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T-SEL Competencies: Social Awareness

The Transformative Social and Emotional Learning (T-SEL) competency of social awareness is the ability to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts.

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 understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts. This includes the capacities and practices to feel compassion for others; understand broader historical, cultural, and social norms for behavior in different settings; and recognize family, school, and community resources and supports. Social awareness includes abilities such as:

  • Leaning into others’ perspectives with curiosity
  • Recognizing and acknowledging the inherent strengths in others
  • Demonstrating empathy and compassion
  • Showing concern for the feelings of others
  • Identifying diverse cultural and social norms, including unjust ones
  • Recognizing situational demands and opportunities
  • Understanding the influences of biased and racist systems and structures on mindset, behavior, and actions
  • Creating and maintaining a just and caring community.

(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 social awareness in young people and adults is integral to: 

Academic engagement and success: Empathetic students are more cooperative in class and develop strong interpersonal skills, such as perspective-taking, to effectively engage with peers and teachers in learning tasks (Spinrad & Eisenberg, 2009). An important element of social awareness is recognizing “potentially competing cultural and race-related messages and expectations” that may impact academic attainment (Jagers, Rivas-Drake, & Borowski, 2018, p. 6). Academic outcomes are also impacted by educators' ability to foster a sense of belonging in classrooms for all students (Walton & Brady, 2017; Osterman, 2000).

Positive climate and culture: Educators’ awareness, understanding, and recognition of how their conscious or unconscious perceptions of students can affect students’ academic functioning, behavioral expectations, and the learning environment’s climate and culture (Greater Good in Education, 2019). Adults and students who can navigate norms in diverse settings, recognize issues of race and class, and understand power dynamics are better equipped to develop safe, constructive, diverse learning environments (Jagers, Rivas-Drake, & Borowski, 2018; Hernández, 2016).

Achieving educational equity: Examining one’s views, assumptions, and perspectives on the intersections between our sense of self and how society views us and those around us is fundamental to creating educational equity for all (Saavedra & Nolan, 2018). Educational equity also requires “a process whereby students and teachers build strong, respectful relationships founded on an appreciation of similarities and differences, learn to critically examine root causes of inequity, and develop collaborative solutions to community and societal problems” (Jagers et al., 2018, p.3).

Student and Community Statements

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

Student Statement: I can take the perspective of and show empathy, compassion, and respect toward people who are similar and different from myself. I can understand reasons people may feel, think, and act the way they do and recognize people’s talents. I can be aware of and directly challenge situations if I see others being treated unfairly.

Community Statement: We can create a culture of deep caring, understanding feelings, kindness, and respect where everyone can grow by listening to and valuing the views and recognizing strengths of all community members. We can be aware of social and historical patterns and raise up the points of view of those who are often treated as less important.


Social Awareness Resource Collection External link opens in new window or tab.


References cited



Early Elementary Late Elementary Middle School High School Adult
3.A.1. Students discuss similarities and differences between themselves and others and different social and cultural groups. 3.A.2. Students identify opinions versus facts about people and groups who are similar and different from themselves. Students name specific strengths and assets of individuals from diverse groups. 3.A.3. Students reflect on how social identities (e.g., cultural, racial, class, gender, linguistic, ability) impact the way people view and interact with others, including those from diverse groups. 3.A.4. Students build and analyze their knowledge of cultural, racial, linguistic, class, gender, ability, and other types of identity and how those identities are shaped by, and perceived, in society. Students can recognize and honor strengths in all people. 3.A.5. Adults acknowledge that the dominant culture of schools and society, among other factors, often puts students from marginalized backgrounds at risk of stress, alienation, and disengagement. Adults recognize the genius of all students, peers, and families; elevate commonalities and connections; and celebrate differences between diverse groups.
3.B.1. Students recognize and name emotions in others using verbal and physical cues. Students describe how others may feel in a variety of situations and show empathy for others’ experiences. 3.B.2. Students name ways people’s identities and experiences may lead to different emotional reactions. Students show curiosity about and strive to take the perspective of others based on what they know about that person or group. Students show empathy and compassion for others. 3.B.3. Students explore differences in emotional expression and communication norms across cultures and communities and how differences can contribute to misunderstandings, but also provide opportunity for growth. Students respond compassionately to others’ experiences and demonstrate care and concern. 3.B.4. Students acknowledge and validate others’ emotions and lived experiences and challenge their own assumptions about others’ feeling states based on their dispositions, expressiveness, race, or cultural backgrounds. Students explore the perspectives of others, whether they agree or not, with curiosity and extend empathy, care, and compassion.
3.B.5. Adults recognize that all teaching and learning is social and emotional. Adults acknowledge that the historical, political, cultural, community, and family experiences that students bring to the learning environment influence the way students express and perceive emotions. Adults show empathy, stay curious, and strive to understand the actions and perspectives of students and other adults.


