How Does SEL Support Educational Equity and Excellence?

Imagine a school community that fully supports students’ learning and development so that all children can thrive.

Most people agree that it is important for young people to have trusting relationships, a sense of purpose and belonging, and to learn and practice the skills needed to work toward their goals and contribute to their communities. That is why social and emotional learning (SEL) is important—because it can help create educational opportunities and environments that promote learning and practicing social, emotional, and academic skills, all of which are fundamental to healthy human development.

If we really want all students to leave school having developed certain academic, social, personal, and cultural capacities, we need to think really carefully about whether we as educators are creating the types of experiences that we know from research will help develop those capacities.
Dr. Dave Paunesku, PERTS

In what ways does SEL advance equity and excellence?

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SEL can be a powerful lever for creating caring, just, inclusive, and healthy schools that support all young people in reaching their fullest potential. In the context of SEL, equity and excellence refers to every student—across race, ethnicity, family income levels, learning abilities, home language, immigration status, gender identity, sexual orientation, and other factors—engaging in high-quality educational opportunities and environments that best promote their healthy social, emotional, and academic development.   

SEL advances educational equity and excellence by:

  1. Supporting authentic school-family-community partnerships where young people, families, educators, and community partners work together to plan, implement, and continuously improve strategies and programs to best serve all students in their local context. SEL helps stakeholders develop the skills and relationships to communicate and collaborate effectively across different perspectives and backgrounds.
  2. Fostering trusting and collaborative relationships where educators can attune to and appreciate students’ developmental needs and unique strengths; develop deeper awareness of students’ cultures, backgrounds, and learning differences; and create classroom environments that are inclusive of all learners. SEL helps young people and adults learn and practice empathy, perspective taking, and active listening to build deeper connections with one another.
  3. Promoting rigorous and meaningful curriculum and instruction that sets high standards and expectations for all students and actively engages them in developing academic, social, and emotional skills to achieve their goals and contribute to their communities. Evidence-based SEL programs and approaches help ensure all students have consistent opportunities to learn and practice developmentally-appropriate skills that help them thrive.  
  4. Applying ongoing evaluation of policies, practices, and outcomes to ensure all students are treated fairly, have access to supportive learning environments, engage in high-quality educational opportunities and programs, and achieve excellence in academic, social, and emotional outcomes. SEL implementation grounded in research and continuous improvement helps drive efforts toward equitable and optimal outcomes. 

By prioritizing SEL, educators, families, communities, and students can work together to develop skills and create learning environments and experiences that more fully nurture the development of all young people so that they can thrive.

Why is equity and excellence essential to CASEL’s work?

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We are driven by a vision of all children and adults as self-aware, caring and connected, responsible, engaged, and lifelong learners who work together to achieve their goals and create a more inclusive, just, and equitable world. The field of SEL was born out of a desire to ensure all young people have the knowledge, skills, and competencies to succeed in school and in life.

To learn best, young people need to be surrounded by trusting relationships and environments where they feel motivated and engaged, emotionally and physically safe, and a sense of belonging among adults and peers. This requires making sure that educational policies treat students fairly and that all students have caring teachers who believe they can succeed.  To fully support all students’ SEL, adults need to understand their own biases and expectations, develop awareness of students’ cultures and backgrounds, and acknowledge and challenge any inequitable practices and/or policies that can limit or harm the development of children. 

CASEL’s work promotes partnerships among schools, families, and communities in order to prioritize what is best for their children and in their communities. SEL can support young people and adults in reflecting on and expressing their perspectives, listening to and building connections with those who have different viewpoints and experiences, and working together toward personal and collective goals.

What are we exploring through our learning agenda?

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Our commitment to equity, excellence, and evidence undergirds all aspects of our work across Research, Implementation, and Policy. Our SEL framework provides a foundation for all communities to use evidence-based SEL strategies to define and advance the goals of equity and excellence in ways that are most meaningful to their local context. We guide schools, districts, and states in the systemic implementation of SEL, which both fosters and depends upon equitable learning environments where all students and adults feel respected, valued, and affirmed in their individual interests, talents, social identities, cultural values, and backgrounds. 

As we’ve partnered with districts to advance SEL toward their priorities, we’ve also documented many of the specific strategies that education leaders are using to promote equity and excellence. These include communicating explicitly about SEL as a lever for equity and excellence, prioritizing adult learning and critical reflection, elevating students’ voice and agency, partnering with families on culturally responsive approaches to SEL, and using SEL data strategies to build more equitable learning environments. Learn more about how districts are advancing SEL as a lever for equity and excellence. Download the report.

There is still much to learn about how SEL can advance equity and excellence. As part of our research agenda, we are focused on exploring how Transformative SEL can support equitable learning environments and related developmental outcomes for children, adolescents, and adults.

Transformative SEL is a term that refers to applying the SEL framework toward the goals of creating equitable settings and systems and promoting justice-oriented school and civic engagement. Through our long-term learning agenda and ongoing collaboration with practitioners, policymakers, and researchers, CASEL continues deepening what is known about the implementation, influences, and impacts of high-quality transformative SEL. This research work is in its initial stages and is ongoing. Practical insights from expert voices will be shared as the work evolves. Learn more about Transformative SEL.

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