SEL Learning Through a Continuous Improvement Cycle

By: Stan Masters, Coordinator of Instructional Data Services, Lenawee ISD, Adrian, MI


How could a continuous improvement process for social-emotional learning (SEL) increase measurable educational outcomes for students?  That was the question asked by the Lenawee Cradle to Career Partnership when it began utilizing the CASEL Framework with schools throughout Lenawee County, Michigan.   Working with the superintendents and local community partners, the partnership utilized resources from CASEL and Panorama Education, to implement a Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle, a scientific method used when engaged in action-oriented learning.


New work targeted to student SEL started at a small scale:  one school with students from three grades.  The school had seen an increase in inappropriate student behaviors and believed that more direct instruction and personal application of key social-emotional skills was needed.  The school identified a SMART goal (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-Bound) to decrease the number of office referrals, as well as increase the number of students who indicated strong engagement in school.  Factors that might impede their goal included instructional time for SEL skills.  Factors that might promote their goal included aligning current SEL instruction within core classes.  Their hypothesis was that if an integrated approach to SEL was incorporated in the classrooms, then the two issues – office referrals and student engagement – would be impacted.


The school identified two strategies to collect baseline data on student competencies:  a student survey and a student focus group for each grade-level.  The student competencies survey, using five descriptors to indicate favorable and unfavorable responses, was loaded into the county’s data warehouse/assessment tool, allowing the three teachers of students at grades 6, 7, and 8 to administer the survey in an online environment.  A sample of students representing diverse perspectives about school were selected for a grade-level focus group, facilitated by trained community leaders.  The school leaders predicted that students would report low levels of SEL skills, as well as a lack of shared experiences among students while in school.


The student survey and focus groups took place in the same week, providing both quantitative and qualitative data collected in reasonable proximity to each other.  Data from the survey indicated weak student perceptions of their SEL based on all five CASEL competencies, particularly self-awareness at the competency level, and social perspective taking and emotional regulation at the measure level.  While students indicated strong responses to prompts related to management of their behaviors related to work at school, they indicated weak responses to issues related to resolving conflict.  The focus group data indicated that the school could improve its caring environment by responding to student needs while at school.  The students shared several examples of caring relationships that existed in the school.  They also shared examples of acts that might increase the students’ perceptions of a positive school climate.


Administrators and teachers developed action commitments to address the SEL curriculum at the building.  The school leaders revisited their topics of study to promote more integration of SEL skills embedded in academic content.  They also addressed “low-hanging” climate ideas from the students, most notably, support for students to have resources and a place to work on homework before caregivers picked them up afterschool.  Long-term plans included more support for mental and physical health needs to occur within the district.  The use of the PDSA cycle for continuous improvement at this school was a catalyst for three more schools in the county to collect baseline data on SEL competencies, develop SEL teams, and utilize resources to develop schoolwide plans to utilizing this process.  Additional professional learning was provided for school leadership, school board members, and community members around the CASEL Framework, ensuring commitment in the future to the importance of SEL and its impact on the common educational goals in the county.


As you consider measuring social-emotional learning, it is important to consider:

How could you use continuous improvement to advance social-emotional learning in your school or district?

How do your collect, analyze and communicate both quantitative and qualitative data on social emotional learning measures?



Stan be contacted at


Disclaimer: The Assessment Work Group is committed to enabling a rich dialogue on key issues in the field and seeking out diverse perspectives. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Assessment Work Group, CASEL or any of the organizations involved with the work group.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *