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This blogpost is the third of a series exploring the four focus areas for systemic districtwide SEL implementation: (1) building foundational support, (2) strengthening adult SEL competencies and capacity, (3) promoting SEL for students, and (4) practicing continuous improvement. (Follow these links to see the first and second blogposts.)
Key activities for promoting SEL for students
Promoting SEL for all students requires more than a single lesson or professional learning event. Students more deeply internalize SEL when there is systemic coordination of strategies across schools, classrooms, homes, and communities. Below, we provide an overview of four key actions schools and districts can take to ensure consistent opportunities for students to engage in SEL throughout their daily experiences. We also highlight examples of how districts have taken these actions in Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Tulsa Public Schools, and Metro Nashville Public Schools.
1. Adopt and implement PreK–12 SEL standards or guidelines
Similar to academic standards for mathematics, science, or language arts, SEL standards establish clear learning goals and developmentally appropriate benchmarks that articulate what students should know and be able to do related to SEL. These standards can guide the selection of programs and professional learning to help educators intentionally create conditions that foster SEL. Additionally, adopting these kinds of learning goals sends the message that SEL is a district priority and merits instructional focus.
To adopt and implement SEL standards, districts can:
- Review SEL-related frameworks, standards, and learning goals from other content areas and other districts and states. Eighteen states have established K–12 SEL standards; Review these to learn about different approaches that can be adapted for your context;
- Adapt and draft standards based on the district’s vision and needs, ensuring alignment among SEL standards, academic standards, and other priorities;
- Share the SEL standards with important stakeholders such as students, staff, families, and community partners and gather feedback from them; and
- Formally adopt SEL standards as district policy and provide ongoing communication and professional learning that builds district and staff capacity for integrating SEL standards into instruction.
See an example of Cleveland Metropolitan School District's SEL standards, which includes a scope and sequence for skill development across all grade levels.
2. Adopt and implement evidence-based SEL programs and practices
Evidence-based SEL programs are grounded in research, meaning they are scientifically evaluated and shown to produce positive student outcomes. They also support well-accepted principles of child and adolescent development. Adopting an evidence-based program is a key strategy for providing consistent SEL opportunities for all students.
Evidence-based SEL programs can include many different approaches, including: instructional practices that actively engage students and create a positive classroom climate; infusing SEL into academic curriculum; organizational strategies that focus on schoolwide teams, advisories or schedules; and free-standing SEL lessons that directly teach SEL skills.
To adopt and implement high-quality evidence-based SEL programs and practices, districts can:
- Carry out a review of programs currently being implemented in the district to determine how well they are being implemented and the extent to which students are benefitting from them;
- Review nationally available evidence-based programs for how they explicitly address students’ SEL competencies and align with (a) current district programming, (b) the priorities valued by stakeholders and (c) adopted SEL standards or guidelines;
- Provide professional learning to all staff who will implement and support the programs and practices;
- Support schools in engaging families and community partners around programs and practices; and
- Collect and use data to monitor implementation and outcomes.
CASEL offers Program Guides that provide “consumer report” style reviews of evidence-based preschool to high school SEL programs. These ratings also provide a framework for evaluating the quality of social and emotional programs, as well as best-practice guidelines for selecting and implementing SEL programs.
3. Develop and strengthen family and community partnerships
It is important to enhance students’ SEL at school, at home, and in the community. All social interactions are learning experiences, and many of a young person’s formative experiences take place in informal learning environments at home and in other settings. Family and community partnerships build bridges between a school and the world students experience outside of its walls.
Authentic family and community partnerships prioritize a two-way flow of information and perspectives through engaging parents, caregivers, and community partners to guide a district’s decision-making. Partnerships are also a key driver sustainability of SEL implementation. A strong district-family partnership also leverages families’ expertise and backgrounds to ensure that SEL is taught in culturally relevant ways that celebrate the assets, identity, and diversity students bring to school.
Districts can cultivate strong family and community partnerships by:
- Developing strategies for two-way communication and intentionally aligning language and practices used to promote SEL during school and out-of-school time;
- Offering meaningful opportunities for families and community partners to participate and collaborate in SEL activities that help them understand, experience, and inform the district’s approach to SEL;
- Regularly gathering input from families and community partners about their experiences, preferences, and needs to inform and improve partnership strategies; and
- Ensuring that students and families have access to a broad range of SEL-related community services.
See an example of how Tulsa Public Schools has aligned SEL efforts with an out-of-school time partner through its Relate 918 initiative, co-led by the Opportunity Project.
4. Integrate SEL with academics, discipline, and student supports
Students develop social and emotional competencies through freestanding SEL lessons and through their daily interactions with peers and adults. The way that adults support students in their academic learning and guide responsible behavior sends strong messages that affect students’ SEL.
Districts can create consistency by integrating SEL with all practices and policies that affect students’ experience in schools, including academic content and instruction, discipline systems, and the continuum of academic and behavioral supports the district offers (e.g., Multi-Tiered System of Supports).
Districts can integrate SEL with academics, discipline, and student supports by:
- Prioritizing SEL in academic and instructional frameworks, school leadership and improvement strategies, and academic departments’ professional learning content;
- Providing ongoing professional learning that builds teachers’ capacity to integrate SEL into academic instruction;
- Implementing proactive and developmentally appropriate discipline policies and practices that emphasize relationships and skill-building over punishments—this includes intervening to address disproportionate or inappropriate use of discipline; and
- Integrating evidence-based SEL instruction and practices into the continuum of academic and behavioral supports that meet the needs of all students.
See a video of how Metro Nashville Public Schools integrates SEL throughout academics, discipline, and student supports.
This blog was authored by Justina Schlund, Ruth Cross, and Roger Weissberg from NCSSLE partner CASEL.