One of the biggest challenges facing schools and districts is educator turnover. Teacher shortages are plaguing many areas across the U.S., along with a rising difficulty in attracting new teachers and other staff. So we wondered: What role could adult SEL play in helping to create the kind of workplaces where teachers thrive and create the supportive learning environments where students can thrive as well?
We know from research that teachers who stay often do so because their work is meaningful, their relationships with colleagues are strong and collaborative, and their workplace offers a positive culture (Bryant et al., 2023). This finding aligns with what we at CASEL have learned about adult SEL. Over more than a decade partnering with school districts, we’ve discovered that schools are more effective at teaching and reinforcing SEL when they also attend to adult SEL. It’s not enough to talk about social and emotional skills; young people also learn from our actions and reactions. In addition to modeling SEL, school communities that prioritize adult SEL foster a supportive staff environment where adults connect and collaborate with colleagues, young people, and community members, and have time and space to learn about SEL.
With the importance of adult SEL in mind, our team at CASEL has updated the adult SEL section of our Guide to Schoolwide SEL to reflect current research and new insights from our collaborators in the field. Here are three important shifts in our guidance and why they matter:
1. We prioritized community care, not just self-care.
Educators strive to bring their best selves to the classroom every day while at the same time working long hours, juggling each student’s needs, and pushing toward ambitious goals. In this context, self-care is important, but the onus for wellness cannot be entirely on the individual. Adults (and students) are best able to contribute when they feel valued and welcomed as part of the community. Therefore, we have expanded our guidance for SEL teams to build professional and social connections that make spaces for joy, belonging, and collaborative problem-solving. In addition, we have highlighted practices for school leaders, who are critical as co-creators of environments where students, staff, and families feel cared for and appreciated.
2. We added connection as a prerequisite for collaboration.
Collaboration has always been an important part of our framework for adult SEL. Meeting the needs of all learners is complex, and educators benefit from the collective knowledge and experience of the entire staff. But collaboration doesn’t happen in a vacuum. To build relational trust, adults need intentional opportunities to get to know others and feel known, share appreciations, and reflect together on experiences and challenges. In the section, Connect and Collaborate, we suggest grounding staff collaboration in shared agreements and continuously strengthening connection and communication with the SEL 3 Signature Practices. In addition, we’ve added guidance around building connections and collaborating with students and families—another important component of adult SEL.
3. We lifted up educators as leaders and learners.
What we want for students, we must be willing to provide for staff. Adults, like students, need spaces to learn and explore, try and evaluate new strategies, and take intellectual risks. In other words, we need to make space for adult learning. To support this, we include additional guidance for adults to reflect on their personal social and emotional skills and examine their levels of cultural competence. However, a strong approach to adult learning must also take into account the depth of knowledge educational professionals already bring to their work. When thinking through how to support adult SEL, it’s easy to focus on the gaps or what others need to learn. Instead of working from a deficit mentality, we provide tools and strategies for building on strengths and experience.
Are you ready to go deeper with SEL in your school, district, or organization? Register for our Winter 2024 Leading Schoolwide SEL workshop series to help you plan, sustain, and continuously improve systemic SEL implementation throughout your school community.
To learn more about the research informing this blog, visit the CASEL Guide to Schoolwide SEL, Focus Area 2: Adult SEL.
Heather Schwartz (M.Ed.) is a passionate educator, literacy specialist, and SEL expert. At CASEL, she works to translate the latest research on SEL into actionable tools, resources, and professional learning for school-level educators.
Claire Schu is CASEL’s senior manager of implementation support and works to develop and continuously improve CASEL guidance and professional learning experiences. She has supported SEL implementation as a school district leader and a classroom teacher.