Discussing CASEL Updates and What They Mean for SEL

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is one of the nation’s thought leaders in the field of social emotional learning (SEL). When they speak, people listen. And people are most definitely listening to their recent framework updates, which include an expanded definition of SEL and updates to the definitions of their five SEL competencies.  Let’s walk through what’s changed, and how it impacts your work in SEL.

CASEL’s SEL Definition and the “CASEL Wheel”

Previously, CASEL defined SEL as the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Here is the new SEL definition:

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is an integral part of education and human development. SEL is 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.

SEL advances educational equity and excellence through authentic school-family-community partnerships to establish learning environments and experiences that feature trusting and collaborative relationships, rigorous and meaningful curriculum and instruction, and ongoing evaluation. SEL can help address various forms of inequity and empower young people and adults to co-create thriving schools and contribute to safe, healthy, and just communities.

In addition, the “CASEL wheel” has been revised, and the original and newly updated versions can be found below:


There are two clear points of emphasis in the updated definition and wheel:

  • Educational equity: Educational equity is of utmost importance, and SEL can help advance educational equity. Focusing on equity means ensuring all students have access to and benefit from SEL. An equity focus means SEL is part of supporting and celebrating students’ identities, diverse cultures, and communities.
  • Attention to systems: The updated CASEL wheel has split the “homes and communities” ring into two rings, “communities” and “families & caregivers” to demonstrate the importance of authentic partnerships with families and aligning learning opportunities with communities.

These points were also reflected in CASEL’s recent SEL Exchange. In this virtual conference, CASEL featured the voices of young people to emphasize three key themes that can best support students: building agency, identity, and belonging. These are critical factors to consider in developing equitable learning environments and positive relationships. Breakout sessions focused on how educators can promote students’ agency, identity, and belonging in classrooms, homes, and communities. At the end of the conference, CASEL shared a pledge taken by stakeholders across the nation to prioritize SEL in order to create a more just and caring world. In other words, CASEL is committed to creating equitable and responsive environments for young people, and they are challenging us all to do the same.

At ACT, we’re excited by this enhanced focus on equity and looking at SEL as a comprehensive system involving students and their schools, families, and communities. Our Mosaic™ by ACT® SEL solution is designed to be a complete support system with curriculum, assessment, and professional development.

Our SEL curriculum has always centered on student agency, identity, and voice. Whether it is elementary students celebrating the “treasures” that make them unique, empowering English Learners to view their dual language skills as superpowers, or helping high school students identify community-wide service learning projects that are personally relevant, SEL has never existed in a vacuum. Moreover, through our professional learning programs, we empower educators to use the tools and strategies to find and build connections between SEL, equity, justice, and restorative practices.

Like CASEL, we too are looking beyond the classroom, whether it be by providing accessible and easy-to-use resources for parents and caregivers to bring SEL competencies into their homes, or by helping support trauma-informed practices at the school- and district-level.  We know that SEL has the most impact for students when we can have our entire communities involved.


The “CASEL Five” Core Competencies

You will notice that the that the five core CASEL competencies have remained the same:  Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Responsible Decision-Making, Relationship Skills, and Social Awareness. Close inspection of the definitions of each of the competencies shows the new emphasis on equity and systems. For example, “examining prejudices and biases” has been added to the Self-Awareness competency. These updates help educators and schools identify the key skills that help students build each competency, so students are able to learn and grow throughout their educational careers.

Our ACT SEL solutions are aligned to the CASEL framework through the framework’s alignment with the behavioral skills component of the ACT Holistic Framework, our own framework which describes the skills students need to be successful in school and work. This alignment is displayed below.

The Evolution of SEL

As SEL becomes more and more influential in our educational system, and in society in general, it’s important to remember that SEL is still a developing and growing field. This means that the way we think about SEL should adapt to both the times in which we live, and to the current research. CASEL has done that in updating its definition of SEL. At ACT, we’re constantly listening and learning from you, so we can provide research-backed solutions to improve the social and emotional skills of ALL students and educators, and to support educational equity for all.