As a teacher who went to grad school after some years in the classroom, I often felt frustrated reading scientific journals—not because I couldn’t understand the studies (although I admit to skipping over the tables)—but because it was so clearly not written for me, someone who wanted to continue to work in schools. Give me something I can absorb quickly and apply to my work tomorrow! And pretty please, make it something that I can do without applying for a grant first.
That’s when I first got to know CASEL. They partnered with our school district through the Collaborating Districts Initiative (CDI) and helped us design an SEL implementation plan that worked for us, that played well with the other moving pieces in our district. Our plan relied on and strengthened the district’s big push to develop better multi-tiered systems of support. We measured progress using a climate survey that schools were already using. And we supported our school communities in a way that gave them autonomy to design their own SEL goals and strategies in a way that aligned with their needs and vision. Systemic SEL isn’t simple enough to read about on Friday and implement on Monday, but CASEL had broken down a large body of research into a process that was working, at our pace and within our constraints.
Since then, I began working for CASEL to continue to make research-based SEL implementation support more accessible to more educators. Now anyone can sign up for our Leading Schoolwide SEL series, where two of CASEL’s school district advisors walk participants through that same process of defining a unique SEL vision, goals, and action plan for the coming year. The facilitators’ years of experience sitting alongside busy educators—talking through their challenges and helping them adjust and improve—has shaped and fine-tuned this course.
We learn best when we can take an active role and when we can relate what we are learning to our own experiences. So even though CASEL’s definition of SEL is one the most frequently cited in the world, our most effective way of introducing our five-competency framework is centered around personal reflection: We support workshop participants to think about ways they are using and modeling social and emotional skills at work and at home, and they come to their own understanding of why it is important and how they can be more intentional.
As we move into the action-planning part of the course, we stop short of telling participants what to do. Instead, we focus on the why and the how. We offer templates, tools, and examples, then leave space for each school team to collaborate with their broader community to plug in their variables. Every school and school district has a context and a different set of assets and challenges. A strong SEL action plan should be customized to build on strengths and reflect the community’s hopes and dreams for their young people.
Our facilitators won’t give advice about what SEL program you should use, but they will help you use CASEL’s Guide to SEL Programs to find one that is a good match for your criteria. They won’t reveal one secret solution for generating buy-in, but they will offer tools to help you facilitate discussion and gather input from your community, and they’ll share strategies for keeping SEL at the forefront, celebrating success, and checking in throughout the school year so that you can improve support over time.
As a busy educator/grad student, I might have wished for a simple, tidy, one-size-fits-all SEL to-do list. Systemic SEL is not that. It’s a long-term process, and it can be complicated. At CASEL, our goal is to demystify that process and the research behind it, to offer the right starting point and framework for educators to strengthen an action plan that fits their community.