This blog post was authored by members of the Collaborating Districts Initiative (CDI), a group of education leaders working together to study and scale high-quality, evidence-based SEL across the country. Authors include representatives from: Anchorage (AK), Atlanta (GA) Austin (TX), Chicago (IL), Cleveland (OH), Dallas (TX), Denver (CO), El Paso (TX), Nashville (TN), Oakland (CA), Palm Beach (FL), Sacramento City (CA), Warren City (OH), and Washoe County (NV)
As leaders of some of the largest, most complex school districts nationwide, our attention is pulled in a lot of directions. Each day, we strive to attend to academic success, pedagogy, graduation rates, student and staff well-being, engagement with family and communities, school safety, and so much more. But there’s one thing that brings them all together: social and emotional learning, or SEL.
SEL is critical to a shift in education that reimagines how schools and districts can fully support the learning and development of all students. When integrated into education, SEL supports students and adults in developing healthy identities, managing emotions, achieving goals, feeling and showing empathy for others, establishing and maintaining relationships, and making responsible and caring decisions. It’s education for the whole child—socially, emotionally, and intellectually—that helps create the conditions for learning, development, and success, both in school and beyond. All learning is social and emotional, so this work is foundational to everything we want to do and accomplish as educators.
In our districts, we believe that SEL undergirds this type of education—helping us bolster academic achievement, improve school climate, strengthen relationships, develop equitable practices, improve health and well-being, and ultimately prepare students to achieve their goals, live healthy lives, and contribute to their communities. SEL has shaped and informed all our district work, from the way we teach students to the way we interact with one another in the central office and engage with families and community partners.
While we are each at different moments in our SEL journey, in our unique ways, we see the power of SEL each day. It is key to ensuring every child gets to engage in high-quality educational opportunities and environments that best promote their healthy development. Here are a few ways SEL has supported priorities as we pursue our goal of equity and excellence in education for all our students:
- Social and Emotional Learning encourages students to weigh in on ways to improve their school and communities while encouraging teachers and staff to deepen student engagement. For example, Cleveland formed a student advisory committee with representatives from each high school to give voice to school improvement strategies and student needs, while Dallas convenes student leaders from middle and high schools for a youth leadership summit centered on SEL and equity.
- Social and Emotional Learning undergirds critical thinking and collaboration during academic lessons. Many of our districts have adopted SEL standards to guide how SEL is integrated into classroom management and pedagogy. Sacramento also explored integrating SEL directly into pedagogy, launching a districtwide mathematics campaign (With Math I Can) centered on collaboration, communication, and growth mindset.
- Social and Emotional Learning supports and is supported by the new connections and caring relationships that are built each day throughout our districts, which serve as a foundation for learning and thriving. These connections permeate the district, from leader to staff, staff to staff, staff to student, and student to student. It flows “from the top,” as we’ve seen in districts like Minneapolis, where the superintendent and cabinet leaders regularly implement SEL practices that support relationships in their meetings
We have been fortunate to have a community on this journey with us as partner districts in the Collaborating Districts Initiative (CDI) assembled by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). Through this collaboration, we have built a powerful community of SEL champions who understand the challenges and complexities of education systems, but never waver in our commitment to SEL.
District leaders, we invite you to join us in this commitment—to make SEL an integral part of education to support the strengths, needs, and priorities of your communities. Paying it forward, we stand ready to help our peers as they take on the day-to-day realities of effective SEL implementation to achieve the promise of an excellent and equitable education for all students.