Social and emotional learning is the process of discovering one’s emotions and how to manage them. Some may think that SEL stops there, but it most certainly does not. SEL encompasses the ability to cope with emotional situations, develop personal identities that are healthy and unique, create goals for personal growth and achievement, display empathy for others, and so much more. The need for social and emotional learning is an ongoing process that is applicable for students of all ages, but it seems that the biggest need of SEL is greatest for students entering middle school.

Differences Between Middle School Classrooms and Elementary School Classrooms

Social and emotional learning is important at all levels of a child’s education; however, the elements surrounding growth and development around the age of puberty (i.e. middle school) require a greater need for social and emotional learning. Social and emotional learning has five elements: self-awareness, self-management, decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness. Although each of these skills are important for all grade levels, the emergence of a student’s keen awareness of one’s appearance and social standing make middle school’s need for SEL much more crucial.

In elementary school, social and emotional learning is highly important to the success and future potential of success for students. Students at this age need to be taught about their emotions, how to manage them, and how to be empathetic with others as situations deem it necessary. Properly implementing SEL components can help elementary students behave appropriately in school and get along well with others. Elementary school provides somewhat of a basic foundation for social and emotional competencies.

In middle school, there is a shift that takes place. By the time students reach middle school, a plethora of influences begin to “step on the scene.” Puberty, social media, parental pressure, and peer pressure are just some of the issues that middle school students face on a daily basis. Middle school students begin to develop their own beliefs and ideas, place themselves into social cliques, and long for connection or meaning with others. Because of this, the need for continued SEL is extremely important.

Although there are a multitude of benefits to SEL in middle school, one of the most important benefits that affects all of the others is self-awareness. Students learn to recognize their own strengths and weaknesses in order to develop a healthy self-image and grow self-confidence. When students understand their self-awareness, they can more easily understand and cooperate with others, make rational decisions, and cope with stressful situations more efficiently.

Adding Social-Emotional Learning Components to Middle School Classrooms


Self-awareness teaches students to recognize their emotions and feelings. This includes understanding how their emotions impact their responses in social situations. Additionally, self-awareness is the ability to identify one’s strengths and weaknesses to develop a positive and healthy self-image. As mentioned before, self-awareness directly impacts the other components of social and emotional learning. When a student has proper self-awareness, they can effectively evaluate their emotions and feelings in social situations and respond accordingly. They have a better understanding of their place in the “social arena.” Self-awareness implies a healthy level of self-confidence which positively affects a student’s response to peer pressure and other outside influences.


Self-management is similar to self-awareness in that both require the identification of one’s emotions and feelings; however, self-management requires the regulation of emotions in order to react appropriately and control stress levels. Middle school students are notorious for reacting on impulse. They have sudden outbursts of emotion, act without thought of consequence, speak before they think, and allow the ideas of others to influence their behavior. Their emotional instabilities supersede rationality. Adequate implementation of self-management skills helps students understand how to avoid these negative behaviors and why it is important to do so. As students grow in their abilities to manage their emotions and behaviors, it is important to note that self-management helps students develop goals for achievement in both school and into adulthood.


Decision-making is the ability to determine the best course of action in a situation. Decision making also requires the evaluation of potential outcomes and/or consequences for particular situations. The decisions that students make in middle school can affect how they are perceived by others (either positively or negatively) and can determine the reputation that proceeds them. In addition, proper decision-making helps improve behavior, academic performance, and social cooperation among middle school students.

Relationship Skills

Relationship skills are the ability to get along with others, establish appropriate relationships with others that are healthy and beneficial, and communicate effectively with teachers, parents, and peers. Students of all ages desire relationships with others, but this desire may be even greater for students in middle school; thus, the need for maneuvering relationships in a healthy manner is more crucial. Relationship skills are important to middle school students in a variety of ways. First, students can more effectively make and keep friends. Second, students can learn to listen to the ideas of others and communicate their own ideas. Third, students learn to work well with others by displaying openness and can more easily avoid unnecessary conflict.

Social Awareness

Social awareness skills teach students empathy and understanding of others. Empathy is the ability to understand how others feel and the emotions they may be dealing with. Middle school students (and students of all ages for that matter) come from different backgrounds, ethnicities, and have experienced unique social situations. In order to promote healthy relationships and cooperation with others, students must show understanding of others. Middle school is difficult enough due to the constant changes (both physically and emotionally) thus the need for social awareness is heightened. Social awareness teaches students to show acceptance and kindness in the face of diversity.