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T-SEL Competencies: Responsible Decision-Making

The Transformative Social and Emotional Learning (T-SEL) competency of responsible decision-making is the ability to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations.

The Competencies, developed for voluntary use, complement the California Transformative Social and Emotional Learning Conditions for Thriving. For background on the development of these competencies and guidance on their purpose and use, please visit the T-SEL Competencies and Conditions for Thriving web page.



Description of the competency, key ideas, and examples.

The abilities to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations. This includes the capacities to consider ethical standards and safety concerns, and to evaluate the benefits and consequences of various actions for personal, social, and collective well-being. Responsible decision-making includes abilities such as:

  • Demonstrating curiosity and open-mindedness
  • Demonstrating honesty, integrity, and fairness
  • Learning how to make a reasoned judgment after analyzing information, data, and facts
  • Identifying solutions for personal and social problems
  • Anticipating and evaluating the consequences of one’s actions
  • Recognizing how critical thinking skills are useful both inside and outside of school
  • Reflecting on one’s role to promote personal, family, and community well-being 
  • Considering personal and collective safety concerns
  • Evaluating personal, interpersonal, community, and institutional impacts

(Adapted from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning 2020 External link opens in new window or tab. )


Research-based reasons for developing this competency.

Developing responsible decision-making skills in students and adults is integral to:

Navigating ethical decisions: When students have a strong internalized moral identity—how important being a good person is to their sense of self—they are more motivated to behave in prosocial ways, even when they are not recognized for it, and less likely to be morally disengaged (Winterich et al, 2013).

Acting responsibly across diverse settings to foster personal and collective well-being: Young people and adults develop the capacity “to engage in initiatives and to co-create structures and processes that are inclusive, equitable, and mutually supportive” (Jagers Rivas-Drake, & Borowski, 2018, p 7). Participating in civic life, working to advance justice for all people, and being of service to one’s community require a well-developed sense of social responsibility (Atwell, et al. 2021; Learning for Justice, 2018).

Critical thinking skills and reasoning ability: Evaluating and judging social situations requires young people and adults to balance the different domains of social knowledge, distinguishing between issues that are moral and aspects that include other factors such as social and cultural conventions, personal values, and safety (Smetana, 2013).

Student and Community Statements

“I Can" and "We Can” short statements about the competency.

Student Statement: I can demonstrate responsibility by identifying consequences of my actions, finding solutions to problems, and making choices that will protect the safety and well-being of myself and others.

Community Statement: We can make ethical decisions and behave responsibly by taking into account each community member’s diversity and experiences. We can make decisions that promote collective well-being and safety by considering all perspectives, possible solutions, and consequences.


Responsible Decision-Making Resource Collection External link opens in new window or tab.


References cited



Early Elementary Late Elementary Middle School High School Adult
5.A.1. Students express curiosity and openness to new people and situations. Students are interested in new experiences. 5.A.2. Students understand the importance of curiosity and practice staying open minded when meeting diverse groups of people or in new situations. 5.A.3. Students intentionally practice curiosity and approach diverse groups with open-mindedness. Students seek out new experiences from which they can grow. 5.A.4. Students deepen their curiosity and practice an inquiry stance in all social situations. Students willingly challenge themselves to participate in new learning experiences beyond their comfort zone. 5.A.5. Adults model being curious about others, including their experiences and points of view. Adults share ways in which they have grown and are currently growing through their interactions with others.
5.B.1. Students demonstrate honesty and fairness and can explain the importance of both to relationships. Students explore caring and ethical actions on behalf of our planet. 5.B.2. Students demonstrate honesty and integrity in their interactions with others and insist on fairness from peers and adults in all contexts. Students begin to understand and explore the consequences of unethical actions to our planet. 5.B.3. Students understand the concepts and importance of ethics and can apply them in their personal and learning contexts. Students understand their role and others’ roles in the ethical use of our planet's resources. 5.B.4. Students apply the concepts of honesty, integrity, justice, and fairness by calling out injustices and inequalities. Students actively engage in environmental justice causes both at school and in their community. 5.B.5. Adults act as models of fairness, honesty, and integrity and hold their students to similar high standards. Adults model ways to promote environmental equity and justice.
5.C.1. Students describe personal and social problems and can name possible solutions with support. 5.C.2. Students generate multiple feasible solutions for personal and social problems and identify when help is needed to solve a problem. 5.C.3. Students apply an improvement-
orientation and perspective to personal and social problems and can facilitate problem-solving conversations among peers.
5.C.4. Students can assess, analyze, and develop a problem statement to personal, social, or political issues impacting their community. Students can approach such problems with a collaborative
5.C.5. Adults responsibly solve personal and social problems. Adults model ways to explore personal, social, and political issues; gather information; and propose (and, if possible, test) improvement strategies.


