What are the Differences Between SEL and PBIS


Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) are two widespread approaches shown to improve school climate and a host of student outcomes such as mental health, social skills, drug and alcohol use, and academic achievement.

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) are two widespread approaches shown to improve school climate and a host of student outcomes such as mental health, social skills, drug and alcohol use, and academic achievement. While each approach is effective on its own, research shows that SEL and PBIS are significantly more powerful when used in combination.

To maximize the combined impact of SEL and PBIS, schools need a strong understanding of each approach and a roadmap for integration and measurement of results.

→ Watch our webinar to learn more about combining SEL and PBIS

What is Social Emotional Learning (SEL)?

Social and Emotional Learning (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. SEL is not a single program or teaching method. It involves coordinated strategies across classrooms, schools, homes and communities, and districts.

SEL teaches five core competencies:

Self-awareness: The ability to accurately recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior. The ability to accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations, with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a growth mindset.

Self-management: The ability to successfully regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different situations—effectively managing stress, controlling impulses, and motivating oneself. The ability to set and work toward personal and academic goals.

Social awareness: The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures. The ability to understand social and ethical norms for behavior and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.

Relationship skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. The ability to communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate with others, resist inappropriate social pressure, negotiate conflict constructively, and seek and offer help when needed.

Responsible decision-making: The ability to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms. The realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and a consideration of the well-being of oneself and others.


What is Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports (PBIS)?

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is an implementation framework for maximizing the selection and use of evidence-based prevention and intervention practices along a multi-tiered continuum that supports the academic, social, emotional, and behavioral competence of all students.

Key elements of PBIS include:

Data: What information is needed to improve decision making?

Outcomes: What do students need to do for academic and behavior success?

Practices: What do students experience to support the learning and improvement of their academic and behavior success, e.g., teaching, prompting, and recognizing expected social behaviors?

Systems: What do educators experience to support their use of evidence-based academic and behavior practices, e.g., school leadership teams, data-based decision making, continuous professional development and coaching?


Multi-tiered continuum:

The multi-tiered continuum is comprised of carefully selected, evidence-based practices at three different levels of support intensity. Specific practices are matched both to the level of support needed, and the local cultural context.

Tier 1: Universal practices are experienced by all students and educators across all settings to establish a predictable, consistent, positive and safe climate.

Tier 2: Targeted practices are designed for groups of students who need more structure, feedback, instruction and support than Tier 1 alone.

Tier 3: Indicated practices are more intense and individualized to meet the challenges of students who need more than Tiers 1 and 2 alone.


How are SEL and PBIS Similar?

SEL and PBIS are both premised on the well-demonstrated, inextricable link between social and emotional development and academic and life success. Both are proactive approaches centered on promoting positive skills and environments rather than punitive or exclusionary discipline. In both approaches teachers are highly valued as the primary change agents for student development. For well-implemented SEL and PBIS programs, student voice and family engagement are also central to success.

How are SEL and PBIS Different?

SEL focuses more on developing lifelong social and emotional competencies while PBIS focuses more on teaching positive behavior choices moment by moment. SEL involves curricula, programming and practices to help students develop specific social and emotional competencies that will guide their decision making and behavior. PBIS involves setting and teaching observable behavioral expectations and acknowledging students for meeting these expectations.

Combined Impact of SEL and PBIS

Combining SEL and PBIS yields a solution that maximizes the benefits of both approaches. Through PBIS students understand behavior expectations and through SEL students develop the social and emotional competencies needed to meet these behavioral expectations. In combination SEL and PBIS help students gain the social, emotional and behavioral skills for academic and life success.

For more information about SEL and PBIS, view our webinar, “The Perfect Marriage: Integrating PBIS and SEL Measures.”