Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

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Virginia's Definition of Social Emotional Learning

The Virginia Department of Education’s social emotional learning (SEL) efforts are driven by our commitment to ensure that every student in Virginia attends a school that maximizes their potential and prepares them for the future: academically, socially, and emotionally. To meet this vision, the VDOE established a uniform definition of social emotional learning based on the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) definition. Virginia defines social emotional learning as:

“The process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”

Social emotional learning begins at home and continues through adulthood. Embedding SEL intentionally in school culture advances the work that begins and continues at home.

Virginia Guidance SEL Standards

In accordance with HB 753, passed during the 2020 Virginia General Assembly, the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) established a uniform definition of social-emotional learning and developed the Virginia Guidance SEL Standards for all public students in grades Kindergarten through 12 in the Commonwealth.

Core SEL Competencies

There are five core social emotional learning competencies that address broad and interrelated areas of competence. These SEL competencies can be taught and applied at various developmental stages from childhood to adulthood and across diverse cultural contexts.

 Self Awareness icon Self-awareness: The abilities to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts.
 Self-Management icon Self-management: The abilities to manage one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations.
 Social Awareness icon Social awareness: The abilities to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts.
 Relationship Skills icon Relationship skills: The abilities to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups.
 Decision Making icon Decision-making: The abilities to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations.


The PBS Learning SEL series offer a brief glimpse into each of the CASEL 5 competencies: Self-AwarenessSocial AwarenessSelf-ManagementRelationship-SkillsDecision-Making.

A Systemic Approach to SEL Implementation

SEL Competencies infographicAs exemplified by the SEL Competencies Infographic (© CASEL, All Rights Reserved), SEL implementation requires a systemic approach that emphasizes the importance of establishing equitable learning environments and coordinating practices across key settings of classroom, schools, families, and communities to enhance all students’ social, emotional, and academic learning. Effective implementation integrates SEL throughout the school’s academic curricula and culture, across the broader contexts of schoolwide practices and policies, and through ongoing collaboration with families and community organizations. These coordinated efforts should foster youth voice, agency, and engagement; establish supportive classroom and school climates and approaches to discipline; enhance adult SEL competence; and establish authentic family and community partnerships.

Positive Impact of SEL

The research on the impact of social emotional learning demonstrates that SEL programming has a positive impact on academic performance, school attendance, disciplinary outcomes, and mental wellness. SEL lays the groundwork to create a safe and positive learning environment for students and adults, which allows for relationship building, collaboration, cultural competency, and critical decision-making. In other words, SEL helps students be college and career ready.

Research has shown that students participating in evidence-based SEL programs have:

  • Improved classroom attitudes and behavior:
    • Better sense of community
    • More class participation
    • Stronger pro-social skills
    • Improved attendance
    • Better understanding of consequences
    • Better coping skills
    • Increased attitude toward school and learning
  • Improved school performance:
    • Higher achievement test scores (+14%) and higher grades (+11%)
    • Improved metacognition skills
    • Improved problem-solving, planning, and reasoning skills
    • Improvements in reading comprehension

SEL Resources


Trauma Informed Practices

  • SEL and trauma informed practices share the goal of helping students develop social and emotional competencies so they may respond successfully to the challenges of the world they live in.

Supporting English Language Learners

Schoolwide SEL

Planning Resources

The VDOE recognizes that in order to implement SEL, preparation and planning is required. There are a number of guides and toolkits available to assist educators in planning for, and implementing social emotional learning at the division and school level:

SEL State Examples

SEL in Action  

The VDOE has a number of efforts that support social emotional learning.

  • The VDOE Virginia Tiered Systems of Supports (VTSS) offers school divisions the opportunity to build their capacity to utilize a multi-tiered framework (or “way of work”) to improve school climate and create effective and supportive learning environment for all students.  This framework works through a lens of the whole child concept that aligns academics, behavioral, social and emotional wellness into a single databased decision-making framework.
  • Early Learning and Development Standards include personal and social development standards aligned with social emotional learning.
  • The 2020 Health Education Standards of Learning (SOL) intentionally include social emotional skills to build K-12 student’s mental wellness skills - emotional development, self-concept and social competence.
  • The revised Model Guidance for Positive and Preventive Code of Student Conduct Policy and Alternatives to Suspension integrates SEL practices into prevention and intervention as a means of reducing exclusionary discipline practices and removing disparity in the use of suspension and expulsion.
  • The purpose of Kindness Week is to recognize that simple day-to-day acts of kindness enable our schools, communities, and state to be a kinder, safer, healthier, and more inclusive place to live, work, learn, and play. By promoting kindness, we are promoting inclusivity by extending an opportunity for grace, empathy, dignity, and acceptance across Virginia.

Social Emotional Wellness Quick Guides

The VDOE Social Emotional Wellness Videos and Resource Guides provide school communities with key information and resources to support the emotional wellness of various populations including:

  • Students with Disabilities
  • Military-Connected Students
  • English Learners
  • Early Learners (PK-2)
  • Youth in Marginalized Groups
  • Teachers and School Staff
  • Parents and Caregivers