SEL vs EdTech

Last year I waved goodbye to the edtech marketplace. It was a tough decision, partly because I absolutely love solving problems using technology as a lever and partly because I “grew up”, professionally speaking, in edtech.

Leaving the industry wasn’t just hard, it was also risky. From 2004 through 2016, I launched 67 products from over 30 companies. I’ve raised 3 children on edtech income and used edtech budgets to fuel the community initiatives for which I am the most proud of.

Leaving was emo.  I loved 99 out of every 100 minutes as a product developer. I learned and grew by observing the mindsets of “early adopter” educators and applying them to my own clients’ product development capabilities.

Early on I saw that the best educational technology comes from companies that activate and listen to educators. The worst edtech comes from companies that are driven by investors and boards. Years of experience has taught me that most edtech companies embody both of these characteristics at different points in their lifespan.

So after 13 years of great progress and unlikely wins, I’d had it up to my ears. First, there was the chronic overselling of “solutions” that lacked the proper training and implementation required for success. Then there was the yearly drama of launching software and hardware that wasn’t quite ready, prompting dishonest marketing and the use of shadowy distribution schemes to make it to market. But the main reason I left is because edtech simply isn’t the magic wand it is promoted to be.

What is?

Of course there is no “one thing.” But today, my work in K12 Education focuses heavily on school climate and social emotional learning. If there is anything I learned from studying achievement gains and gaps, it is that a child who does not have their needs met is a child who is learning-impaired. Free and reduced lunch doesn’t cut it. We must reach our children’s hearts and invest in their mental health.

This, in short, is why I chose social emotional learning. It isn’t like I am advocating for one versus the other. Educational technology is an obvious necessity. But if there ever were a choice between the two, the answer is obvious.

A Fundamental Change

SEL represents a fundamental change is taking place in education. It isn’t a program, a curriculum, or new technology. No one owns or controls it. And once it takes hold, no one can stop it. It’s a cultural transformation that bears many names and slogans: School Climate. Social Emotional Learning. Youth Empowerment. Character Education. Doing What’s Right.

After spending much of the last year on the road with a professional film crew, documenting and dreaming, I believe that SEL has the greatest potential of all trends in education – the power to reshape and heal our societies.

I needn’t say much. Go to for samples.

What is SEL?

Here’s a little something from CASEL: The 5 Competencies of Social Emotional Learning:


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.”

• Identifying emotions
• Accurate self-perception
• Recognizing strengths
• Self-confidence
• Self-efficacy


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.

• Impulse control
• Stress management
• Self-discipline
• Self-motivation
• Goal-setting
• Organizational skills

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.

• Perspective-taking
• Empathy
• Appreciating diversity
• Respect for others

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.

• Communication
• Social engagement
• Relationship-building
• Teamwork

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.

• Identifying problems
• Analyzing situations
• Solving problems
• Evaluating
• Reflecting
• Ethical responsibility

PS – In case you’ve caught the buzz and are thinking that edtech and SEL are going to be interchangeable in the future, please think again. Foundational edtech will aid in SEL (for example 7 Mindsets has the world’s largest online SEL content portal, which is an edtech enablement), but no edtech company (or publishing company) will meet challenge of social emotional learning fully.