where the student is able to make and keep positive relationships with others. Developing the skills needed to communicate well, working with others, avoiding the influence of peer pressure, being able to disagree with others in an acceptable way, and looking for help when needed.
  5. Responsible decision-making is where the student is able to weigh up their options and make a thoughtful and well-reasoned appropriate choice about themselves or their interaction with others. The student will understand that there are consequences to their decisions and be able to manage this with others well.



Social Awareness

Relationship skills

                Responsible decision-making

Identifying emotions Impulse control Perspective-taking Communication Identifying problems
Accurate self-perception Stress management Empathy Social engagement Analyzing situations
Recognizing strengths Self-discipline Appreciating diversity Relationship-building Solving problems
Self-confidence Self-motivation Respect for others Teamwork Evaluating
Self-efficacy Goal-setting     Reflecting
  Organizational skills     Ethical responsibility

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Girotti, M., Adler, S.M., Bulin, S.E., Fucich, E.A., Paredes, D., & Morilak, D.A. (2018). Prefrontal cortex executive              processes affected by stress in health and disease. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological                  Psychiatry, 85:161-179.

Author: Nicola Jones-Ford

Posted: 11 Nov 2020

Estimated time to read: 8 mins

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