What is social and emotional learning (SEL)? This question was Googled over 50,000 times last year, an all-time high that reflects both widespread interest and a need for clarity.
CASEL’s free, one-hour virtual learning course, An Introduction to SEL, was designed to answer this question for school and district leaders, school staff, parents and caregivers, staff at youth-serving organizations, and anyone who’s curious about SEL. Beyond defining SEL in clear, concrete terms, the course includes reflections and activities to help you understand how you can (and already do!) use SEL to support the young people in your life.
We sat down with one of the course’s chief creators, Claire Schu, CASEL’s senior manager of SEL implementation, to talk about the course creation process and share a sneak peek at what you can expect from the course.
Q: What led you and your team to create this course?
During the past few years, virtual learning has become incredibly important. But as members of an organization centered on social and emotional learning (SEL), we at CASEL lean into the social aspect of learning. So, we wondered: What can make virtual learning experiences meaningful? What’s the right mix of listening, viewing, reflecting, and interacting? And with distractions just a click away, how can we make these experiences both efficient and engaging?
We immediately saw the potential here. At CASEL, we receive many requests for professional learning—too many to fulfill. We recognized that an online course could help us meet this need. It would allow us to provide schools and organizations with a shared learning experience, complete with a workbook, discussion guides for after the course, and a certificate of completion, so it could be incorporated into larger professional learning efforts. But it would also allow us to support those curious about SEL—independent learners, who could go through the content at their own pace.
Q: What was the process for creating this course?
We started with how we would facilitate learning in-person, and then thought about how we could simulate that experience online.
At CASEL, we always use the SEL 3 Signature Practices, so that’s where we started. To open the course with a welcoming inclusion activity, we created video interviews with educators from our partner districts asking them to share stories about the supportive adults in their lives when they were kids. Course participants watch and then reflect on their own experience. This encourages thinking more deeply about how we, as adults, want to show up for the young people in our lives.
We also incorporated engaging strategies. We developed activities in which participants think about, write about, and apply SEL to their context through self-reflection tools, decision-making scenarios, videos, and discussion prompts.
The course ends with optimistic closure, as participants make a plan for the month ahead and learn about opportunities for next steps.
We’re grateful to those whose interviews appear in this course, including teachers, district leaders, parents, out-of-school time leaders, and a recent graduate. Many conversations with school district SEL leaders shaped this course: what to include, what felt like “too much” for an introduction, and real-life examples to include.
Q: Who do you think would be interested in this course and why?
The Introduction to SEL is aimed at those who are new to SEL or want to explore how to incorporate SEL in their daily interactions with young people. It can also help those who have heard about SEL and want to learn more about its role in education settings. The course is designed to work just as well for a parent or caregiver as it does for a teacher or after-school program leader.
That’s not to say it’s only for beginners. Before joining CASEL, I worked in a school district where I presented every year about SEL at new teacher orientation. I wish I had this course back then! I also would have loved to have had this course back when I was a teacher, working on a committee alongside parents to redesign the middle-grade experience at our school.
We’ve also included a facilitator’s guide especially for those who want to take the course first and then guide a group through it in an in-person setting. It’s a great resource for anyone who is the designated “SEL person” on campus.
Q: What were some challenges in creating the course? What did you learn along the way?
A big learning opportunity came when we were developing scenarios for participants to consider and then choose a response from multiple options that they believe best models social and emotional competencies. We based the scenarios on real experiences, but it took a lot of revising to get it to a place we were happy with. While our early drafts offered obvious “right” and “wrong” answers, we eventually realized we didn’t want this activity to function like a quiz. Rather, we wanted it to generate conversation and reflection. Real life presents a lot of gray areas, so we wanted to highlight the importance of considering context and relationships and history when making decisions.
Consulting with school district leaders, we also learned that this should not be a “one-and-done” learning experience. Grappling with this idea, we created a set of discussion guides to continue the conversation after the course is over, as well as recommended pathways to keep the learning going.
Q: What do you hope this course achieves?
I hope that this course supports clear communication and community discussion about SEL—that it can be a launchpad for people to come together to talk about how to build the kind of relationships, environments, and skills that help young people navigate the world, and collaborate to make that a reality. And I hope a wide range of people take the course and decide to share it with others!