This blog post is the fourth of a series exploring the four focus areas of CASEL’s process 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, second and third blog posts.)
Key activities for continuously improving SEL implementation
To make sure SEL implementation is sustained and leads to intended outcomes, districts have to continuously iterate and improve. Continuous improvement refers to a deliberate and structured process to address problems of practice and improve outcomes. This process drives systemic SEL implementation and involves collecting and reflecting on data to address challenges and build upon successes.
Below, we provide an overview of how to plan for continuous improvement; collect actionable data on implementation and outcomes; and use data reflection to determine next steps to achieve SEL goals. We also highlight examples of these actions in Baltimore City Public Schools, Minnesota state, Washoe County School District, Austin Independent School District, El Paso Independent School District, and Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools.
1. Plan for SEL continuous improvement.
To engage in ongoing continuous improvement, staff will need time, resources, and support to regularly collect, reflect, and act on data. Districts can build on existing structures to engage in continuous improvement – for example, embedding data reflection as a routine part of regular team meetings. In addition, teams focused on implementing SEL will benefit if they have access to multiple sources of data, as well as staff who have capacity to disaggregate, analyze, and present those data. It’s also helpful to develop structured processes for continuous improvement, such as norms and protocols that guide teams in how to discuss and reflect on data and root causes (underlying causes of a condition or set of circumstances that lead to trends or disparities demonstrated in the data).
To plan for improvement of SEL implementation, we recommend that districts:
- Establish dedicated time and resources throughout the year to engage in regular cycles of SEL continuous improvement;
- Set up structured processes for monitoring and reflecting on SEL data and using these data to inform decision-making;
- Ensure clear roles and responsibilities for the continuous improvement process; and
- Provide support and tools to help school teams establish their own SEL continuous improvement processes.
See Baltimore City Public Schools’ SEL Evaluation Framework, developed in partnership with Hanover research to support a plan for SEL data practices and continuous improvement.
See how Minnesota’s Department of Education guides districts on planning for SEL assessments.
2. Collect actionable data on SEL implementation and outcomes.
Collecting accurate, timely data on SEL implementation and outcomes allows district teams to track their progress toward goals. To document SEL implementation and outcomes, CASEL recommends districts create an evaluation plan at the beginning of their school year. The evaluation plan should identify what types of implementation and outcome data will help the district understand their progress toward SEL goals and establish timelines for collecting and reporting data.
There are two broad types of data that are helpful to consider for SEL continuous improvement:
- Outcome data relates to specific changes (in experience, knowledge, skills, behavior, etc.) for students or adults. Collecting outcome data enables districts to provide information about whether SEL implementation is producing desired changes and can help district leaders decide whether to adjust or deepen efforts. For example, SEL outcome data may include: the results of assessments that show growth in SEL competencies; surveys that demonstrate improved staff, student, or family perceptions of school climate; and changes in measures of attendance, discipline, academic achievement, or graduation rates.
- Implementation data relates to the actions that are taken that influence outcomes for students and adults. These data provide information about if and how the activities within an action plan are being completed and can help SEL teams identify what is going well and where there are implementation challenges. For example, SEL implementation data may include: a team’s self-assessment of how implementation is progressing; observations of SEL implementation across classrooms and schools; measures of fidelity of implementation of an evidence-based SEL program; and surveys or focus groups of staff, families, and community partners on their perspectives on SEL implementation.
See an Education Week video featuring Washoe County School District describing how the district collects data to measure students’ SEL growth.
3. Reflect and act on data to improve SEL implementation.
Data reflection involves comparing the outcomes that were achieved to what was expected to occur, as well as reflecting on successes and challenges that were encountered during implementation. This helps districts and schools problem-solve and take action to ensure that SEL implementation efforts achieve their intended goals. Districts can use what they learn from data reflection to build on or expand SEL strategies that worked, make changes to a strategy to address implementation challenges, or attempt new strategies when previous efforts were unsuccessful.
Districts can reflect and act on SEL data by:
- Using established norms that promote a safe environment for reflecting on data and a structured protocol to guide reflection;
- Engaging students in scaffolded data reflection to elevate student voice and agency;
- When possible, disaggregating data by prioritized student groups to examine and address root causes of disparities; and
- Providing structured opportunities for schools to share and learn from each other (e.g., cross-site professional learning communities).
Read more about how Austin Independent School District, El Paso Independent School District, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, and Washoe County School District reflect and act on data.
This blog was authored by Justina Schlund, Ruth Cross, and Roger Weissberg from NCSSLE partner CASEL.