Key Principles for a Successful Social-Emotional Learning Program

Engaging students and parents in SEL


A social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum adds valuable lessons to a student’s normal school day that will help propel them beyond academic success and onto success in life too. No matter the program, there are common practices that lead to creating a successful and sustainable SEL environment. The presenters of “7 Must-Haves for Successful and Sustainable Social-Emotional Learning” reviewed these common practices and shared how they work in their district and school.

First, there must be leadership that is committed to the program. Leadership, however, does not have to be the school leaders, but can be the students themselves. In District Lead School Counselor Dr. O’Tasha Morgan’s district, students started to take on leadership roles and achieve more after the district implemented a mentoring program. The mentoring program is giving students a chance to participate in community activities, engage in conversation with students in different grades, and demonstrate their SEL learning overall.

Faculty and staff need to have professional development on what exactly SEL is all about, and why it’s important. If they can identify with the professional development in a way that impacts their personal lives, that’s a win-win situation. “Anytime we can do the professional development—it’s one of the only things that changes the teachers, as opposed to just kind of helping them strengthen their curriculum knowledge, that’s one of the things that they can actually apply to their own lives,” said Dr. Morgan. Derrick Hershey, Principal at Shiloh Point Elementary School, added that teachers can’t just be provided with a resource, there has to be training that goes along with that to really dig into the subject.

Faculty and staff engagement in SEL


Having a flexible SEL curriculum is important for both students and teachers. Rather than always following a strict curriculum of assignments, give students the opportunity to work on passion projects. Allow teachers to partake by having them teach lessons on a subject they’re passionate about. Flexibility in switching from the academic curriculum to the SEL curriculum is also necessary to turn classroom issues into teachable moments.

Be intentional about engaging students and parents in as many different ways as possible. Host workshops for students to better understand the concepts of SEL. Those students can go on to become SEL ambassadors. Host events for parents too, so they can stay involved in what their children are learning and celebrate their accomplishments.

Go beyond parents and engage the entire community in the SEL program. Give students the opportunity to really demonstrate their newly-learned SEL skills and how they have impacted their lives. Invite community members to different events to engage in conversion and share their stories—show students that they are part of a community that truly cares about their success.

Finally, perhaps the most important factor to having a successful SEL program is having a common language. A common language among teachers, students, and parents is key to developing conversations, making sure everyone is exhibiting positive character traits, and overall, having a smooth-running SEL program. Hershey commented on Shiloh Point’s SEL curriculum, “It just gives us, again, that common language to use with our students to really make sure that they’re going above and beyond the academic skills but also [building] all of [the] character traits that we’re looking for them to build.”

This broadcast was hosted by and sponsored by 7 Mindsets.

Watch the Recording

This article was modified and published by eSchool News.

About the Presenters

O’Tasha Morgan, Ph.D. currently serves as the district lead school counselor for Richland School District Two, the fifth largest district in South Carolina with over 27,000 students. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina, has been a school counselor for 20 years and works as an adjunct professor at Webster University. Dr. Morgan supervises the school counseling programs of 42 schools for grades K-12 and oversees the implementation of the ASCA National Model for school counseling. Her leadership has created a culture in which mentoring is not only expected but celebrated. Dr. Morgan credits this growth to her district’s holistic focus on the whole child and support of social-emotional learning. Various means of teaching and learning SEL have been utilized, not only with staff members, but also with students and parents. She enjoys traveling and is a wife and mom to two teenaged children.

Derrick Hershey has served students, parents and staff as the principal of Shiloh Point Elementary in Forsyth County, GA for three years and has been an educator (teacher, coach and administrator) for 16 years. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Toledo, a Masters of Education in Technology degree from Lesley University, and leadership add-on from Kennesaw State University. Derrick also serves as this year’s Co-Chair of the Beyond Propel Governance and Leadership Committee for the district. One of Derrick’s favorite quotes is, “When you serve in small ways, you get more opportunities to serve in bigger ways,” by Jon Gordon. Derrick and his wife have two young daughters.

About the Host

Lupita Knittel, President of 7 Mindsets, has more than 17 years’ experience of pioneering leadership in the K-12 education marketplace. Most recently she worked with PlanetHS and Promethean, where she was a core member of the leadership team that built Promethean. Prior to working at Promethean, she led strategic initiatives for Apple and Electronic Data Systems. Lupita began as a school teacher in her native Mexico, where she also founded and operated her own marketing research company.

Join the Community

Mindsets for Social-Emotional Learning is a free professional learning community where educators can collaborate and share ideas, examples, and resources for igniting positive change through social-emotional learning.

7 Mindsets LogoCombining elements of social-emotional learning and relationship-based teaching, 7 Mindsets distills extensive research on the nature of happiness and success into tools, curriculum and professional development that provide a new language and operating system for teachers, students and communities to thrive.