Every educator saw firsthand the devastating effects of the pandemic as their students became more isolated, withdrawn, and disengaged once they were removed from the classroom and the human connection it provides. As districts frantically searched for a solution, many turned toward social emotional learning, or SEL, to address the unique traumas they now saw within their schools. While SEL is an unquestionably welcomed addition to any core curriculum, there is even greater potential to couple these developmental concepts with similar principles of career guidance to cultivate a safe, healthy, and equitable environment for students to flourish within during their daily life at school.

Evidence-Based Benefits of SEL

The leading authority on SEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), defines this process as “an integral part of education and human development” that can help every person thrive both personally and academically. Such statements are backed by considerable evidence to prove SEL’s efficacy in improving both the personal and academic lives of students and their local communities.

A 2015 study published by the Cambridge University Press analyzed the benefit-cost analysis of SEL programming and concluded that for every $1 spent, there was a realized return of $11. This study, along with countless others, has proved that investing in social emotional learning is worthwhile from both an economic and humanitarian standpoint.

Set Curriculum Standards

At this time, there are no standards set at the federal level for districts to follow when it comes to SEL, though most states have instituted some form of regulation around this process for their districts to follow. Therefore, administrators must clearly understand what requirements exist in their own state and what resources are being offered to ensure that these standards are being met consistently and accurately.

Areas without predetermined guidelines still have an incredible opportunity to cultivate a highly successful social emotional learning program by leveraging exemplary resources that have been tried and tested among students for decades.

Establish Goals for Your Program

Most educators familiar with implementing SEL have utilized the CASEL 5 as a well-established reference point to create district requirements and influence their teachings in the classroom. The CASEL 5 is a high-level framework that describes five core areas for students to discover as they develop vital soft skills from preschool through 12th grade. These five areas consist of:

  1. Self-management
  2. Self-awareness
  3. Social awareness
  4. Responsible decision-making
  5. Relationship skills

The Connection Between Career Guidance & SEL

In addition to the CASEL 5, the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) maintains a list of 36 standards that detail specific mindsets and behaviors for student success. ASCA’s standards are a cumulative representation of what many leading organizations like the Career Readiness Partner Council, the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), CASEL, and more have determined to be the most influential factors in achieving academic success, college, and career readiness and social emotional development. This visual gives a detailed description of each standard to help guide curriculum directors and administrators in setting well-defined goals for their program:

ASCA’s standards are distinct as they address multiple objectives of career planning and development programs in conjunction with core social emotional learning competencies. The recent prioritization of social emotional learning has unfortunately led many school leaders to narrow their efforts a bit too tightly on this topic alone without considering the benefits of broadening their curriculum to satisfy multiple requirements at the same time.

The simultaneous implementation of SEL, along with college and career planning, allows counselors to better support student achievement across numerous key indicators for success, including increasing motivation to stay in school, reducing academic stress, identifying the importance of academic opportunities, and student confidence in the classroom. Cross-functional programming in schools is not only more efficient for educators but also highly practical for students as modern employers are actively searching for many of the skills that social emotional learning programs are designed to develop, such as responsible decision-making, setting and achieving positive goals, building healthy relationships with others, and more.

“We also are seeing that jobs that require SEL are far outpacing the growth of other job markets… Major companies are catching on to this and we see them [conducting] employee training around emotional intelligence and looking for candidates that demonstrate these SEL skills.”

– Daniel Gutierrez, Vera W. Bradley Associate Professor of Education at William & Mary


How to Embed These Strategies into Your Curriculum

Despite the recommended ratio of 250 students to 1 counselor, the national average as of the 2020-21 academic year stands at 415-to-1. The reality of this situation is that counselors have a severely limited amount of time to work with students to solidify SEL and career planning competencies.

Addressing these two areas together is an excellent start at increasing efficiencies, but schools must also push the envelope beyond the occasional career guidance workshop if they truly hope to begin engaging students in these lessons. Counselors must work with other teachers in their district to facilitate meaningful, thought-provoking conversations at more regular intervals, such as during core classes or advisory sessions.

Use Age-Appropriate Exercises

It is highly encouraged for educators to include both SEL and college and career readiness practices across all grade levels. As counselors begin to outline specific week-by-week lesson plans, it is essential to consider how these activities can be modified to meet their student’s needs and capabilities across various age ranges.

For elementary students, begin with introducing fundamental concepts in a fun way that will spark their natural curiosity, like this engaging lesson plan on goal-setting that encourages the development of several critical skills such as problem-solving, self-awareness, confidence, and perseverance:


As students continue to expand their knowledge base, educators can begin to increase the complexity of the activities within their curriculum. Older students preparing for life after high school need to understand how to properly plan for their future by practicing decision-making skills like the ones included in this interactive exercise:


Grow Your Resources

We hope this article has provided a strong starting point for creating or enhancing your district’s social emotional learning and college and career readiness program. The Kuder team also offers a variety of extra digital assets explicitly designed to help school counselors and administrators. Reach out to us for more information about how Kuder solutions can help your district meet important goals and curriculum requirements.