It is recommended that district and state leaders secure the following before beginning to embed SEL into their schools’ curriculums (CASEL, et al., 2021):

  • Strong leadership to prioritize and support SEL
  • Collaboration across and within departments and offices
  • Clear vision and a shared understanding for team guidance
  • Systemic implementation grounded in the principles of implementation science
  • Provision of professional development
  • Partnerships with students, families, and communities
  • Culture of data-driven decision-making

The main takeaway from these recommendations is that implementing district or school-wide SEL is a group effort, requiring collaboration from all school community stakeholders. Therefore, for SEL to be successfully embedded into the curriculum, district leaders must work hard to support the educators in their schools. In this blog post, we suggest ways in which district leaders can achieve this support and the measures they can take to bolster their district’s SEL success.

Use SEL in leadership practices

The first way in which district leaders can ensure SEL success is to lead by example. This means that adult social emotional learning should be used throughout school staff practices, such as staff meetings and district board meetings. By doing this, district leaders can show school educators how SEL can be used in practice and not just in theory. Integrating SEL into instructional processes and general practices “allows educators… to move away from the traditional compartmentalized ‘SEL time’ to an understanding that SEL is a core ingredient to teaching and learning” (Ward, A. et al., 2021).

In addition to setting an example for others to follow, demonstrating how SEL works in practice also has the benefits of improving school culture and climate. On the one hand, SEL actions such as celebrating wins, spreading positivity, and taking time to give thanks will be massively helpful in forging a virtuous and strong school culture. On the other hand, school climate will also be improved once more time and effort are spent focusing on staff and student wellbeing and satisfaction.

For more information on the differences between climate and culture, and how to improve and monitor them both, read about Climate here.

Elevate staff voices

District leaders should always encourage their staff to speak up about any issues or worries they may have about their workplace. This could be done via quarterly questionnaires, or, to be more effective, encouraged via simple, continuous feedback surveys. Reminding staff that their voices matter and responding timely and appropriately to their concerns will help improve work environment and overall school climate. As a result, happier teachers are less likely to seek employment elsewhere, helping decrease issues commonly found in the education sector such as teacher burnout and low teacher retention rates.

Asking teachers what they want, what concerns they have, and in which areas they’d like to see improvement takes the guesswork out of school leadership and is one of the best ways to elevate their voices and support their wellbeing.

Provide SEL training

One major issue educators face when asked to implement SEL is their lack of related knowledge. Therefore, it is important that district leaders provide SEL training and actively encourage educators to attend and take part. SEL training could be in the form of webinars, workshops, or presentations, and should ideally be at no financial cost to them. If the educators in your district are particularly struggling with time constraints, direct them to quick, informative resources they can use instead.

Additionally, make sure you educate your staff on the benefits of social emotional learning for them - SEL is not only advantageous for students! By teaching educators how they can implement SEL in their own lives to improve their well-being and health, they will also get a clearer understanding of how it can help in their classrooms and students. Here are some ways in which adults can use SEL in their own practices, as suggested by CASEL, 2021:

  • Reflecting on own self-awareness by asking questions such as “How might my emotions impact the things I do, say, and write?”
  • Reflecting on own self-management by asking questions such as “How do I manage stress and work through complex emotions?”
  • Reflecting on own social awareness by asking questions such as “How might my words impact others?”
  • Reflecting on own relationship skills by asking questions such as “How can I get along with people I disagree with so strongly?”
  • Reflecting on own responsible decision-making skills by asking questions such as “What has been the impact of my decisions thus far?”

Engage the school community

The importance of a strong, engaged school community is not to be understated. Initiating community engagement will help teachers in many ways. For example, a community that works together can help ease the burden of responsibility on educators, especially concerning extra-curricular activities.

Furthermore, an engaged community can easily facilitate social emotional practices such as mindfulness, practicing gratitude, and mental health check-ins with each other. Although SEL practices are useful for the individual, “it it is only when they are used by the entire team or organization that they will achieve their full impact” (CASEL, 2019). Ultimately this will help lead your school community toward SEL success, one step at a time.

You can read more about the benefits of an engaged school community here

An engaged community can easily facilitate social emotional practices.

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Make time for SEL in your schools

Another measure that district leaders should take is to integrate SEL into school timetables and ensure that there are opportunities for SEL to be practiced every day. Whilst SEL does not need to be a standalone subject in the same vein as math or science, it is however beneficial for time to be set aside each day for quick SEL practices. Two great examples of this are mindfulness and self-reflection. Taking the time to go through these small social emotional practices, even if only for five minutes at the start of every day, can be celebrated as a little win and set your schools up for success.

Another great way to make sure time is set aside for SEL is to implement a Theory of Change (ToC) strategy. This will help align processes and actionable steps with outcomes and how these will be measured. A typical ToC strategy will outline predictions (such as financial budget), highlight what can be done now and what short-term and long-term outcomes these could bring. For more information, see this resource for an example of a ToC strategy.

Provide as much SEL content as possible

Since a lack of time is one of the major issues for educators, even if SEL is already scheduled for them each day, they should have access to as much SEL content as possible. Easing the workload for teachers (who may view SEL as ‘just another responsibility’) will encourage them to embed SEL in their classes, and perhaps even in personal practices, too.

The best way for district leaders to do this is to use online solutions that offer SEL libraries full of creative lesson plans, activities, and interventions. It’s most advantageous if these resources are created by SEL experts so that educators can really be confident that they’re providing their students with high-quality lessons. For examples of premium SEL lesson content that are aligned with the CASEL subskills, click here.

The responsibility school district leaders have in implementing social emotional learning is critical, and it is imperative that teachers and other school staff members get the support they need. Leaders can lend this support by elevating staff voice, providing high-quality SEL training, and initiating strong school community engagement.

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CASEL. 2019. 3 Signature Practices Playbook. Read it here.

CASEL. 2021. Advancing Social And Emotional Learning (SEL) To Create Supportive Learning Environments. Read it here.

CASEL, CCSSO, American Institutes for Research (AIR). 2021. SEL MTSS Toolkit for State & District Leaders. Read it here.

CCSSO. 2021. Theory of Change Planning Tool. See it here.

Ward, M.A., Wolforth, S., and Yoder, N. 2021. Teaching The Whole Child: Instructional Practices That Integrate Equity-Centered Social, Emotional,  and Academic Learning. Read it here.

Author: Fern Dinsdale

Posted: 25 Apr 2022

Estimated time to read: 6 mins


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