Previously, we discussed social-emotional learning (SEL) as an approach to systematic improvement. Some key points from this blog were:

  • System are specifically designed to produce the results they get
  • Districts and schools are incredibly complex systems that are tied together by a variety of relationships
  • Systematic approaches to SEL maximize its impact 

Also mentioned within this piece is that taking on a systematic approach to SEL comes with challenges given the complexity of school systems. However, the following are a few tips and considerations for moving toward systematic SEL.

Adopt a multi-tiered system of support for SEL

SEL practices are equitable and more impactful when all students have access to SEL instruction based on their unique needs. Many schools and districts already adopt an MTSS or RTI system for academics and behavior. These systems, when implemented effectively, target students who need additional support outside of universal instruction. From this system, students will often engage in interventions to support academic or behavioral gaps. SEL can also be reviewed through this same process. However, it is important that SEL entering into MTSS or RTI receives its own, separate analysis. Oftentimes, through these tiered systems, it can be easy to use SEL as an intervention, rather than its own skill set in need of examination. However, SEL is something that can be facilitated as universal instruction. From there, SEL measurement and assessment is crucial for analyzing student progress and needs. All students deserve access to equitable SEL practices including universal instruction and targeted support. This allows for a systematic approach to SEL that includes opportunities for all students. 


All students deserve access to equitable SEL practices including universal instruction and targeted support.

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Anticipate and plan for addressing challenges

One thing that is a constant challenge across all school systems is time. Educators are frequently overworked, and this last year brought many educators to a breaking point at which they questioned their future in the field. As a result, educational leaders may be wary of adopting or implementing new systems and structures for their schools or districts. However, SEL does not have to be “another thing” for educators. It is not something that gets in the way of the work, but rather it is the way to work. Therefore, it is important for leaders to anticipate and plan for challenges that may arise when adopting a systematic approach to SEL. CASEL offers a helpful guide for those making a shift to this approach. Based off of their experience, they share some advice from lessons learned:

  • Acknowledge and plan for “initiative fatigue” 
  • Establish a common understanding of SEL as part of a quality education for all students 
  • Clarify the connection between academics and SEL efforts 
  • Pay close attention to adult SEL and relationship-building 
  • Create a coherent, phased plan for rolling out SEL implementation to all schools 

Their extensive guide digs deeper into each of these lessons and offers advice to leaders who resonate with these common issues. 

Determine a long-term plan for roll-out

Building on CASEL’s last lessons learned, another way to move toward systematic SEL is by ensuring a smooth roll-out process. Managing change can be difficult. Moreover, real change and transformation takes time. Therefore it is crucial to have a plan for change efforts that consider a long-term plan. Thinking about systemic SEL in phases, is a great way to monitor the change process. Oftentimes, it can be easy to become excited by new change efforts and forget how overwhelming they can be for those they impact the most. As a result, many of these initiatives fail because we try to do too much too quickly. Instead, think about a 5-year plan. What is the desired state, and how might you scaffold the process across the system to get there?

Overall, systems are complex and require robust analysis. Those who want to move their schools and districts toward systematic SEL will need to think about this process from multiple angles and marshall resources from a number of different areas to ensure success. 

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Author: Shawna Jensen

Posted: 23 Aug 2021

Estimated time to read: 4 mins

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