Part I: The CASEL Guide to School-Wide Social and Emotional Learning

By Kelsey Remeis, CEI Intern

CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, released The CASEL Guide to Schoolwide Social and Emotional Learning in the summer of 2020. This guide provides a step by step process for cultivating a school community that uses SEL in every part of the students’ experience. The guide consists of four “focus areas,” each of which is complemented with a rubric so that users of the guide can keep up with and assess their progress. This series of blog posts will go through some of the details in each focus area.

Step 1: Form a Team with a Shared Vision

The guide starts with Focus Area 1A: Build Foundational Support. CASEL suggests building a foundation by establishing an SEL team, fostering commitment to SEL, and developing a communications strategy.

CASEL provides these tips for creating a team:

  • Establishing a diverse SEL team entails assembling a representative group of people that can coordinate to ensure implementation is not disjointed. CASEL proposes constructing an SEL team that involves individuals from all parts of the school community. For example, it could be beneficial to include a principal, a teacher, a non-instructional staff member, other support staff, community associates, and students’ families. 
  • It is also useful to outline team responsibilities, specifically, naming a team leader that can adopt a compassionate, motivating team dynamic. The team leader should be responsible for keeping the team on track and encouraging the team to work, all while modeling SEL. Electing a liaison for school-family communications could also be helpful. Swapping duties amongst team members is also important to avoid burnout or overloading individuals. 
  • Lastly, CASEL stresses the significance of building a robust team dynamic, with team norms and practices. Good routines include fostering relationships, scheduling and organizing meetings, commending team members, democratic decision making, and conducting team self-assessments. 

Fostering commitment to SEL involves the entire school community. Start by creating an introduction to SEL that helps explain what it means for your school. CASEL recommends creating a presentation about SEL and showing it at the beginning of the school year to get staff onboard early.

Finally, establish communication structures to keep all stakeholders informed, engaged, and excited throughout implementation. CASEL suggests developing communication with 3 main components:

  • Constant communication that guarantees all stakeholders are kept knowledgeable and involved. 
  • Directed communication related to specific goals. For each goal, consider who needs to be present for planning, who will carry out specific tasks, and who needs to be kept updated. 
  • A clear arrangement for requesting feedback on how SEL implementation is going.

Step 2: Make a Plan

Once a strong foundation has been created, schools can turn to Focus Area 1B: Create a Plan. The plan should represent the school’s vision and detail how to achieve it with clear goals to help turn a commitment to SEL into  implementation that reaches every student. Developing a feasible plan depends on developing a shared vision, assessing needs and resources, creating an action plan with clear benchmarks and timelines, and budget planning. 

Planning for implementation of school-wide SEL is driven by a collaborative process of continuous improvement that asks your team to reflect on the following questions:

  • Where do we want to go? It is important to develop a shared vision across the whole team to ensure long-term engagement and a sense of shared ownership.
  • Where are we now and where have we been? It helps to review existing and past SEL implementation efforts to identify current strengths and needs. 
  • How do we get from where we are now to where we want to be? Build an action plan that includes measurable goals, clear steps, an aligned budget 

As you develop an action plan, it is important to ensure that enough resources are dedicated to school-wide SEL. You can do this by examining the school’s present resources, resources that are explicitly for SEL, existing funds that could be transferred, and what funds your district offers for SEL. After this, review your goals. What resources are needed to achieve your goal? What existing funds can fill this need?

CASEL provides a rubric for every step in the goal setting process that schools can use to analyze the effectiveness of the present SEL implementation plan. CASEL also offers an implementation planner to help guide schools through phases, such as evaluating your present status, choosing areas to prioritize, and developing goals and action steps. 

One useful tool for guiding goal planning uses the acronym SMARTIE

  • Specific- Does the goal distinctly state what is to be accomplished?
  • Measurable- Does the goal reference an assessable result?
  • Attainable- Does this goal seem accessible given where things are now?
  • Realistic- Will reaching this goal make a difference in the quality of students’ lives?
  • Timely- Has a time frame been established?
  • Inclusive- Does this goal invite traditionally excluded individuals to make decisions and contribute in a way that shares power?
  • Equitable- Does this goal include a component of fairness that seeks to address systemic injustice?

Once you have moved through CASEL’s first two steps of establishing a team and formulating a plan of action, the next objectives are ready to be achieved. The second and third areas of focus are to implement SEL among both adults and students, and finally, the last area of focus is to continually improve through constant educational growth. With the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the SEL approach is more prevalent and important than ever. In a time of uncertainty where many parents have become the teachers, SEL helps both students and parents to effectively work through the emotions that COVID-19 has brought in our lives. Social emotional learning at home cultivates a sense of being understood when learning has taken a shift to being virtual. CASEL provides several resources on how to effectively implement SEL techniques at home. Whether distance learning persists into upcoming school years, having knowledge in SEL at home will benefit both parents and children to understand and empathize with one another better.  

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