Social Emotional Learning & Cultural Competence in Education

In navigating the current waters of education, social-emotional learning (SEL) is being emphasised as an integral part of learning goals, learning process, and educational outcomes. It has been an important and critical component of effective teaching, both in pre-pandemic and post-pandemic era.


As first defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) 26 years ago, SEL is “how children and adults learn to understand and manage emotions, set goals, show empathy to others, establish positive relationships, and make responsible decisions”. This field, as well as its definition, have been evolving with the passage of time. It has been acknowledged now that the context and environment of students’ habitat plays a significant role in their academic, social and emotional development. With this realisation comes the importance of ‘cultural competence’ in the teaching-learning process.

The five core competencies of SEL are: Self Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision-Making. These guide the SEL framework which aids the students to build positive and healthy relationship with others, including their school, and helps regulate their behaviour. For effective implementation, educators first need to choose a competency and determine the ways of integrating the same in their classroom and in the content of their curriculum. For example, in a language class, the educator can use culturally responsive pedagogy focussing on the connection between their students’ cultural experiences, the classroom, and the curriculum.

Self-Awareness: It is the ability to comprehend and be aware or conscious of one’s own thoughts, emotions, values, experiences etc. With the development of this competency, students learn to make connections between feelings, behaviours, actions and their consequences. This helps them to know their strengths and weaknesses in various areas, enabling them to gain perspective and new insight into their interests, actions, and decisions.

Self-Management: It pertains to the capability in regulating and managing one’s own thoughts, emotions, and actions/behaviour in various circumstances and situations. This helps towards achieving one’s aims and goals, both personal and collective, in life. It involves improvement in areas such as stress management, organisational skills, self-discipline, impulse control, and cultivating delayed gratification.

Social Awareness: It includes the abilities of being empathetic and compassionate, and understanding the perspectives of others coming from diverse backgrounds and cultures, along with the recognition of various social resources and supports including that of school, family and community.

Relationship Skills: It encompasses the abilities of establishing positive connections and healthy relationships with others, and of being considerate of their emotions and interactions in different situations. This leads to healthy, mutually beneficial relationships. The skills involved in this competency are active listening, effective communication, cooperation, constructive conflict resolution, problem solving, and leadership. It also involves the effective navigation of the differing cultural and social factors under any situation.

Responsible Decision Making: This competency includes the abilities to arrive at caring, positive, and constructive decisions, regarding personal and social behaviours, and interactions under various circumstances. Being aware of one’s strengths and areas of improvement, enables one to understand when to ask for assistance in order to make critical decisions. This competency develops the learners’ capacity to consider ethical and safety norms and standards, and evaluate the consequences of the actions/decisions, with respect to individual and social well-being.


In today’s world, a classroom has students coming from diverse multi-cultural backgrounds. Their unique experiences and identities along with their cultural assets make it imperative for the educators to adopt culturally relevant teaching strategies. SEL skills can be cultivated in students by their being actively involved in learning and not just been passive listeners to a teacher. Educators need to engage their students in the creation of culturally responsive classroom environment. Some of these strategies can be:

    • Classroom norms and rules may be constructed with the inputs given by the students, and discussions can be held on ways to represent the students’ cultures/identities.

    • The differences in the classroom community can be celebrated by giving the students platforms to showcase their linguistic and cultural assets. 

    • Opportunities can be provided to the students to collaborate while learning. Discussion protocols can be set which ensures equal participation and accountability for all students. These protocols should aim at encouraging students to value different perspectives, listen actively, and contribute to discussion.

    • Project-based learning can be an important strategy to ensure the recognition of a variety of learning styles and strengths. Educators can construct various tools for students to share feedback on their own as well as peer’s contributions in the project work.

    • Learning experiences can be given to students to connect historic events with the current challenges in society. They can be given opportunities to explore community organisations and present their views/facts on the processes and initiatives of the organisation.

    • Students can be provided with source material that focuses on readings highlighting historic decision-making. Let the students consider the impact of various factors (like personal experience, economic status, family background and culture etc.) on the decisions taken.


In conclusion, we can say that learning is basically social and emotional. Recent research (from the Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development) has shown that learning academic skills does not take place outside the realm of social and emotional skills. Both academic learning and SEL skill areas work in tandem, with the strengths and flaws of one area enhancing or impeding the development in the other. As per this report, when students are given opportunities to socially interact and make meaningful connections to subject material, it leads to the enhancement of the quality and depth of their learning. It also states that classroom instruction and academic activities which connect rigorous cognitive challenges with the students’ social interaction, or that spark their emotions, lead to deeper longer-term learning. Hence, for enhancing and promoting learning for students, integration of social-emotional learning and cultural competency with learner’s academic work is of paramount importance.

Vinod Kakumanu

Vinod Kakumanu

Founder & Consultant - School Serv

Vinod Kakumanu heads a team of school services professionals and is an independent commentator on Indian school education scenario. Vinod has assisted school promoters establish 35+ schools besides providing ancillary services to over 1000 schools across India. He envisions a future where quality education is made available to every child of the country. The focus he places on the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction has made him renowned in the field of K-12 school education.

Write to our School Consultant:

All Comments:

Related on Founder's Blog

Popular on Founder's Blog