What is SEL?

SEL or social-emotional learning has a long history that began in the 1960s at the Yale School of Medicine’s Child Study Center. The discipline took great strides forward with the establishment of The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), founded in 1994.


CASEL1 defines the five main components of SEL as:


  • Self-awareness – positive self-concept and understanding of one’s emotions
  • Self-management – regulating one’s emotions and behaviors
  • Social awareness –– awareness of the emotions of others
  • Relationship skills ̶ interpersonal communications skills
  • Responsible decision-making, problem-solving, decision-making and accountability
Joy Circles about

CASEL also defines and supports SEL best practices for all of the touchpoints in the system: classrooms, schools, families, caregivers, and communities.

SEL fosters skills in socialization, communication, self-esteem, and self-management. These skills are necessary to build the “whole child”, ready to tackle rigorous academics in preparation for an increasingly complex world.

Why SEL?

An August 2023 study from Stanford University and Thomas S. Dee2 reports a rise in chronic absenteeism among U.S. public school students, specifically 13.5% between the 2018–2019 and the 2021–2022 school years. Dee’s findings suggest that the sharp rise in chronic absenteeism is a result of factors such as declining mental health and academic disengagement among youth.

Bullying and fighting among our youth have disastrous results. The following outcomes from the whattobecome.com blog3 draw from a variety of viable sources:

  • In the U.S. 22% of students get bullied each school year.
  • Bullied students are twice as likely to attempt suicide.
  • 60% of school shooters report being bullied in person or online.
  • Statistically, sixth graders experience the most bullying (31%).
  • 83% of parents turn to teachers if their child is involved in bullying incidents.

Child abuse is considered the most tragic epidemic of our day. Over 600,000 American children are subjected to child abuse every year. Most are cases of neglect by a parent. This terrible crime against children is preventable if identified and reported.

School shootings are all too frequent and we ask, why? As noted above, shooters are often victims of bullying or abuse. One wonders if a caring adult had interacted with one of these aggressors at a key time in his/her life if their path might have been different.

Reading deficiencies in children can inhibit a child’s success across disciplines and in later grades.

The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP)4 reports on the reading assessment administered to 4th and 8th graders across the United States in 2022. The average reading score at both 4th and 8th grade decreased by 3 points compared to 2019. In the 4th grade, “the average reading score was lower than all previous assessment years going back to 1998…” We must produce students ready to assume highly technological and socially integrated workplace roles. Young people struggling with academics and/or social-emotional issues will find career success daunting.

The stakes seem to be increasingly high and we wonder what we can do to right the world. Joy CirclesTM is an appropriate intervention for young people starting in fourth grade. It provides children with tools for self-care and for relating to their world more humanely. Joy Circles is based on practical science and real-world application.

  1. CASEL’S SEL Framework – CASEL
  2. Higher Chronic Absenteeism Threatens Academic Recovery from the COVID-19 Pandemic, Dee, Thomas S., Stanford University, August 2023.
  3. whattobecome.com blog
  4. www.nationsreportcard.gov/highlights/reading/2022