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Why you need to become a social-emotional learning specialist (SEL)

Morgan HugoboomNovember 16, 2022

Why you need to become a social-emotional learning specialist (SEL)

Are you interested in making a difference not in just one classroom, but many? Do you enjoy working with a dynamic variety of partners like teachers, administrators, and parents? Are you passionate about helping students become more resilient, motivated, and secure in themselves long after they leave the classroom?

If so, then a career as a social-emotional learning specialist might be the right choice for you. From helping students achieve academic success to developing school-wide programs that create a more positive learning experience, here are some reasons why you might want to become a social-emotional learning specialist (SEL).

What is a social-emotional learning specialist?

A social-emotional learning specialist is a professional who helps teachers, counselors, and administrators implement a school’s SEL program effectively. Whether the school has followed an SEL program for years or whether they’re adopting one for the first time, it’s the SEL specialist’s job to ensure that the program runs smoothly for all parties involved. 

Some examples of job duties for an SEL specialist include:

  • Help develop, adopt, and track SEL initiatives within a school
  • Collaborate with teachers, guidance counselors, administrators, and other stakeholders
  • Review and analyze data to determine how to allocate resources, which goals or skills to target, and how to modify the SEL program to address challenges
  • Help schools incorporate soft skills (resilience, self-management, problem-solving, conflict resolution) into academic frameworks
  • Report to teachers, principles, parents, and school boards on the SEL program progress
  • Provide additional training and support to teachers as they adopt SEL in their classrooms

4 reasons why you should become an SEL specialist

A social-emotional specialist is a unique member of a school because they work with everyone — from students and teachers to school boards and community partners. The work is dynamic, and engaging, and provides students and educators with a more positive school environment.

Here are a few more reasons why you should become a social-emotional learning specialist.

Help schools move into the next generation of education

Schools are increasingly recognizing the need to provide support to students that goes beyond just academics. Social-emotional learning has been shown to improve academic results in students. Becoming an SEL specialist means that you can play a vital role in developing education for the future, where a more comprehensive and whole-child system of education is the priority.

Empower students and teachers

As a social-emotional learning specialist, you will help schools implement programs that empower students and motivate educators. This is especially critical during a time when students report high rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues — all while teachers are leaving the profession due to burnout and lack of support. 

Social-emotional learning has been shown to enable students to manage their emotions better, develop critical interpersonal skills to connect, and take part in a healthier school climate. This deeper connection to one another and engagement in school also results in higher-quality learning and stronger academic success. 

For teachers, introducing SEL learning fosters a stronger bond with their students. It also gives them the additional support they desperately need and helps to prevent  burnout. In a 2013 survey of over 600 teachers, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) found that 62% of teachers believed the “development of social-emotional skills should be explicitly stated in their state education standards.” Another 82% of teachers surveyed were interested in obtaining additional SEL training.

It’s clear that students need SEL and teachers demand it. Becoming an SEL specialist enables you to make a meaningful impact at all levels of a school.

Create change that lasts long into adulthood

Social-emotional specialists help students develop skills that will benefit them long after they have left the classroom. In becoming an SEL specialist, you’ll empower students in the classroom, into adulthood, and as professionals. 

According to a report by the World Economic Forum, “Six of the identified top ten skills for the future involve social and emotional competence, including complex problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity.” Employers today value the skills taught in social-emotional learning — critical thinking and problem-solving, conflict resolution, self-management, and more. 

Students who’ve learned under a supportive SEL program are more motivated and resilient, and are more likely to seek challenges and opportunities for continued growth. They also develop the skills necessary for healthier relationships, like better social awareness and empathy. 

Work across multiple areas of education

An SEL specialist works in the classroom, out of the classroom, with school administrators, with community partners, and more. The work involves coordinating with multiple stakeholders across various areas of education. Some days might involve working in small-group sessions with students or providing additional professional development for teachers implementing the SEL program. Other days might involve reviewing program data and working with school leadership on how to best allocate resources and navigate the program moving forward.  

Implementing SEL involves multiple parties working in tandem with one another — with the SEL specialist at the center of it all. You should become a social-emotional learning specialist if you’re passionate about education and want to work with a vibrant and dynamic group of people toward a common goal. 

SEL certificates and other ways to become an SEL specialist

The required qualifications for a social-emotional learning specialist vary, though they typically include:

  • Teaching experience (or an undergraduate degree in education)
  • Bachelor’s degree in education, counseling, psychology, social work, or another behavior-based discipline
  • Knowledge of age-appropriate social-emotional development and SEL
  • Experience working in a school setting

A great way to strengthen your social-emotional learning knowledge is through an SEL certification or advanced degree. SEL certification programs are offered online, in person, and through hybrid models. For examples of online SEL certificate programs, check out:

Rutgers University’s Certification in Instruction in Social-Emotional Learning and Character Development 

Drexel University’s Online Certificate in Social Emotional Learning & Behavioral Wellness

We also have an article that can help you find the right SEL certificate program for you.

This is a helpful option for teachers who either want the professional know-how to implement SEL in their classroom or want to pursue a new career as an SEL specialist. An SEL certification is also an important way for other professionals to learn more about social-emotional learning in preparation for a career as an SEL specialist.

A teacher or school professional who is interested in becoming an SEL specialist can also gain valuable experience by advocating for SEL responsibilities in their own schools. If your school already has an SEL program, you can volunteer to assist with implementing the program, tracking progress, or mentoring other teachers and providing professional support.

If your school doesn’t yet have an SEL program, you can either independently implement SEL tools in your classroom or can advocate for a schoolwide SEL program. Your school might not be able to fund a full-time SEL specialist role, but they might be able to offer an additional stipend, funding for some resources, or other support in the creation of a program.

Spearheading the social-emotional learning initiative in your school would offer firsthand experience in the role of an SEL specialist. Not only would the opportunity give you insight into whether or not you’d like to become an SEL specialist, but it would help bolster your portfolio with experience if you did decide to pursue the career.


Social-emotional learning continues to grow in popularity as schools place a higher priority on supporting the whole student. In a 2019 survey of over 700 K-12 principals, more than 80% of respondents felt that it was “very important” to promote SEL.  In another survey of 1,200 teachers in the US, roughly 90% of both elementary and secondary teachers agreed that “promoting SEL would improve students’ academic achievement.”

There are plenty of reasons why you should pursue this important career path and become a social-emotional learning specialist (SEL). Hopefully, the points outlined above help you identify how you can make a difference and what steps you can take toward building a fulfilling career as an integral part of a school campus.

Photo credit: Google Education

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School & District Leadership - Social Emotional Learning

Your toolkit for a successful year

FREE SEL TEMPLATES to lighten your workload and effectively manage your classroom

Download now