The whys and hows of SEL implementation

SEL implementation can do wonders for students and educators alike--here's how to get started

CASEL, The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, defines social and emotional learning (SEL) as the “process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions.”

SEL implementation can be the underpinning of every action a principal or classroom teacher makes about their campus, classroom, or environment for students.

According to Jeff Goelitz, Director of Education at HeartMath Institute, during a recent edWebinar, SEL affects everything from systems and structure to climate, culture, and academics. “Everyone” is interested in SEL and buying into the theory and the models but the how can be a daunting challenge as school districts try to make it a priority. Rachelle H. Finck, Coordinator Social and Emotional Learning for Round Rock ISD, TX, remarks that when SEL programs are planned with intention, they become more of a philosophy than a black binder program.


The ‘why’ of SEL implementation

The January 2011 issue of Child Development magazine published a meta-analysis of 213 studies of school-based SEL programs highlighting that students involved in SEL programs showed statistically significant improvements in academic performance, attitudes, and behaviors. The NEA calls anxiety an epidemic amongst students where 1 out of 4 students struggle with anxiety and 1 out of 5 students struggle with depression.

This epidemic is so prevalent that as teachers and leaders, districts need to educate the whole child with SEL skills such as self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness. The most effective method for teaching students these skills is by embedding an SEL curriculum into academic content using best practices and proven teaching strategies.


The ‘how’ of SEL implementation

District administrators and school student health professionals are having concurrent conversations around SEL. It is vital for these two groups to work together to understand both the academic and mental health sides of SEL programming to determine how best to support how students learn, absorb information and increase performance. When districts make SEL a priority, they focus on what social-emotional looks like and incorporate it in the district vision, mission and core values.

As every campus or school building operates differently and has needs specific to their school community, Finck highly recommends creating a common language, establishing a team of stakeholders and developing a set of core SEL values and beliefs. No matter what curriculum campuses are using there is value in having principals talk to other principals, and teachers talk to other teachers. The next step, creating an SEL road map, warns Finck, should not be a mandated or top-down approach. It should be inclusive and very grassroots, building on existing strengths at the same time gathering needs and pain points.

In Round Rock ISD, when the SEL team rewrote their student climate survey, they received valuable data as to why students were anxious about missing school. The team then used this data point to develop actions items for their SEL road map.

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