8 Tips for Leading Highly Effective SEL Professional Development

This past year has emphasized the need for high-quality professional learning. Teachers and staff have dealt with so much, and more than ever they need effective professional learning that is flexible and responsive to their needs, enhances their instruction, and prepares them for re-entry to in-person learning.

Quality social and emotional learning (SEL) professional development in particular is crucial for educators right now. This training will not only improve SEL instruction — which in turn will promote positive outcomes for students — but it also will help educators strengthen their own social and emotional competence. At a time when teachers and staff have been pushed to (and often beyond) their limits, SEL will help them handle feelings of stress and anxiety, increase their motivation, and give them the skills needed to work through these challenging times.

Here are eight tips to ensure your SEL training is engaging, inspiring, and effective at preparing your staff for long-term success.

1. Gather feedback and listen to staff’s needs.

As you get started planning SEL training, be sure to start by considering your staff’s perspectives. What does your staff need in terms of support and resources? What are their biggest pain points? How is their motivation/engagement and overall health and well-being? Avoid making any assumptions, do the legwork to understand what resources they need, and really listen to their feedback and concerns. 

Short surveys are a quick, effective way to collect feedback. You can also host full staff meetings where you ask educators to share about what’s working/not working. Have a school climate specialist visit with teachers and other staff, and be sure to get input from the teacher union. 

2. Embed SEL in the school and district plans.

Clearly aligning SEL to school goals and priorities and integrating it within your school improvement plan will let staff know that SEL is a priority, and it could increase staff buy-in for teaching SEL to students. Go a step further and ask district leaders to integrate SEL into your district’s strategic plan. Share your vision, goals, and expectations during the training, and ask school/district leaders to attend to show admin endorsement.

3. Start every training session with a success story.

Sharing personal experiences and success stories can be a powerful way to connect with staff and help them see how powerful SEL can be.

Consider inviting:

  • At-risk students to share how SEL helped them overcome obstacles
  • Teachers or counselors to share how SEL helped improve their teaching and connections with students
  • Administrators to share how SEL helped improve school climate and culture

4. Don’t just tell — show.

Minimize lecture time and instead present the material in ways that support a variety of different learning styles. Show staff how SEL works and model how to teach it to students. For example, play a video of a teacher modeling a lesson and/or share photos of how a school is embedding SEL within day-to-day activities. 

Using confidential self-assessments and engaging digital learning tools like Educator Social and Emotional Reflection and Training (EdSERT) from Aperture Education is another unique way to support educators in their personal SEL journey. Programs like EdSERT help educators grow in their self-awareness, develop stress management skills, and set personal goals for social and emotional growth.

Also be sure to use data to demonstrate how SEL improves achievement and reduces behavior incidents, and obtain feedback throughout the session with surveys and quick polls. 

5. Provide practice opportunities.

The best SEL instruction is delivered by teachers who are confident and have a solid understanding of SEL. Some teachers may need time to develop these abilities. 

Give educators lots of opportunities to practice teaching SEL. During the training, break out into small groups and have staff take turns practicing content with one another. Encourage them to provide constructive feedback and collaborate to make improvements. Follow up with teachers who need additional help and give them additional practice opportunities. For example, pair up teachers new to SEL with veteran SEL teachers and provide time where they can continue to hone their instructional skills.   

6. Offer ongoing coaching and support.

In addition to modeling, practice, and feedback, ongoing coaching and support is critical to the success of any implementation. Throughout the year, provide:

  • Mini follow-up training sessions to refresh and reinforce SEL
  • SEL practice sessions with low-stakes feedback
  • Opportunities for classroom observation (either recorded or in-person sessions) 
  • Resources for staff to collaborate, share ideas, and ask for help (i.e. create a Facebook group where you post resources and encourage staff to share tips, tricks, funny messages, hobbies, etc.)

EdSERT offers ongoing support and coaching and it features learning modules based upon the eight social and emotional competencies measured by Aperture Education’s flagship assessment, the DESSA. The modules are designed to be visited one at a time so staff can develop their SEL skills progressively.

7. Respect staff’s time. 

Training, lesson-planning, coaching, collaboration, and feedback sessions all require time. Allocate sufficient planning time for your staff — not just for the initial training, but throughout the year to meet their ongoing implementation needs. 

Get creative and overhaul your schedules if needed. This could mean shuffling students’ lunch breaks so staff get a dedicated block of time each day to focus on directed study and planning. 

EdSERT was designed with teachers’ busy schedules in mind. The modules can each be completed in about an hour. The lessons are flexible and can be completed by educators on their own, or they can be facilitated within a group setting.

8. Prioritize SEL and self-care for staff.

As part of SEL training for staff, be sure to focus on their own mental health and well-being and help them develop their own social and emotional competence. This could include providing mental health supports, hosting video chats or in-person meetings where educators can talk to one another about how they are feeling, or providing resources to help them build their own social and emotional competence.

Caring for your staff will not only improve their health, well-being, and retention rates, but it will also help students. After all, engaged teachers foster engaged students.

Aperture Education can help your school or district create and implement effective, engaging SEL professional learning that will improve SEL instruction and will help educators improve their own social and emotional competence. Learn more about our professional learning services and check out our newest tool, EdSERT, which is designed to support educators’ social-emotional competence and well-being.

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