SEL: Our Theory of Action for Effective Implementation

For SEL to be most effective, it is essential that states, regions, districts, and schools infuse the principles of SEL across curriculum and instruction, discipline, out-of-school time, and ongoing assessment for continuous improvement. Read a recent, peer-reviewed journal article on systemic SEL here and hear from our CEO on our updated SEL definition here (Dec 2020).

CASEL’s SEL Framework is guided by a Theory of Action across the school, district, and state to comprehensively support quality SEL implementation. The Theory of Action reflects years of field testing as part of our Collaborating District and State Initiatives. 

There are four key elements that guide SEL implementation and sustainability, with different activities at each level:

  • Build foundational support and plan by establishing a collective vision and plan for SEL, and ensuring aligned resources and ongoing commitment. 
  • Strengthen adult SEL competencies and capacity by cultivating a trusting community that enhances adults’ professional, social, emotional, and cultural competencies and their capacity to promote SEL for students.
  • Promote SEL for students by developing a coordinated approach across classrooms, schools, homes, and communities that ensures consistent, culturally responsive, and developmentally appropriate opportunities for all students to enhance and apply social and emotional competencies to daily tasks and challenges.
  • Reflect on data for continuous improvement by establishing an ongoing process to collect and use implementation and outcome data to inform decisions and drive improvements.

Actions taken at federal, state, and district levels can enhance or undermine the quality and sustainability of SEL implementation at the school and classroom levels. To learn more about CASEL’s theory of action visit: