SEL Expectations vs Reality

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) has been gaining popularity in recent years as a crucial component of a well-rounded education. The goal of SEL is to help students develop essential life skills such as self-awareness, empathy, communication, and problem-solving. However, the implementation of SEL programs in schools can sometimes fall short of expectations. In this post, we’ll explore the differences between expectations and reality when it comes to SEL in the classroom.

Key takeaways:

  • Social Emotional Learning (SEL) focuses on nurturing emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, and self-awareness to equip individuals with tools for healthy relationships, responsible decisions, and overall success.
  • Implementing SEL in education enhances academic performance, fosters essential life skills, builds positive relationships, and creates a supportive classroom climate.
  • Integrating SEL requires embedding it in the curriculum, offering professional development, cultivating a positive school climate, engaging families and the community, and assessing progress to empower students for academic, emotional, and social growth.
1. Adoption

SEL programs will be universally adopted.


Adoption of SEL programs is not universal and varies greatly from school to school. While some schools may have fully embraced SEL and made it a central part of their curriculum, others may have yet to see the value in these programs.

2. Integration

SEL Programs will be seamlessly integrated into the curriculum.


SEL is often treated as an add-on rather than a fundamental part of the curriculum. Many schools lack the resources and time to fully integrate SEL into the daily routine, so the activities may feel disconnected from the rest of the curriculum.

3. Teacher training and support

Teachers with SEL Programs will receive adequate training and support.

Implementing SEL effectively requires specialization, but many schools struggle to provide adequate training and resources to teachers, leaving them feeling unprepared and unsure of how to effectively integrate SEL into their lessons.
4. Immediate results

Students will show immediate improvement in SEL skills.

Developing social and emotional skills takes time and consistent practice. While students may show some improvement in the short-term, the full benefits of SEL programs may not become apparent until later in life.

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5. Universal applicability

SEL programs will have a one-size-fits-all approach.


Aspects of the curriculum have to be tailored to the specific circumstances of students. This means taking into account factors such as cultural background and learning style to ensure programs are inclusive of everyone.

6. Assessment and monitoring

Results from SEL programs are easily measurable.


Measuring student outcomes in SEL is complex. It requires the use of appropriate assessments and monitoring tools to track progress in more abstract areas such as empathy, emotional regulation, self-awareness and relationship-building skills.

7. Parental involvement

SEL programs only involve teachers and students.


Parents and caregivers also play an important role in the development of social and emotional skills at home. For any SEL program to be truly effective, it must depend on the active participation of the student’s wider support network.

8. Teacher well-being

Student well-being and support are the sole considerations of SEL curricula.


SEL programs should focus on creating a safe learning environment for both students and teachers. Teachers need to feel comfortable discussing and teaching social and emotional topics while fostering the same sense of comfort in others.

9. Integration beyond classroom

SEL skills will only ever be practiced within school settings.


The true value of SEL programs for students is in the real-world application of the skills they learn. Educators should encourage the application of SEL skills beyond the classroom in settings such as family and community engagement through engaging scenarios and roleplay.

More on Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

SEL (or Social Emotional Learning) is an educational approach which aims to develop essential competencies such as self-awareness, empathy, communication, and responsible decision-making to support students’ overall well-being and academic success.

SEL draws from theories like Emotional Intelligence (Goleman) and Attachment Theory (Bowlby). It aligns with cognitive-behavioral approaches and social learning principles which promote a holistic view of student well-being.

There are 5 main concepts that are the pillars of SEL: 

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-management
  3. Social awareness
  4. Relationship skills
  5. Responsible decision-making
In conclusion, while SEL has the potential to greatly benefit students, the reality of implementation can sometimes fall short of expectations. This is why it’s important to choose a curriculum that is easy to implement, fosters a safe learning environment for both students and teachers and allows educator to assess and monitor progress.  Ori Learning’s SEL curriculum offers all of these features and more including built-in accommodations and translation to 100+ languages to facilitate tailoring the curriculum to student needs. Get in touch today to discover how our comprehensive curriculum can empower educators at your school or district to effectively teach SEL skills to middle and high-school students. 
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Jon Izak

Jon Izak is the founder and CEO of Ori Learning.