The global pandemic and sudden lack of face-to-face contact between teachers and students has accelerated interest in social-emotional learning (SEL). With greater numbers of people thinking about SEL, more confusion has emerged: How should we conceptualize SEL? Which constructs should be included? We propose a conceptualization of SEL that is anchored in the fundamental psychological needs of students. First, we describe these psychological needs—social connectedness, motivation, and self-regulation—that are prerequisites for optimizing student outcomes. Then, we outline several benefits that we hope this conceptualization offers to researchers and practitioners: clarity with respect to what SEL is and is not, an evaluative tool to help schools select SEL models and curricula, and practical guidance for educators helping students.