The 5 Strategic Pillars of Successful District-wide SEL Initiatives

Districts that plan to strategically integrate their Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) initiatives district-wide get the best results from their programs. There is no one-size-fits-all model that works for every district’s unique populations and needs, but there are certain foundational practices that can help any district implement a successful SEL initiative. Here are the 5 main pillars needed to ensure your SEL program achieves maximum results.

Strong District Leadership and Communication

Including SEL in a district’s strategic plan is one of the best ways to ensure the initiative’s success. The best SEL initiatives begin with strong district leadership and communication that extends from the district office to every stakeholder, from teachers to counselors. Comprehensive buy-in can be achieved by creating a common language around SEL. It is essential to take the time to help teachers understand SEL and that by teaching students these skills academic outcomes will likely improve. The link between successful SEL programs and increases in academic achievement should be a central message when developing buy-in.

Systematic Integration

Integrating SEL into academic standards is an effective way to ensure the initiative is sustainable and adopted throughout the district. It is important for district leadership to take the time to:

  • Make sure all staff members understand what SEL is and how teachers can incorporate social and emotional learning into all areas of instruction
  • Define how SEL can be embedded in general instruction and core content areas
  • Establish concrete ways to foster SEL as it relates to classroom management
  • Build effective systems of accountability for students and staff

Comprehensive Professional Development

From the start, districts need to provide quality SEL training to ensure teacher buy-in and fidelity of implementation. Besides initial SEL training, professional development should continue throughout the school year, i.e. through quarterly supplemental PD sessions, on-site coaching, classroom observations, after-school learning opportunities, book clubs, and parent courses.

Quality Assessments

Research-based and validated SEL assessments are crucial to the success of SEL. Part of the power of social and emotional data is that it provides insight into why a student is struggling. By assessing students’ social and emotional needs, educators can use the data to create targeted interventions tailored to each student.The DESSA is a quality assessment that can help drive decisions, provide insight, and guide instruction. It can also be used as a formative measure, to monitor SEL progress throughout the year, and to measure growth after an intervention.

SEL Instruction

All students can benefit from SEL instruction. Research shows that even academically successful students can show a need for instruction in one or more of the core social and emotional competencies. Districts may consider implementing a Tier I intervention to address the needs of all students as well as a Tier II intervention to support at-risk students who need additional support. The best SEL curricula include a mix of classroom discussions, small group work, and activities that help students practice social and emotional skills.

Aperture Education’s Foundational Practices can be used with the DESSA results to inform strategy selection so that teachers are addressing the specific and unique social and emotional needs of their students. From lessons on cultivating self-management to activities for strengthening decision-making, the Foundational Practices Strategies span different instructional settings and grade levels. Social and emotional interventions can also be administered universally, individually, in small groups, or at home.

Districts looking to create a new SEL program or strengthen an existing one should take the time to strategically plan an effective district-wide implementation. Any successful and sustainable SEL program should include strong district leadership and communication, systematic integration of SEL throughout the district, comprehensive professional development, and quality assessments and instruction.

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