Schools are increasingly recognizing that implementing social and emotional learning (SEL) can increase academic achievement, increase positive social behavior, and decrease behavior problems and emotional stress.  Promoting student engagement with SEL at the high school level is increasing as well, due to the connection of social and emotional competencies to college and career readiness and successful transition to the postsecondary environment.


Free Resource: The Social-Emotional Curriculum Checklist


While you may have begun to see a need to include SEL in your high school curriculum for students, you may be at a loss as to how to select an SEL program.  In addition, you may be a novice when it comes to what SEL entails and how best to incorporate it into the school day.  This article, and the accompanying checklist, were designed to support school administrators who are interested in implementing an SEL component at the high school level.  We have included some basic information on SEL, as well as some key program design principles to help you select a program that will best you’re your needs.

What is SEL?

SEL stands for social and emotional learning.  CASEL’s five SEL competency areas are:

  • self-awareness
  • self-management
  • social awareness
  • relationship skills
  • responsible decision-making

Any lessons, activities, courses, and/or stand-alone curriculum programs that allow students to build their skills in these areas could be classified as SEL.  A comprehensive SEL program would include opportunities for students to build skills in all five areas.  However, there are many programs, and even teacher-designed lessons and activities—that allow students to build competencies in a single area. One factor in promoting student engagement with SEL is to consider implementing all components of CASEL’s framework.

mentoring student relationships best practices

Considering Why SEL in Your School or District

Whether or not you choose a comprehensive SEL program, or a program that is more targeted to specific areas of competency depends on your students’ needs and your ultimate goals.  For example, some schools seek to implement an SEL curriculum to address a specific need of a group of students—a drug or alcohol awareness program, or a program for students with anxiety.  Other schools may seek to introduce a college and career readiness curriculum that would include SEL related to self-management and responsible decision-making.  Still other schools may want to implement a comprehensive SEL program across multiple grade levels and perhaps even across a variety of schools and grade levels in a district.  Your goals for social and emotional learning will drive program selection and implementation.

Key Program Design Features

Regardless of your goals, there are some key factors to keep in mind when selecting and implementing SEL programs for students.  CASEL recommends that programs must “engage students in their own social and emotional development by promoting awareness (e.g., through discussion or reflection) and providing opportunities for practice”.  Students need opportunities to develop self-awareness of their current level of competence and practice new skills as they attempt to build competence.  For example, to build skills in the area of responsible decision-making, students need opportunities to discuss and reflect on what responsible decision-making looks like, think about times when they have made responsible decisions (or haven’t), and have opportunities to practice making responsible decisions going forward.

In addition, you want a program that is flexible enough to meet your goals and vision for SEL in your school or district.  A program that provides options for integration into existing courses and lessons, as well as options for the development of stand-alone lessons or a separate course, provides the maximum flexibility for schools and districts to implement in a way that makes sense to them.  Further, the more personalized the curriculum and experience, the more valuable for the students.  A more personalized program supports student’s needs to develop self-awareness and competence in various social and emotional competencies.  For example, a computer-based program that provides opportunities for students to move at their own pace and personalize the learning path would likely be more meaningful for students than a one-size-fits-all SEL program.

Purposeful About Promoting Student Engagement with SEL

Finally, as you move toward implementation, you must consider the competence and skill level of your faculty and staff to implement an SEL program.  You will need to ensure that faculty understand the areas of social and emotional competence and why providing students time and opportunities to develop in these areas is beneficial.  Further, you will need to ensure that any SEL program provides training and support for teachers as they begin  to implement the program.

As schools begin to value social and emotional learning, they will need tools to support them as they move forward with implementing SEL programs.  The checklist that accompanies this article is designed to support school administrators and teams as they select and implement SEL programs.

Sources for this article “Promoting Student Engagement with SEL”:

CASEL. (2015). CASEL guide: Effective social and emotional learning programs, middle and high school edition.  CASEL.  Available from:

Free Resource: The Social-Emotional Curriculum Checklist