Social-emotional learning

Develop students’ knowledge, attitudes and skills to manage emotions, build healthy relationships, set goals and make decisions.


Social-emotional learning focuses on helping students develop social-emotional skills that are essential for:

  • working with others
  • building resiliency
  • achieving goals
  • reducing bullying and risk behaviours (substance use)

Social-emotional skills are foundational for success in school and in life.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has identified 5 connected sets of competencies:

Recognizing emotions and assessing ones’ strengths and challenges.
Controlling emotions and impulses, managing stress, self-motivation and setting and achieving goals.
Social awareness
Identifying others’ emotions, showing empathy and understanding other perspectives.
Relationship skills
Building healthy relationships, communication skills, conflict resolution, working, playing and learning with others.
Responsible decision-making
Making wise choices and evaluating potential consequences.

Foundational ideas

Placing value on the following ideas is important for effective social-emotional learning practices. Social-emotional learning is fundamental to building the following traits:

  • positive social behaviour
  • health and well-being
  • ethical development and citizenship
  • motivation
  • academic learning

Social-emotional skills need to be taught and can improve with opportunities to practice in different contexts.

Social-emotional learning requires a long-term, whole-school approach that involves families and community partners.

Research-based evidence

Research shows that students receiving quality social-emotional learning instruction showed:

  • better academic performance
    • achievement scores were an average of 11 percentile points higher than students who did not receive social-emotional learning instruction
  • improved attitudes and behaviours
    • greater motivation to learn
    • increased time devoted to schoolwork
    • better classroom behaviour
  • fewer disruptive behaviours
    • less noncompliance, aggression and disciplinary referrals
  • reduced emotional distress
    • fewer reports of student depression, anxiety, stress and social withdrawal


Social-emotional practices will vary depending on the needs of the students and the resources and priorities of the school community. A whole school approach builds on the instruction of social-emotional outcomes in Alberta’s Wellness Programs of Study.

The following fictional examples show what social-emotional learning could look like in practice.

Elementary school

Teachers work together across grade levels to include social-emotional learning into daily instruction. Activities include:

  • read-aloud stories on related topics
  • guided discussion
  • role playing and problem-solving
  • opportunities to reflect on and demonstrate learning through writing, art and presentations

Students can take home materials that reinforce social-emotional learning with families.

Monthly school events highlight specific social-emotional skills, reinforce new learning and introduce ideas for using skills across different contexts.

Middle school/Junior high school

At the beginning of the school year, school staff work together to create a shared understanding of social-emotional learning. They use this to develop strategies for using social-emotional competencies in academic and extra-curricular activities. School wide events use the language of social-emotional learning and focus on positive relationships and responsible decision-making.

High school

School staff develop learning modules that reinforce social-emotional competencies. English teachers work together to plan literature projects that explore social-emotional learning at each grade-level. School publications, signage and events use the language of social-emotional learning.