Early Elementary Late Elementary Middle School High School Adult
5.D.1. Students understand why safety rules exist. Students can describe physically unsafe behaviors and choices in their learning and home environments. Students can demonstrate safe behavior. 5.D.1. Students understand physical and emotional safety and demonstrate safe choices in the learning environment. Students actively consider the physical and emotional safety of others. Students explore how safety can be tied to identity. 5.D.3. Students differentiate and honor their own and others’ physical, emotional, and intellectual safety and know how identity impacts safety. Students adhere to learning environment safety standards and increasingly assess risk for themselves. 5.D.4. Students can accurately identify physical, intellectual, emotional, and social safety considerations for themselves and for others based on identity and social factors in real-world scenarios. Students accurately discern the difference between risky and safe behaviors and actions. 5.D.5. Adults model honoring the emotional, intellectual, and physical safety of themselves and others by creating a safe and brave learning environment. Adults recognize that safety is a relative concept and is influenced by identity and social factors.
5.E.1. Students identify ways that they can help and why it is important to be a helper at home, at school, and in other settings. Students begin to explore the concept of citizenship and what it means to be a good citizen or participant in a democracy. 5.E.2. Students develop an understanding of
the common good and how it contributes to collective well-being. Students explore the benefits and responsibilities of democratic citizenship.
5.E.3. Students explore their own role as a caring citizen and resident and their social responsibility to participate in our democracy to advance collective well-being. Students reflect on the role of civic leaders and elected representatives.
5.E.4. Students recognize their role as civic-minded members of a democratic society. Students engage in civil discourse about current events and engage in advocacy and actions that promote care and community well-being. 5.E.5. Adults embody being a caring and responsible citizen and resident. Adults advocate for student and community well-being and a more equitable society through civic engagement and active participation in our democracy.


Early Elementary Late Elementary Middle School High School Adult
5.F.1. Students can explain and begin to practice stop, think, act strategies. 5.F.2. Students know and regularly practice decision-making strategies and use critical thinking to identify choices that result in the best outcomes for all involved. 5.F.3. Students deepen their understanding of critical thinking and how to use discernment in making judgements and decisions. Students apply these skills with media messages and online sources. 5.F.4. Students demonstrate higher-order thinking skills (e.g., critical thinking, cognitive flexibility, analysis, integration) and show discernment, use of facts, and thoughtfulness in their decision-making. Students apply critical thinking in all aspects of their life and relationships, including interactions online.
5.F.5. Adults model the process of using data and facts to make decisions. Adults share how they gather data, synthesize, apply, and reflect on it in new situations to make informed decisions.
5.G.1. Students can name the likely consequences of their actions with support. Students explore cause and effect and how choices can have impacts far beyond themselves. 5.G.2. Students anticipate consequences of their own and other’s actions with increasing accuracy. Students identify the impact of different activities and opportunities on themselves, their relationships, and learning contexts. 5.G.3. Students anticipate the most likely consequences of their own and others’ actions. Students identify the impacts of choices on their short- or longer-term goals and on their wider community, country, and the planet.
5.G.4. Students reliably and proactively anticipate the consequences of their actions. Students demonstrate complex understanding of the interconnected impacts of one’s choices and demonstrate accountability for their actions. 5.G.5. Adults predict how they may feel and respond in various situations and share how they evaluate the impact of these choices on others. Adults understand and share how their own words, thoughts, and actions have impacted themselves and others in a variety of contexts.
Questions:   Social Emotional Learning Office |
Last Reviewed: Thursday, February 29, 2024
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