Schoolwide social-emotional learning (SEL) is a process that schools can use to create a climate and culture where all students feel supported in their social and emotional development. SEL programs help develop the social-emotional skills needed to succeed in school and life.
To promote and support SEL in school, all members of the school community need to be involved and invested in its success. Teachers may be champions for SEL in their own classrooms, but school leaders also play an essential role in supporting schoolwide SEL.
How school leaders can support school-wide SEL initiatives
It’s essential for school leaders to provide consistent leadership and support for social-emotional learning (SEL) initiatives to succeed in schools. SEL programs help students develop the skills they need to succeed in life, such as self-awareness, empathy, communication, and problem-solving. However, for these programs to be effective, support from school administration is a must-have.
Let’s look at how school leaders can support SEL initiatives and how that support improves SEL outcomes and keeps teachers engaged.
Be visible and engaged with the school community
The benefits of social-emotional learning (SEL) are well documented. However, for SEL programming to be effective, school leaders must be visible and engaged with students and teachers. In one study, researchers found that SEL programming was more likely to be implemented and successful when school leaders were more visible and engaged in the school community.
There are several ways for school leaders to be more visible and engaged in the school community. First, they can attend classroom visits and teacher meetings. This allows them to see how SEL programming is implemented in the classroom, giving them opportunities to provide feedback and support to teachers. Additionally, school leaders can participate in student activities such as lunch or assemblies. This allows them to interact with students on a personal level and get a sense of their attitudes and feelings.
Empower teachers to lead in SEL
It’s important for school leaders to know when to lead and when to empower others to lead. Allowing teachers to lead SEL initiatives can create a more positive school climate and help students develop the skills necessary for academic and personal success.
Apart from this, empowering teachers to act as leaders for your SEL initiative helps to keep teachers engaged and invested in their school community. When teachers feel valued and included, they’re less likely to look for work elsewhere.
Establish a common language for talking about SEL
Without a common language, it can be difficult for schools to agree on what SEL looks like and how best to measure success. Leaders can play an essential role in establishing a common language for SEL. They can help ensure that everyone in the school community understands the goals of SEL and agrees on what success will look like. Leaders can also promote collaboration among educators to share ideas and strategies for implementing SEL programs.
A common language for SEL is essential for ensuring that all students have access to high-quality social-emotional learning programs. By working together to create and reinforce a shared understanding of SEL, educators can help every student reach their full potential.
Provide leadership to guide the implementation of SEL schoolwide
Schools need competent leadership to guide them as they implement SEL programs. Leaders who are knowledgeable about the program and how it works are best suited to help the school move in a positive direction. Additionally, having a clear plan and objectives for the program will ensure that it’s implemented effectively and with fidelity. Lastly, strong communication between the administration, staff, and students is essential for a successful SEL program.
Provide ongoing professional development and training
The past several years of real-world experience in schoolwide SEL have shown that teachers who received professional development in SEL were more likely to believe that SEL is important for student success and use it in their classrooms. In addition, these teachers were more likely to report feeling prepared to teach SEL skills. However, teachers need ongoing professional development and training in SEL principles and teaching strategies to effectively promote SEL in their classrooms.
CASEL offers resources to support professional development and communities of practice for teachers and school leaders.
Provide time and resources to support SEL efforts
Teachers face increasing demands on their time every day, which can make implementing yet another new program feel impossible. School leaders can provide teachers with resources and professional development opportunities that will help them promote SEL in their classrooms. For example, school leaders can offer training on using specific a SEL curriculum or creating a positive classroom climate. They can also provide teachers with materials such as lesson plans, handouts, and videos that address topics like self-awareness, empathy, and problem-solving.
Collect and analyze data on SEL program effectiveness
Collecting and analyzing data is essential for any organization to measure the effectiveness of its programs. Leaders in charge of social-emotional learning (SEL) programs need to do the same to assess whether their programming positively impacts students. Data can help identify areas of strength and weakness in SEL programming, offering insights into how different strategies affect students’ social and emotional competencies.
There are several ways to collect data on SEL programs. One approach is to use pre- and post-surveys to measure student social and emotional skills changes. Additionally, surveys or interviews can be conducted with educators, students, or family members to get feedback on program implementation and effectiveness. Finally, you can use classroom observations to track student behavior before and after SEL programming begins.
School leaders can support their SEL program by celebrating big and small successes with the entire school community. When things are going well, sharing that news and letting everyone know what’s working is important. Highlighting progress sends a message that the school values SEL and that it’s an integral part of the overall mission.
It can also be helpful to celebrate individual successes. For example, when a student demonstrates mastery of a new skill or makes progress using SEL strategies, take the time to celebrate that achievement. Let the student know how proud you are and share the news with classmates and other faculty members. Recognizing these achievements helps to create a positive culture around SEL and encourages all students to continue working hard.
Teachers need SEL too!
School leaders also need to care about their teachers’ emotional well-being because teachers struggling with emotional health are more likely to leave their jobs. Teacher turnover costs U.S. schools roughly $7 billion yearly, at an estimated $10–25k per district. Jennings & Greenberg published a research study in 2009 that explored the impacts of teacher well-being on retention and student outcomes. Their work highlighted how the emotional state of teachers (levels of stress and emotional well-being, among other factors) impacted their work in the classroom and their likelihood of staying in the profession.
Today’s teachers face tremendous stresses, from extra work to mitigate COVID-related learning losses to cultural clashes over social emotional learning curriculum. School leaders must use every tool at their disposal to help teachers manage these stressors in healthy ways. The more we can help our educators learn and use these skills, the less stressed they will be. Conversely, stressed-out teachers can negatively impact the learning environment and student outcomes.
Fortunately, the fundamental principles of social-emotional learning are universal. SEL helps people of all ages manage their emotions, set boundaries, and communicate effectively. These competencies are important skills for anyone, which is why school leaders should prioritize SEL skill building as part of their overall strategy for improving school climate and student outcomes.
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