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SEL Has Arrived - New Tools As Interest Grows and It Gets Boost From ESSA

As social and emotional learning gathers even more attention, there are two new resources for schools to help them implement a program throughout the building, along with a guide that will give them a glimpse at potential federal and state policy that now is beginning to make SEL learning an even bigger priority.

SEL is an increasingly popular topic. In fact, one analysis last summer put it this way in the headline: The Future of Education Depends on Social Emotional Learning: Here’s Why.

The research, including an analysis of 213 school programs and a recent survey of principals, has repeatedly shown learning these skills benefits students in school, according to Melissa Schlinger, vice president of practice and programs at the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) a 25-year-old organization that has been a key advocate for SEL.

CASEL has just released an exhaustive tool for schools whose leaders hope to implement an initiative schoolwide.

“In partnership with schools and districts, we’ve documented, field-tested, and refined a strategic, collaborative process for schoolwide SEL,” Schlinger says.

This is how the introduction describes the guide, which takes schools through five steps for building a program in a school, and offers proven examples of where such efforts have worked:  “The CASEL Guide to Schoolwide SEL is not a stand-alone program or curriculum. Instead, it is a comprehensive online resource that provides a step-by-step process to help you achieve schoolwide SEL,” the introduction says. “This resource offers expert guidance and field-tested tools to help you implement SEL strategically, systemically, and effectively.”

Meanwhile, the  National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) also has just introduced its Leading Lessons: Social and Emotional Learning, which describes both how to develop instructional skills and strategies but also how to make certain that those priorities continue outside of the classroom. It develops a program around four focus areas -- interpersonal skills, character, cognitive regulation, emotional processes and mindset—to ensure student growth in their schools.

Schools can prioritize one of those areas, then use the guide to develop their plan, using descriptions of  successful SEL programs that the Wallace Foundation reviewed it its detailed report in 2017.

Eric S. Cardwell, principal at Besser Elementary School in Alpena, MI, and president of NAESP, notes that while SEL is relatively new, a survey of elementary school principals ranked SEL as the top concern for them. In the same survey, just 10 years prior, none of these student-related issues was identified as major concerns.

“Despite SEL’s importance, child development, education and health care experts all agree that challenges remain as schools navigate the implementation process for their students,” he says in a blog post.

The other resource appearing recently comes from the American Institute for Research and while it is aimed at state officials, it offers a report on Encouraging Social and Emotional Learning: Next Steps for States.

This study describes the progress states are making with implementing S&E planning in their work on the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), focusing on ways it can be measured. AIR says 16 states have established measures of school climate in their ESSA plans, with “most of the remainder pledging to encourage districts to support social-emotional learning within positive learning environments”.

“As states begin to implement their ESSA plans, it is timely for them to reflect on ways they can include measures of social, emotional, and academic development; school climate; and related outcomes in their accountability and continuous improvement systems to shine a light on how schools are developing the whole child.”

It has four recommendations:

  1. States should not use measures of students’ social-emotional competencies for high-stakes accountability purposes. They can, however, support the use of these measures at the local level to inform teaching, learning, and program investments. 
  2. States should consider including measures of school climate, supports for SEL, and related outcomes—such as school climate surveys, suspension rates, and chronic absenteeism—in their accountability and statewide reporting systems. 
  3. States should provide districts with well-validated tools for measuring school climate. 
  4. State agencies and districts should provide schools with resources and technical assistance as they hold schools accountable. 

Written by Jim Paterson, Education World Contributing Writer

Jim Paterson is a writer, contributing to a variety of national publications, most recently specializing in education. During a break from writing for a period, he was the head of a school counseling department. (

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