Understanding Social and Emotional Learning

SEL describes the connections, relationships, skills, attitudes and feelings that help learners succeed in school, work and life. Social and Emotional Learning frames identity, languages and culture as enhancing learners’ ways of knowing, understanding, and dealing effectively with daily tasks and challenges. Therefore, SEL is most effective when it is part of everyday classroom life.

Social and Emotional Learning resource collections

The learning support information on this page relates to the Ata and Oho resource collections.

View SEL resource collections View the Ata resource collection View the Oho resource collection

Online learning module - Exploring Ata and Oho

Visit Exploring Ata and Oho to access this module

Exploring Ata and Oho is a self-directed online learning module that is designed to support kaiako and leaders with deepening their understanding of how to successfully use the Ata and Oho resources.

This module will take you about 30 minutes to complete and is aimed at kaiako working with ākonga in years 4-10, however everyone is welcome to participate as these resources are adaptable across contexts and levels.

Exploring Ata and Oho can be used to:

  • support quality teaching of social emotional learning (SEL) using the key competencies: Relating to others, and Managing self
  • continue to become familiar with the Understand, Know, Do progressions framework from Te Mātaiaho | the refreshed NZ curriculum
  • connect with the te ao tangata | social sciences learning area including Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories
  • learn skills to help ākonga realise their potential through mana enhancing, socially located and culturally sustaining activities
  • build understanding of how to adapt Ata and Oho to work for all ākonga in a range of contexts.

Before you start

Before using these resources for the first time, we recommend reviewing and understanding the content to assess how to use it safely in your learning environment. Then, add or remove cards as you see fit and choose activities that will work best for you and your ākonga. Move on to more challenging topics or activities within the set when it feels right.

Support structures

Young people face many experiences, challenges and opportunities as they navigate the transition through childhood to adulthood. Emotional and psychological patterns are established through this time. A supportive environment is integral to using these resources and will ensure learning experiences allow all learners to grow. These support structures exist at all levels of the learning environment — they are provided by alignment and guidance from leadership, through professional learning and development, iwi engagement, whānau involvement, community connections, and shared values in the place of learning. These relationships matter.

Creating a safe space to use these resources

Using this resource requires a culture of care and warmth that respects and reflects the diversity of every classroom, including the languages, values, beliefs, and cultural capital of ākonga in their place of learning. Positive classroom culture places importance on individual and collective well-being, reflects school values, and is guided by dialogue with your wider learning community.

The elements of Social & Emotional Learning

The 10 elements are essential aspects of Social and Emotional Learning — in Aotearoa, New Zealand — that help learners think for themselves, feel like they belong and connect with empathy.

The five elements of Relating to others

He tūrangawaewae
Connection to place

He tirohanga whānui
Perspective taking

He hononga ki te hapori
Community connection

He āroa, he kanorau
Social awareness and diversity

Tū tangata
People of inspiration

The key competency Relating to others, is about establishing, negotiating, and re-negotiating learning relationships and educationally powerful connections with people and places (the living and non-living world). This competency is about manaakitanga, whanaungatanga and mahi ngātahi. It is about valuing and recognising who stood before, who stands here now and who is yet to be. How we engage with each other has a mutual impact.

What strategies, skills and values can I contribute to upholding mana, creating power-sharing and respectful partnerships, and engaging in learning relationships?

The five elements of Managing self

He tuakiri, he reo, he tikanga, he mātāpono
Identities, languages, cultures and values

Mahi tahi

He mauri, he wero
Understanding emotions and meeting challenges

He ihumanea, he toa
Intuition and bravery

Mana motuhake

The key competency Managing self, is about developing and growing a sense of self. It is about decision-making and acting purposefully as a learner by using skills, strategies and knowledge towards mana motuhake. Mana motuhake comes from, through and with manaakitanga — a learner never stands alone. Therefore, this competency is about the learner’s capabilities as part of a whānau (with whakapapa), their wide and diverse community, and te taiao, the natural world.

What are the decisions I can make as a learner, and what impact will those decisions have on me and, therefore, my people and my place?


The critical importance of social and emotional learning

Research shows that Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) improves achievement and increases prosocial behaviours (such as kindness, sharing and empathy), improves learner attitudes toward school, reduces depression and stress among learners, and improves learners’ academic performance. When a learner knows that their feelings will be heard and respected, it’ll be easier for them to learn.

Culturally responsive practice

Culturally responsive teaching practice requires a reciprocal approach negotiated with local communities based on mutual learning and respect for tikanga, customs, traditions and ways of being that matter to each learner. When teachers introduce content and contexts that include cultural perspectives, they are more likely to provide an environment that will allow learners to connect and learn. This practice will enable teachers to better understand all learners’ languages, identities, cultures and values and, therefore, support decision-making for effective teaching design and teaching practices. 

Inclusive practice

Children and young people learn best when they feel accepted and connected, enjoy positive relationships with friends and teachers, and are active, visible members of their learning community.

The Ata and Oho resource collections put inclusion at the heart of all learning. Inclusive teaching encourages models and explores inquiry, curiosity, fairness, social justice, honesty, responsibility and acting ethically. It fosters character qualities in our tamariki of joy, happiness, love, excitement and humility.

Common questions

What are the Elements, and how were they made?

There are 10 elements: Five that expand on the Relating to others key competency and five for the Managing self key competency. We created the elements using leading research, both here in Aotearoa New Zealand and internationally, through collaborating with kaiako, whānau and ākonga, school leaders and experts.

What is Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)?

SEL describes the connections, relationships, skills, attitudes and feelings that help learners succeed in school, work and life. Social and Emotional Learning frames identity, languages and culture as enhancing learners’ ways of knowing, understanding, and dealing effectively with daily tasks and challenges. Therefore, SEL is most effective when it is part of everyday classroom life.

How did we get here?

The evidence to support social and emotional learning theories comes from neuroscience, psychology, education and lived experiences. To understand where SEL sits within the context of Aotearoa New Zealand, we started by exploring two of the key competencies in The New Zealand Curriculum.

Why would I use these resources?

This collection of activities prepare ākonga to be able to participate in learning experiences; they also increase their capacity to learn.

How does this fit?

While these resources can be used as focused activities, they are intended to be integrated into key areas of learning across the curriculum. So be creative with the resources and make them work for you.

Why is this important?

Ākonga learn best in positive learning environments that nurture their languages, identities, cultures, social, emotional and cognitive skills. Each learner has unlimited potential and is inherently capable of achieving success — this is enabled by creating the right environment. Learners do better when they feel like they belong, are connected and are allowed to be themselves.

Is there an order that I should use the resources?

There is no particular order to the activities. However, some activities have recommended prerequisites — these are not essential as long as the right level of introduction and context is provided to ākonga before you begin.

Where to from here?

We have provided recommendations for follow-up activities in the next steps section of the support materials.

Support and advice

Learning experiences dealing with mental health and wellbeing should be developed and implemented sensitively. If concerns or issues arise, be guided by your kura or school’s policies on wellbeing. If you need support or advice, you can talk to those around you, talk to other teachers, colleagues or principals, or contact the Ministry of Education.