Deep Dives

What We Learned from Focusing on Adult SEL

May 26, 2023
Andi Tucker
TrueNorth Educational Cooperative 804
Jennifer Wagrowski
TrueNorth Educational Cooperative 804
What We Learned from Focusing on Adult SEL

Pictured: Jennifer Knudson, Crystal Oswald, Andi Tucker, and Jennifer Wagrowski 

A special thank you to our co-authors and fellow coaches Jennifer Knudson and Crystal Oswald

As coaches at an educational cooperative, we’ve consistently heard about the need to support social and emotional learning (SEL) in schools and districts. Even before COVID, our member districts were asking, “How do we support our students and our staff?” 

After the pandemic, many administrators, educators, and students reported feelings of isolation and disconnection. We wanted to highlight the value of connection and community for staff so they can foster positive learning environments for their students. Our goal was to support adult SEL knowledge and skills, ultimately empowering them to bring what they learn into their schools and classrooms.

Evidence-based SEL is a pressing need in schools across the country, and it begins with the people who will implement it: adults. To promote adult SEL in our member districts, we created the three-year professional learning series SEL Learners and Leaders. We opted for a multi-year series because lasting systemic change is an ongoing, iterative process. 

After completing the first year of the series, participating teachers and administrators built a foundation for systemic, sustained SEL. Survey results indicated:

  • 88 percent of participants created a shared vision for SEL in their district or building.  
  • 85 percent made progress toward their SEL goals using an action plan. 
  • 89 percent established and implemented working agreements to guide their work together.
  • 87 percent embraced personal and collective influence in their schools and communities. 

As you’re exploring systemic SEL implementation in your school or district, here are a few key lessons we’ve learned about professional learning with a focus on adult SEL:

Be learners first

In the past, we provided SEL training offering the foundations of SEL and applications in the classroom setting. While valuable, it did not have an impact on the larger school community without a systemic approach. So, learning was the start of our process. We collected resources, vetted information, and pulled together and packaged high-quality materials.

Ultimately, the series was informed by resources like the CASEL Framework, Adaptive Schools, and Search Inside Yourself.

Knowing that we are learners first inspired both the title and the structure of our work. Throughout this series, we wanted to create a reciprocal learning experience in which facilitators and participants grew their knowledge of the content, their own personal skills, and their understanding of how to bring it to others. 

Create structure 

Each year of the series consists of four half-day sessions. During that time, SEL strategies were modeled and practiced. Teams also engaged in reflection and planning around the three focus areas influenced by the CASEL Framework:

  • Focus 1: SEL Foundations (understanding of what SEL is and what it looks like in practice)
  • Focus 2: Systemic Implementation of SEL (goal-setting, teaming practices, common systems, outreach to parents, continuous improvement)
  • Focus 3: SEL Within the Classroom (how to implement at the classroom level and bring SEL to our students)

Through conversations with our member districts, we worked to balance the value of adult SEL  while also bringing SEL to students in buildings and classrooms quickly. To support this balance, we used the Triple Track Agenda, created by Thinking Collaborative, so that participants could reflect on the application of SEL strategies in a variety of ways.

Triple Track Agenda, created by Thinking Collaborative

Build on what’s already in place

When educators and schools identify SEL as a priority, effective implementation can be overwhelming. We wanted to bring awareness that many were already using strategies that support SEL. Our goal was to highlight the alignment between their current work and the CASEL SEL Competencies.  

Participants reviewed existing artifacts from their districts like their mission and vision, portrait of a graduate, or school improvement plans. Then, they made connections to the CASEL SEL competencies and:

  • Identified their current and desired states
  • Created SMARTIE Goals and action plans 
  • Explored teaming practice
  • Engaged in continuous improvement

Prioritize belonging through collaboration

In schools and classrooms where SEL is implemented effectively, all adults and students feel a sense of belonging. We wanted to bring this same feeling to our professional learning series. Adult SEL was intentionally woven into the fabric of our time together.  

CASEL’s SEL 3 Signature Practices framed each of these sessions to ensure each participant felt heard, valued, and connected. Adaptive Schools guided the work around collaborative teaming, using practices like working agreements and norms of collaboration. Together, these frameworks fostered shared learning among various schools and districts to form an active professional network benefiting all educators and their students. 

Celebrate success

We intentionally created a supportive, collaborative environment in which schools and districts shared their celebrations in order to learn from each other. It was important to recognize that no school or district is in the same place in the work toward systemic SEL. We remind our participants that, “Wherever you are is where you are meant to be!”

The views in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of CASEL.

Jenny Knudson is a coach and speech-language pathologist for TrueNorth Educational Cooperative 804 in Highland Park, Illinois. She serves as a SEL coach and professional learning facilitator and presenter on the topics of shared leadership and social and emotional learning.

Crystal Oswald serves as a district service coach for TrueNorth Educational Cooperative 804 on the North Shore. Prior to this role, she was an SEL curriculum and instruction specialist for three years and a general education teacher for 14 years.

Andi Tucker is a coach and speech-language pathologist for TrueNorth Educational Cooperative 804 in Highland Park, Illinois. She serves as a coach and professional learning facilitator and presenter on the topics of social and emotional learning, classroom management, and differentiation of instruction.

Jennifer Wagrowski is a teacher coach for the TrueNorth Educational Cooperative 804 and a Certified Instructor for CPI’s Nonviolent Crisis Intervention Trainings. She provides professional learning through direct coaching services and professional development in the areas of social and emotional learning and classroom management.

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Tom Floersch

Very Impressive & SEL is so needed.

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