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About SEL

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

- Viktor Frankl

Social Emotional Learning/Literacy

Collaborative for






Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. 

It helps me to think about SEL skills they way I think about the language of tonal Western music. Most Western music uses a variety of 12 notes. This alphabet is not particularly complex as you could learn those 12 notes in an afternoon. However, the more you practice with these 12 notes the more radical combinations you can shape increasing your capacity to community a wider expressive range. For example just as some of these 12 notes were arranged by the La's for "There She Goes"they were also arranged by Arnold Schoenberg for Variations for Orchestra. Selections of the 12 notes were used by Robert Johnson to make "Kind Hearted Women's Blues" were used by John Coltrane to create "Sun Ship". SEL, like music, offers us a common expressive language, that when engaged thoughtfully, can provide us with near limitless opportunities of expression and connection.   

Humans experience emotions and subsequent feelings. It can be difficult to predict when they will happen, how long they will last, or how intense they may be. How we respond to emotions and feelings and thoughts can most often be recognized by ourselves and others through our behavior. What makes SEL so valuable is that, once learned, the skills travel with the person from place to place, and situation to situation. SEL skills can provide a road map for creating and maintaining healthy relationships with the self and others, across a wide range of personal, social, and cultural interactions. 


Please keep in mind though, the application of SEL skills are going to be subject to the context in which the emotions, thoughts, and feelings occur. So even though the skills and strategies may be universal to the biology of human emotional experience, the usage and expression of SEL is going to shift depending on geography, culture, race, situation, peers, and anything else you can imagine. This is true in music also in the way Earth, Wind & Fire's Fantasy can stir up a party Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music can end one. (nothing against MMM but a party may not be the context for it)

Social Emotional Learning/Literacy

Washington State Domains of SEL for K-12 Students:


Self-Awareness means you can recognize and name your feelings, your thoughts, and recognize how feelings and thoughts influence the choices you make in how you behave.

Some benefits of competency in this domain:

  • the ability to recognize emotions, thoughts, and feelings (cognition)

  • the ability to recognize how and where the body holds emotions and feelings (physiology)

  • the ability to recognize desired expression (behavior intention)

  • the ability to recognize presenting expression (observable behavior)

Social Awareness

Social Awareness means you have the ability to identify social success in a variety of contexts and that you can take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures and in a variety of different contexts.  

Some benefits of competency in this domain:

  • the ability to "read the room"

  • the ability to recognize others

  • the ability to connect with others including people from observable differences in culture 

  • the ability to navigate a wide variety of familiar and unfamiliar  social contexts


Self-Management means you have the ability to regulate your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors in a variety of different contexts including with people different than you.

Some benefits of competency in this domain:

  • increased capacity for handling difficult and pleasant emotions, thoughts, and feelings

  • the increased ability to manage internal conflict

  • deeper understanding of self (and by extension, others)

  • less likely to be manipulated by external appeals to anger/fear/enjoyment/sadness/disgust

Social Management

Social Management means you have the ability to make safe and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions in a variety of different social contexts.

Some benefits of competency in this domain:

  • increased opportunities for experiential learning

  • greater opportunity for increased diversity in relationships

  • increased capacity for supporting friends, families, colleagues through difficult times

  • less likely to hurt others by "accident" or "ignorance"

  • increased ability to manage unwanted conflict


Self-Efficacy means you have the ability to motivate yourself, persevere, and see yourself as capable.

Some benefits of competency in this domain:

  • the ability to see "great ideas" to fruition

  • increased ability to take chances in relationships and career choices

  • increased opportunities for finding things that bring enjoyment

  • more likely to succeed

Social Engagement

Social Engagement means the ability to consider others and a desire to contribute to the well-being of a social group, or community.

Some benefits of competency in this domain:

  • the ability to make social change

  • the ability to create and maintain healthy relationships with different communities 

  • increase in healthy outlets for anger, fear, joy

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