What’s Social and Emotional Learning Got to Do with Your Product? More than You May Think!

There seems to be a constant stream of new buzzwords in the education arena. Every couple of years, schools and districts tend to jump on the “new greatest thing” that promises to increase academic outcomes and bring about needed change. This dynamic can create a real challenge for education vendors and how they position their products to schools.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is one trend that doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon. Ten years ago, SEL seemed to be just another buzzword or passing trend. Yet SEL not only remains a strong presence in schools today, but it has gained attention nationally in conversations around ESSA’s broader definition of student success and the law's new required “nonacademic” indicator of school quality/student success as part of states' newly designed accountability systems.

What is SEL?

SEL is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Much longitudinal research has shown that SEL contributes to improved academic outcomes, including higher GPAs, increased graduation rates, better attendance, improved college and career readiness, and fewer behavioral incidents.

SEL thought-leader, The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), has defined five widely-accepted SEL core competencies that research has proven to promote improved academic outcomes. They are: 

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship skills
  • Responsible decision-making skills

Research also shows that each of these skills can be taught within classroom or school settings. 

SEL in Schools

SEL as a formal practice in schools started back in the 1960s. Researchers, policy-makers, and organizations have done extensive work over the past decades to help schools create effective ways to assess and teach students’ social and emotional skills. Today, all 50 states are incorporating SEL in their schools in some capacity.

Typical SEL instruction may include an assessment component, an instructional component, and/or professional development for educators. SEL can be part of a whole-school initiative and can also be taught within class, small group, or individual settings. There are many ways to teach SEL, including:

  • through core instruction
  • as an intervention
  • to help students become college and career ready
  • within an MTSS framework
  • to support anti-bullying campaigns
  • as a way to facilitate parental engagement and support
  • to promote Safe and Supportive Schools initiatives

SEL Funding Opportunities 

Funding for SEL initiatives can come from a variety of sources, including state or local governments, federal sources (i.e. Title I-IV, 21st Century Community Schools Program), and foundations. The types of available funding can depend on the program’s or product’s characteristics. Education vendors and educators looking for SEL funding should consider whether an alignment can be made to one or more of the following: MTSS, social skills instruction, a healthy school climate and culture, safe and supportive schools, positive youth development, bullying prevention and anti-bullying campaigns, character education, conflict resolution, and/or college and career readiness.

Opportunities in the SEL Market for Education Vendors

As you can see, there are many ways schools are incorporating SEL to better support the needs of their students. This creates an opportunity for education vendors of all types to help schools support their SEL framework. Consider ways your products can help develop students’ social and emotional skills. Here are three examples to help you get started: 

Example 1: Your company sells access to online ebooks. You typically direct your marketing efforts to school libraries, curriculum and instructional staff, and technology staff. Yet ebooks that teach or reinforce social and emotional skills align well within an SEL framework ─especially if the ebooks align to and can support an existing program lacking in such a resource. 

Example 2: Your company provides classroom furniture products to schools – e.g. desks, tables, and chairs. You typically pitch to facilities managers, technology departments, and operations directors. Yet by positioning your products in a way that supports collaborative learning, communication, organizational skills, teamwork, etc., you can tap into an expanded audience which includes SEL.

Example 3: Your company sells a conflict resolution app. Your messaging and marketing strategy is based on aligning the product within an anti-bullying framework. Yet your product can also support an SEL framework: research shows that students with self-management skills and higher levels of confidence are less likely to engage in or be victims of bullying.


SEL appears to be a lasting and sustainable component of schools’ efforts to promote academic success. By defining ways your products support SEL, you can vastly expand your potential market.


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About the Author

Christine De Baca is a Researcher and Account Executive at Spyre Marketing. Christine has a Master's degree in Social Sciences from the University of Colorado, Denver and has been supporting education companies for nearly 10 years. Christine's experience includes: helping schools improve their social and emotional learning programs; the creation, validation, and programming of K-12 assessments and reporting tools; university-led and peer-reviewed longitudinal research; and most recently, working with Spyre Marketing's clients to support their marketing needs. Through her experience working with districts, schools, and educators, Christine has obtained valuable insight into how education companies can best position their services to meet their clients' needs. Reach Christine at christine.d@spyremarketing.com

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