The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on why social and emotional learning (SEL) is so important. It provides students with safety and security. It helps students work through stress, uncertainty, trauma, and fear. It gives students an outlet to talk through problems and issues going on in their lives. And it fosters strong teacher-student relationships, which is essential for continuing academic learning, even during upheaval and uncertainty.

As students head back to school in the fall, many will feel a mix of emotions. They are going to need more support than ever before. Educators must prioritize supporting students’ social and emotional health. The best way to do this is with a Tier 1 SEL assessment and systemic, high-quality SEL supports.

Universal SEL Screening

Now, more than ever, it’s important to assess all students’ social and emotional skills. Students who may have never shown any risk indicators may now be struggling. And students previously identified as at-risk are likely to need even more help. Additionally, it’s important to pinpoint and address issues of concern within your student body as a whole so you can cultivate a caring and supportive school culture. A Tier 1 SEL assessment will help you identify school-wide areas to prioritize, and it also will identify students who need additional supports.

Here is a basic framework for conducting a Tier 1 SEL assessment in your school:

Step 1. Assess social and emotional competence with a quality SEL assessment like the Devereux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA) and the DESSA-mini.

Step 2. Deliver consistent, high-quality SEL instruction to all students.

Step 3. Align SEL data with academic data, such as grades and attendance, to identify students who need additional academic and/or SEL support (Tier II).

Systemic SEL Support

There is a high possibility that schools will continue to see changes, intermittent closures, and hybrid in-person/online learning schedules as we continue to deal with COIVD-19. Schools need a systemic SEL program that is designed with continuous improvement in mind. The best SEL programs take a long-term, sustained approach that is centered on helping all students, families, and educators develop critical social-emotional skills.

Here are eight ways to create a sustainable, systemic SEL program:

  1. Align your SEL program to state SEL standards.
  2. Embed SEL into your district practices.
  3. Choose a quality SEL assessment.
  4. Start with a pilot and then scale your SEL program.
  5. Provide high-quality SEL professional development to your staff.
  6. Prioritize building educators’ social and emotional skills.
  7. Support your staff through coaching and mentoring.
  8. Implement, assess, adjust, and repeat.

COVID-19 has tested our resilience and ability to work through some pretty tough challenges. As students head back to classrooms this fall, SEL can help them work though their feelings of stress, anxiety, and fear. It can also help keep their academic learning on-track. It’s important to implement a Tier 1 approach so all students get the supports they need.

Read our SEL Data Guide: Take Action on Your SEL Data! for tips and best practices around SEL assessment and effective data usage. To learn more about continuous improvement, read our blogs, Using SEL Assessments for Continuous Improvement: Part 1 – How to Effectively Use SEL Data and Using SEL Assessments for Continuous Improvement: Part 2 8 Ways to Improve Your SEL Implementation.