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Social-Emotional Learning

The social-emotional learning (SEL) movement has seen considerable growth in recent years, with schools devoting considerable time and resources to SEL activities. At Rachel’s Challenge, our goal is to create a safe place for kids to learn. We believe social-emotional learning activities help kids become better students and contribute to a more productive, less stressful school environment.



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Social-Emotional Learning for Schools</1>

What is SEL?

Social Emotional Learning, or SEL, is an educational practice that helps students develop interpersonal skills, self-awareness, and self-control in order to manage their emotions, achieve goals, create positive relationships, and make good decisions. SEL is vital to success at school, in a career, and in life.

Social Emotional Learning could be oversimplified as a methodology for teaching students:

How to interact with their own emotions in a healthy way (self-regulation).
How to interact with others in a healthy way (empathy & social skills).
How to interact with the world in a healthy way (resilience & decision making).
CASEL: Intro to Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is a group of researchers who created the framework for evidence-based social and emotional learning designed to become an integral part of education from preschool through high school. In 1997, nine CASEL collaborators co-authored Promoting Social and Emotional Learning: Guidelines for Educators, which formally defined the field of SEL.The goal of the SEL movement is to fully support the social, emotional, and academic development of all children.

As the education system becomes deeply invested in the SEL movement, CASEL remains a trusted resource for “guidance, evidence-based practices, and continuous learning” (CASEL, 2021) as they work together to support the healthy development of children. It has been proven through long-term research that a successful SEL program in schools and communities makes young people feel connected, inspired and engaged – ready to contribute to the world around them.

Implementing an SEL Program in Your School

SEL is most effective when supported by evidence-based programs, such as Rachel’s Challenge, while establishing trusting relationships where students are treated as partners in their learning. Students, staff, parents, and visitors should walk into a school building and feel the positivity and supportive environment. Every positive behavior and action in the school must be modeled by all staff members from greetings in the morning, to supportive discipline practices, to modeling positive relationships with students, other staff, parents, and community.

How we develop SEL in schools is impacted by the outside environment, which is why it is important that we work together across classrooms, schools, families, and communities. A school with strong SEL listens to the ideas and needs of families and builds authentic relationships with them. SEL teaches students to connect with others, including those who are different from themselves, and support their communities. These connections help students feel valued, safe, and a sense of belonging within the school and community.



The CASEL 5 focuses on five interrelated areas of social and emotional competence within the SEL framework: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. The CASEL 5 has been adopted by numerous education systems throughout the world and implemented through learning standards and competencies in order to establish a healthy social, emotional, and academic future for all children and adults.

The 5 Competencies of SEL – CASEL 5 Model Overview (CASEL, 2021)

Self Awareness

A healthy sense of who we are; understanding our culture, thoughts, feelings, and what we believe we’re capable of, and how they can influence our behaviors and beliefs.

What are my thoughts and feelings?
What causes those thoughts and feelings?
How can I express my thoughts and feelings respectfully?
Tweens (Ages 9-12)

The ability to manage emotions, thoughts, and actions in different situations so that we can achieve individual and collective goals. This includes coping with stress and anxiety, persevering through challenges, and taking action to create positive change.

What different responses can I have to a situation?
How can I respond to a situation as constructively as possible?
Tweens (Ages 9-12)

How we understand others, how we learn to take different perspectives and empathize even with people who are different from us. This also includes understanding how the broader norms and systems around us influence how we develop and create a sense of belonging.

How can I better understand other people's thoughts and feelings?
How can I better understand why people feel and think the way they do?
Relationship Skills

How we connect and engage effectively with others and how we form lasting friendships and connections. This includes communicating clearly, solving problems together, managing conflict and disagreements, and standing up for ourselves and the rights of others.

How can I adjust my actions so that my interactions with different people turn out well?
How can I communicate my expectations to other people?
How can I communicate with other people to understand and manage their expectations of me?
Responsible Decision-Making

How we put it all together to make caring and constructive choices. This includes thinking critically about consequences, analyzing the impact of our actions on ourselves and others, and identifying solutions that support our collective well-being.

What consequences will my actions have on myself and others?
How do my choices align with my values?
How can I solve problems creatively?

Research Findings

SEL Improves Academic Success

The success of SEL has been proven through a powerful combination of evidence and support. “The benefits of social and emotional learning (SEL) are well-researched, with evidence demonstrating that an education that promotes SEL yields positive results for students, adults, and school communities” (CASEL, 2021).

A recent report from McGraw Hill released in 2018 shared findings from a survey conducted by Morning Consult. The findings represent a national sample of 1,140 teachers, administrators and parents. “The overwhelming majority of administrators (96%), teachers (93%) and parents (81%) believe that social and emotional learning is just as important as academic learning” (CASEL, 2021). The surveys demonstrate that teachers, principals, parents, and students strongly agree that SEL is a critical piece of academic success.

“When students have supportive relationships and opportunities to develop and practice social, emotional, and cognitive skills across many different contexts, academic learning accelerates. Hundreds of studies offer consistent evidence that SEL bolsters academic performance” (CASEL, 2021).

The presence of trusting relationships and emotional connections affect how and what students learn. By reducing behavior issues and in turn the amount of time spent on classroom management, SEL programs create more time for teaching and learning. SEL also strengthens students’ relationships with their peers, families, and educators, who provide the support behind academic achievement.

Results from a landmark meta-analysis in 2011 that looked across 213 studies involving more than 270,000 students found that:

SEL interventions increased students’ academic performance by 11 percentile points, compared to students who did not participate.
Students participating in SEL programs showed improved classroom behavior, an increased ability to manage stress and depression, and better attitudes about themselves, others, and school.
Research results from “Practical Benefits of an SEL Program” showed that there were benefits in every category proving that adding an SEL program is effective, academically, socially, and emotionally, compared to students receiving only current school services. (Durlak, et al.)
more students would improve their academic performance at the end of the program
more would gain in their skills levels
more would have improved social behaviors and lower levels of distress
more would have improved attitudes
more would show fewer conduct problems

In 2011, CASEL developed the Collaborating Districts Initiative (CDI) to launch a 10 year study of whether it was possible to implement SEL systemically in large, urban districts across the United States. Systemic implementation of SEL covers all aspects of the district from classroom instruction and school climate to staffing, professional learning, district policies, family engagement. SEL leaders in each district shared the following ways they discovered to sustain SEL (CASEL, 2021).

Six Elements for Sustaining SEL:

  1. Leaders model, cultivate, and elevate a shared ision for SEL.
  2. Core district priorities connect SEL to all departments and individuals so everyone is invested.
  3. Schools have resources and pathways to guide SEL implementation, as well as room to innovate and customize SEL for their communities.
  4. SEL informs and shapes adult learning, staff culture and climate.
  5. Students, families, and communities are co-creators of the SEL vision, plans, and practices.
  6. External and internal communities of practice strengthen implementation.

Rachel’s Challenge has helped me continue my chain reaction an entire decade later. Today, as I cultivate my “save the world gene” as a young professional, I am reminded of where it began. With kindness and compassion.”

Rachel’s Challenge Student


Rachel’s Challenge is the most powerful intervention I’ve seen in my 40 years of educational research.”

Dr Roberto Marzano
Educator, Researcher, Author


Rachel’s Challenge stimulates academic and social emotional-learning by focusing on the connection between students, faculties and staff.”

Curt Pacholke
Principal, Rice Lake High School

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