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SEL Goals for IEPs: What Are They and How to Write Them

Students who receive special education services often need additional supports that allow them to be taught in a special way. An Individualized Education Program (IEP) sets reasonable learning goals for the student and describes the services the school district will provide for the child.

Students with disabilities can also benefit from social and emotional learning (SEL). Research shows that SEL can have an important and lasting impact on all students’ readiness to learn — including those with special learning needs. These students often struggle socially and can have difficulty managing their emotions.

Educators can strengthen supports and focus on a student’s most pressing needs by incorporating SEL goals into IEPs. More and more schools are integrating SEL goals into IEPs to better prepare students for academic success.

Get started writing and implementing SEL IEP goals with these tips and best practices.

How to Construct SEL Goals for IEPs

When writing SEL IEP goals, follow the same careful structure and planning procedure used in establishing academic IEP goals. Each goal must include a carefully articulated objective, details about how progress will be measured, and documented services that will be provided to help the student meet the goal. Like any IEP objective, an SEL goal should include specifics:

  • time frame
  • a goal or action
  • the setting or context of where the goal will be measured
  • how the goal will be measured
  • expected accuracy
  • acceptable prompts or supports (if applicable)

Here is an example of a well-defined SEL IEP goal:

“By November 2020, Cara will improve her rate of refraining from interrupting others in conversation from 75 percent to 90 percent during small group instruction time, as measured by weekly, 15-minute momentary time sampling observations by special education staff.”

Dos and Don’ts for Writing SEL Goals for IEPs

The best IEP goals are measurable, meaningful, and are designed to teach a desired behavior. When drafting an SEL goal, consider the following*:

Define a specific skill and/or behavior that is objective and can be observed.
Example: “Student will increase her rate of sharing supplies willingly with others from 50 percent of opportunities to 90 percent of opportunities.”

Design the goal around what the student will do (rather than what he or she will not do).
Example: use “Student will increase his use of self-regulation and calming strategies” instead of “Student will reduce the number of discipline referrals he receives.”

Monitor the behavior frequently enough to make informed decisions about the student’s progress with specific skills.
Ensure that the amount of time you are dedicating to observation is enough to make a decision that will validate the student’s progress or lack thereof (i.e. more than once or twice per semester).

Measure student behavior, not adult behavior.
Example: Strive to improve a student’s rate of following directions, rather than trying to limit the number of times a student needs redirection.

Do not set expectations of special education students higher than those of general education peers.
No student is 100 percent on task 100 percent of the time. Build leeway into your goals and work towards meaningful progress instead of perfection.

*Source: St. Croix River Education District, MN

Examples of SEL Goals for IEPs

The Redmond, Oregon, IEP Goals and Objectives Bank is a helpful resource that organizes IEP goals by content area and includes academic goals as well as social-emotional goals. We’ve listed some sample SEL goals below, but you can click on the link above for the full list.

  • Express anger appropriately by using words to state feelings
  • Resolve conflicts without physical contact or abrasive language (e.g., stating emotions/desire, or walking away)
  • Respond to teasing from peers appropriately
  • Name ways people show approval/disapproval
  • Describe steps in making a decision
  • Set realistic personal goal(s)
  • State own strengths and weaknesses in general school behavior
  • Gather necessary information to make decisions
  • Appropriately seek help from a teacher, when needed
  • Describe situations in which student experiences a given emotion
  • Correctly identify emotions (happy, scared, angry, sad) from a set of pictures
  • Continue to maintain appropriate behavior even when frustrated
  • Follow through on making commitments involved in a decision
  • Identify signs of anxiety and stress in self and others
  • Engage in cooperative play with at least one other peer
  • Learn and follow the rules when playing an organized game
  • Offer to help a teacher or peer at an appropriate time
  • Refrain from interrupting others in conversation
  • Cooperate with peers without prompting
  • Maintain appropriate space and boundaries

Including SEL goals in IEPs can help educators better support the needs of the whole child and maximize student success. Fill out the form below to learn how to create SEL IEP goals and how you can measure your IEP objectives with the DESSA Comprehensive SEL System.

Additional Resources

Colorado Department of Education’s “Writing Standards-aligned Individualized Education Programs (IEPs): A Supplemental Guidance Document for Designing Effective Formal Educational Plans

Using Wisconsin’s SEL Competencies to Develop IEP Goals

100+ Social-Emotional Skills IEP Goals [The Complete List]

50 Great Websites for Special Needs Educators

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