Early Elementary Late Elementary Middle School High School Adult
3.C.1. Students contribute to creating and maintaining shared agreements that guide their interactions with others and their environment. Students show kindness toward people of all backgrounds and experiences. 3.C.2. Students recognize healthy and safe boundaries in interactions with others in their family, learning community, and beyond. Students identify strategies to build and maintain trust. 3.C.3. Students co-construct all aspects of relationship-centered, just, and caring learning environments, including shared agreements and norms for engagement. Students question the inclusivity of the curriculum. 3.C.4. Students take the lead to actualize the components of a relationship-
centered, caring, inclusive, and just community and engage in practices to co-construct and maintain a learning environment where all students’ voices are heard and honored. Students contribute to diversifying the curriculum.
3.C.5. Adults prioritize diversifying the curriculum, building trusting relationships, and creating an intentional learning community centered on compassion and respect. Adults understand that you have to reach and engage students before you teach them every day and in every subject. Adults support students to take ownership of the learning environment, including creating clear community agreements. Adults work to create brave spaces that use reflective listening and honor both differences and commonalities.
3.D.1. Students describe what it means to be a helpful community member. Students can identify people in their learning environment and family that can support them when they need help. 3.D.2. Students identify appropriate, trusted people to seek support from based on their specific needs and recognize ways they can support others. 3.D.3. Students know when and where to proactively seek resources and supports and begin to understand the interdependence of members of a community. 3.D.4. Students identify and navigate different support networks. Students are advocates and allies for others' needs and recognize the interdependence of community resources.
3.D.5. Adults model and normalize accessing resources and assistance. They mentor students to become engaged, informed, and supportive community members.
3.E.1. Students name groups or communities they are a part of and their qualities. Students demonstrate pride in belonging to their groups or communities and take action to make others feel welcome. 3.E.2. Students demonstrate acceptance and inclusion of those who are different from themselves and value the contributions of the members of a diverse group. 3.E.3. Students reflect on how to build an accepting and inclusive learning community. Students collaborate to identify barriers to belonging for all individuals in their learning community. Students question the norms of groups and systems in healthy ways. 3.E.4. Students demonstrate inclusion by identifying learning community members that are or feel marginalized and centering those voices in order to deepen belonging for all. Students identify and interrupt group dynamics when they impede belonging. 3.E.5. Adults are aware of the ways group and power dynamics can help or impede learning, development, and inclusion. Adults elevate marginalized voices to increase a sense of belonging for all.


Early Elementary Late Elementary Middle School High School Adult
3.F.1. Students describe and demonstrate fairness toward others. Students can describe how rules can benefit some people over others. Students cooperate and play with peers respectfully. 3.F.2. Students can work cooperatively in a diverse group of peers. Students identify their own basic rights and the rights of others. Students begin to understand how bias, prejudice, stereotypes, and racism can play a role in how people act and make decisions. Students can give examples of how these issues can disrupt or harm groups in our society. 3.F.3. Students examine and reflect on how individuals act on their explicit and implicit bias, how some policies can contribute to injustice, and the damaging impact this can have on others and our society. Students explore intent versus impact. 3.F.4. Students are deepening their knowledge about how power and privilege can perpetuate inequities. Students understand the historical and ongoing individual and institutional impacts of bias, racism, misogyny, inequality, and patterns of injustice, including the rights of different groups.
3.F.5. Adults can identify and explain how power and privilege can perpetuate inequities and contribute to marginalization. Adults are aware of the historical and current inequities and the social issues of the community in which they work or live.
3.G.1. Students name ways that they can contribute to or participate in groups and communities and how they can be helpful, fair, compassionate, and respectful to those in other groups or communities. 3.G.2. Students explore the importance and power of community participation and service. Students collaborate with others to identify ways to contribute productively to their learning community. 3.G.3. Students accurately recognize inequities and community needs and collaborate with adults and peers to take action on real world issues in support of a more inclusive, caring, healthy, and just community. 3.G.4. Students identify and understand interconnected inequities in their community, state, and country and engage in civic, community, or service projects that support community empowerment and equity. 3.G.5. Adults model how to contribute to one's community by sharing their passion and the process of identifying and collaboratively addressing inequities.
Questions:   Social Emotional Learning Office |
Last Reviewed: Thursday, February 29, 2024