Social-Emotional Learning Implementation in a School District

SEL: The Whys and Hows of Implementation in a School District edWebinar recording


CASEL, The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, defines social and emotional learning (SEL) as the “process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions.” SEL can be the underpinning of every action a principal or classroom teacher makes about their campus, classroom or environment for students. According to Jeff Goelitz, Director of Education at HeartMath Institute, during a recent edWebinar, SEL affects everything from systems and structure to climate, culture, and academics. “Everyone” is interested in SEL and buying into the theory and the models but the how can be a daunting challenge as school districts try to make it a priority. Rachelle H. Finck, Coordinator Social and Emotional Learning for Round Rock ISD, TX, remarks that when SEL programs are planned with intention, they become more of a philosophy than a black binder program. 

The Why of SEL Implementation

The January 2011 issue of Child Development magazine published a meta-analysis of 213 studies of school-based SEL programs highlighting that students involved in SEL programs showed statistically significant improvements in academic performance, attitudes, and behaviors. The NEA calls anxiety an epidemic amongst students where 1 out of 4 students struggle with anxiety and 1 out of 5 students struggle with depression. This epidemic is so prevalent that as teachers and leaders, districts need to educate the whole child with SEL skills such as self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness. The most effective method for teaching students these skills is by embedding an SEL curriculum into academic content using best practices and proven teaching strategies.

SEL: The Whys and Hows of Implementation in a School District edWebinar image


The How of SEL Implementation

District administrators and school student health professionals are having concurrent conversations around SEL. It is vital for these two groups to work together to understand both the academic and mental health sides of SEL programming to determine how best to support how students learn, absorb information and increase performance. When districts make SEL a priority, they focus on what social-emotional looks like and incorporate it in the district vision, mission and core values. As every campus or school building operates differently and has needs specific to their school community, Finck highly recommends creating a common language, establishing a team of stakeholders and developing a set of core SEL values and beliefs. No matter what curriculum campuses are using there is value in having principals talk to other principals, and teachers talk to other teachers. The next step, creating an SEL road map, warns Finck, should not be a mandated or top-down approach. It should be inclusive and very grassroots, building on existing strengths at the same time gathering needs and pain points. In Round Rock ISD, when the SEL team rewrote their student climate survey, they received valuable data as to why students were anxious about missing school. The team then used this data point to develop actions items for their SEL road map.

Determining the implementation format is an essential component of SEL programming. In Round Rock ISD, when they created their SEL regional network, they took a multifaceted cohort model approach. During each year of the multi-year initiative, they choose different campuses to implement the SEL program. “Think of SEL as a house. Build the foundation and let campuses determine what the ceiling, curtains, and shiplap look like.” Finck recommends developing an SEL framework around five critical topics: explicit instruction; climate and culture; parents, families, and community; academic integration; and staff social and emotional learning. This framework works across campuses and creates alignment across the site-based campus decisions, and provides opportunities for campuses to talk about processes similarly and for reflection and continuous improvement. Lastly, gather feedback; be intentional about the data; show flexibility when dealing with opposition, challenges, and difficulties; and help campuses make it their own, while still “playing in the sandbox.”

This edWeb broadcast was sponsored by HeartMath Institute.

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This article was modified and published by eSchool News.

About the Presenter

Rachelle Finck currently serves as Coordinator for Social and Emotional Learning in the Round Rock Independent School District located in the Austin, Texas area. In the last three years, she has coordinated a district-wide initiative on integrating social and emotional learning best practices across 55 schools. Rachelle recently facilitated the development of a new framework and learning targets to better guide the social and emotional systems moving into the 2018-19 school year. Previously, she was a middle school math teacher and school counselor.

About the Host

Jeffrey Goelitz is currently Director of Education at the HeartMath Institute. He regularly consults with education professionals, mental health specialists and parents around the United States, Mexico and Canada to improve youth well-being, parent-child communication and classroom climate and performance. Part of his ongoing responsibilities include curriculum development, training and research collaboration. He has created and contributed to numerous educational curricula and programs designed to improve social and emotional learning. Jeff is the co-author of Using emWave® Technology For Children With ADHD; The College De-Stress Handbook: Keeping Cool Under Pressure from the Inside Out; Transforming Stress for Teens: The HeartMath Solution for Staying Cool Under Pressure; the Smart Brain Wise Heart™ online program; and the forthcoming preschool through first-grade program, HeartSmarts Adventure.

 Join the Community

Social-Emotional Learning is a free professional learning community on where educators can collaborate and share ideas, examples, and resources for incorporating social-emotional learning in the classroom to help students achieve goals, solve problems, and maintain positive relationships. 

HeartMath Institute is a non-profit and education research organization founded in 1991. With its evidence-based programs and technologies, it works extensively with schools, youth agencies and colleges to help students reduce stress, improve communication and acquire skills in self-regulation.