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The Impact of Social–Emotional Learning on Academic Achievement

Lydian Academy students working on schoolwork together

Social–emotional learning, or SEL, provides a solid foundation for students and teachers to engage in a positive way with learning, other students, and the community. These essential life skills can boost academic performance for individual students and those around them.

As classrooms become more multicultural and multilingual the opportunities to grow from diversity continue to expand. Understanding each unique student’s motivations for engagement and perception of success is an important part of ensuring every child reaches their life potential.

What Is SEL?

The term “social–emotional learning” comes from research into emotional intelligence. It is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and recognize those of others. The process of learning these social and emotional skills is referred to as social–emotional learning, or SEL.

Through social–emotional learning, we develop skills of empathy and relationship problem-solving that are essential to academic success. Studies show that students who participated in SEL programs improved their academic achievement by 11 percentile points on average.1

The 5 Aspects of Social–Emotional Learning

There are 5 aspects to SEL that inform and empower student success. These should form the core of a student's social–emotional curriculum and are the keys to coordinating classroom and schoolwide practices.

  1. Self-Awareness. This skill is beneficial to mental health and to learning empathy. Developing an accurate awareness of your own strengths and challenges is a key to self-improvement. Learning to embrace and embody an optimistic mindset is part of self-awareness, as is recognizing feedback from others and using it to positively impact your own behavior.
  2. Self-Management. Improving your ability to regulate your own emotions and behaviors is also a valuable social–emotional skill that aids in managing stress, impulse control, and delaying gratification to reach long-term goals.
  3. Social Awareness. This is the ability to feel empathy and compassion for people from different cultures and backgrounds. Social norms vary greatly based on culture, and recognizing these differences helps students develop the skills they will need in a more diverse future community.
  4. Relationship Management. SEL is key to developing relationship skills that will lead to more satisfaction and recognition as students interact with adults and their peers more appropriately. SEL interventions can be a useful tool in middle and high school to help students who are struggling to communicate and resolve conflicts better understand each other. Relationship skills also help young people resist inappropriate social pressures, recognize unhealthy relationships, and learn to seek help when needed.
  5. Making Responsible Decisions. Once students have the SEL skills necessary to age-appropriate emotional intelligence, they can apply those to make responsible decisions. The importance of social–emotional learning is clear as students learn to weigh ethical concerns, safety considerations, personal consequences, and the impact of their choices on others to make more responsible decisions as young adults.

Teaching Strategies for Social–Emotional Learning

As the impact of social–emotional learning on academic achievement becomes more clear, many schools are working to incorporate these 4 elements into their curriculum, which create the SEL acronym SAFE.

  • SEQUENCED activities that are connected and coordinated across classrooms
  • ACTIVE forms of learning are more effective at helping students master these skills
  • FOCUSED effort and time spent on developing emotional intelligence
  • EXPLICIT and targeted activities and materials for specific social and emotional skillsets

The Benefits of SEL for Students and Communities

Students developing a healthy friendship at school

Meta analysis of the most recent research demonstrates that students who receive SEL training report improvement to:2

  • Social skills
  • General attitude
  • School behavior
  • School climate and safety
  • Relationships
  • Academic success

SEL skills help students:

  • Better understand and manage their own behaviors
  • Relate and empathize with the perspectives of other people and cultures
  • Make difficult personal decisions in line with their core values
  • Develop more positive attitudes about themselves and their peers
  • Improve performance on tasks with greater focus and confidence
  • Reduce their risk-taking behaviors and conduct issues
  • Improve test scores, attendance, and grades
  • Build and maintain more positive relationships with other students and adults
  • Experience a greater sense of purpose, connection, and commitment to school

In the long run, greater social–emotional competence makes students more likely to graduate and go on to pursue higher education. They go on to develop healthy relationships with family and coworkers, report better mental health, and have reduced rates of criminal behavior. Social–emotional learning helps them become more engaged citizens of the world.

Teaching SEL Skills

There are several approaches to modeling and teaching SEL in the classroom. Some successful strategies include:

  • Creating specific lessons around social and emotional skills and calling out opportunities to use those skills throughout the day
  • Embedding SEL into other subjects, including English, social studies, language arts, or math
  • Integrating age-appropriate SEL programs to enhance their awareness and skills from early childhood through high school
  • Modeling and teaching through one-to-one interactions throughout the school day to foster SEL
  • Developing positive teacher-student relationships that encourage engagement with social and emotional topics in a safe environment
  • Using mastery learning models to promote the student’s social and emotional growth at their own pace and using teaching activities that are most engaging to the individual learner

How SEL Improves Student Academic Achievement

Successful student at Lydian Academy

Not only is social–emotional learning important for students, it is equally important for educators and parents. Schools can focus on these positive aspects of self-awareness and empathy as part of school culture:

  • Promoting policies, structures, and practices that create a safe and inclusive environment
  • Implementing fair and equitable discipline policies that consider the wide range of cultures and motivators for student behavior
  • Establishing policies to actively prevent bullying and exclusionary settings that cause students to feel attacked or excluded

Taking these steps with your students or seeking a more supportive educational environment for your child can have positive impacts on their behavior, academic success, and mental health outcomes.3 Positive school environments that foster SEL empower students to thrive in school and their future endeavors.

Students at Lydian Academy have the benefits of a one-to-one learning environment fully focused on their intellectual, social, and emotional growth. Using the mastery approach to learning allows each student to move at their pace and matches their personal learning style. Social–emotional learning and a positive school culture that values and empowers every student is part of what sets Lydian Academy apart.

Your child can enroll at almost any time of the year with flexible schedules. Lydian has two in-person campuses and also offers virtual learning for students who benefit from the additional flexibility or a hybrid format. Sign up for a virtual open house or schedule a campus tour in Burlingame or Menlo Park, CA today and set your child on the path to their own love of learning that will last a lifetime.



We offer a unique year-round one-on-one learning experience, personalized to you and your schedule.

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