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Social-Emotional Learning

How to Explain Social-Emotional Learning to Families

Sarah Whedon, Ph.D
Sarah Whedon, Ph.D
How to Explain Social-Emotional Learning to Families



Together, families and schools form a team that supports students’ social and emotional growth.

But families are often unfamiliar with the education term “social-emotional learning” and its acronym “SEL.” They may have questions about the benefits of SEL for their students.

Research shows when schools present social-emotional learning in plain language and demonstrate how it supports families’ goals for students, families tend to embrace it wholeheartedly. 

Watch the video to learn 5 strategies for explaining SEL to families, or keep reading below.

Download the Building Family Understanding of Social-Emotional Learning Toolkit



5 Strategies for Explaining SEL to Families 


1. Invite Families Into Partnership Around SEL (Tweet This)

Remember that families and educators share common goals for students. Invite families into partnership and meet them where they’re at so you can work together to support students. 

Provide seats for family representatives on district and campus committees. Acknowledge concerns when they are voiced, and be straightforward in clearing up misunderstandings about social-emotional learning.


2. Explain SEL Using Language That Makes Sense to Families (Tweet this)

Educators have their own language that can be confusing to families. Avoid educator jargon by replacing it with plain language. For example, instead of “growth mindset,” try “learning from mistakes.” 

Different families will connect better with different terms for SEL. It’s okay to vary your language or examples to speak in ways that make sense to your audience. Instead of “SEL,” it might work better to say “social-emotional learning,” or even “emotional intelligence” or “life skills.”



3. Give Families the Tools to Reinforce SEL at Home (Tweet this)

Research shows that SEL programs impact students more when they align across school and home.

Provide families with links to resources for apps and activities they can try at home to support what students are learning in school. For example, share the link for "Wisdom: The World of Emotions," an interactive game from Better Kids that helps students develop better coping strategies.


4. Focus on the Benefits of Social-Emotional Learning for Students (Tweet this)

Let families know that SEL has been studied for decades, and the evidence is clear that it benefits students. SEL has been shown to positively impact behavior, well-being, and academics

Paint the bigger picture in which SEL skills aren’t just a way of getting through school—they will help students have a better chance of being employed as adults.


5. Make SEL Resources Accessible in Various Formats (Tweet this)

Families want to receive information and learn in various ways. Communicate through both online formats such as newsletters and websites, as well as in-person by bringing social-emotional learning information to events. Use translation and ASL interpretation to make information accessible to all families.

Get SEL language you can paste into your website and a customizable presentation slide deck in the Building Family Understanding of Social-Emotional Learning toolkit.


Strengthen Partnerships to Bolster Student Growth

When you take the time to strengthen school-family partnerships around SEL, you increase capacity to give students the skills and environments they need to learn and thrive.

Our new Building Family Understanding of Social-Emotional Learning toolkit helps you find the right words to explain social-emotional learning in your community.

It provides advice from Social-Emotional Learning Leader of the Year and founder of SEL Launchpad R. Keeth Matheny and gives you resources you need to communicate with families about social-emotional learning.

Get More Tips and Guidance to Communicate with Families Around Social-Emotional Learning


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