SEL Competencies: Assessing Students

Lora McKillop
Lora McKillop
Elementary school principal; M.A. in Executive Leadership, Gardner-Webb University, NC
Small group of children having fun together making crafts.

What are the SEL Core Competencies?

There are five core competencies for Social-Emotional Learning.

  • Self-Awareness – the ability of students to understand their own thoughts, emotions, and feelings
  • Self-Management – the ability of students to manage their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors across different settings and situations
  • Responsible Decision-Making – the ability of students to make positive choices about their behavior and interactions with others
  • Relationship Skills – the ability of students to establish and maintain healthy relationships with adults and peers
  • Social Awareness – the ability of students to understand others’ perspectives and show empathy for them

Strategies for Student Assessment of SEL Competencies

Educators have become increasingly aware of the social-emotional learning needs of students. Therefore, it is important that teachers work on incorporating SEL lessons and assessments into their classroom. If a child is not aware of their emotions, feelings, and how to handle them in many different settings and situations, they cannot be a successful learner. Implementing SEL will develop well-rounded individuals who can regulate their emotions and grow academically as well as socially and emotionally.


A great way for teachers or counselors to assess self-awareness is to have students complete a character survey. This will give you a good idea of a student’s thoughts about themselves. It will also tell you if a student is struggling to come up with positive ways to describe their character traits as well as if a student even understands these ideas. Then you will begin to know your students better and you can easily group them into three categories: students who are self-aware and have a positive self-image, students who have a negative view of themselves, and students who don’t really understand self-awareness at all. Then you can plan lessons for each group of students based on their needs.

Another way to assess students’ self-awareness is to simply have them do a daily feelings journal. You can read a few each day and this will help you gage whether or not students are being realistic in their responses or whether you need to work on some ways to help your students be more self-aware.


Self-management is a little trickier to assess. It is mostly by observation of students and how they handle themselves when they get upset, frustrated, angry, or sad. However, after you teach students some strategies for dealing with those feelings in an appropriate way, you can meet with them individually or in a small group. During this time, you can role play with them and this gives you an opportunity to see how they would respond and guide them to healthier choices if they are still struggling to make positive choices. You can also have them complete feelings boxes of things they can do when they are feeling a certain way. Twinkl has a great example of this.

Responsible Decision-Making

Responsible decision-making can also be assessed by observing kids. If you are looking for a more concrete way to gage if kids are beginning to understand how to make responsible choices, there are a few. For younger students, you can simply print pictures of kids doing things such as pulling someone’s hair, helping someone get up off of the ground, someone yelling at a friend, someone sharing their snack, etc. Then you can have them fold a piece of paper in half and cut and glue pictures of good choices on top and bad choices on the bottom. This will give you an idea of their level of understanding and then you can discuss their work with them.

For older students, you can use a scenario and have students work together in partner pairs to come up with three different solutions and then work independently to write about the solution they would choose and why. This really gives you a great understanding of student thinking and their level of needed instruction for further development. Here is a great example to use with students.

Relationship Skills

Relationship skills are definitely something that have to be worked on in school, especially at the elementary level. Students often come to school and do not know how to get along with others or how to engage with peers who have different interests. A great way to make children aware of their relationship skills is to have them do a self-check by using a rubric. Two main times that students interact with each other in social situations are lunch and recess. They also have to learn to work with others in the classroom in partners and groups. There are rubrics for this as well. Here are great examples of rubrics for kids to assess their social/relationship skills at lunch and one for recess. Another idea is to co-construct rubrics for all of these areas with your students after you have mini-lessons on what is important.

Social Awareness

It is probably the most difficult to assess social awareness in kids. Reading stories about things that can spark conversations of empathy and have students write about how they would feel if that happened to them is a good way to start. Another way is to have them write about what they could do to help a friend in a specific situation that should cause them to feel empathetic.

For the bigger things in the world around them, you can begin by teaching kids to give back. You can collect items for the local food drive and animal shelter and discuss why these things are needed. Students can then write about why it is important to help others; this makes them aware of the community and the fact that there are needs far bigger than theirs.

It is fulfilling to help students realize their social and emotional strengths. Assisting them to identify their areas of weakness also helps them to grow as individuals who can contribute to a larger group. Not only will this help them to grow socially and emotionally, it will also help them to grow academically because their minds are healthy.

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