This section provides details for the elements that are fundamental for the SEL Dallas approach. These aspects have been developed over time and through engagement with in and out of school time partners and the community.


We have identified four guiding principles as the collective “North Star” of our SEL implementation efforts: Relationships, Environment, Resilience and Engagement.

Guiding Principles

We define comprehensive social and emotional learning as implementing four key components of SEL practices.

Climate and Culture

Climate and Culture

Building welcoming, safe and supportive environments for both students and staff members to foster learning and personal growth. A positive campus climate and culture sets the tone for youth and adults, and are the foundation for modeling and practicing SEL. 

Culture and climate examples include welcoming students / staff members at the start of the day or the start of programming, creating group norms through respect agreements, and encouraging students / staff members to use designated calming areas if they begin to feel stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed.

We also include facilitating SEL Signature Practices as an important component of a positive culture and climate. Signature Practices have three primary elements:

  1. welcoming activities
  2. engaging practices 
  3. optimistic closures.

Together, they reinforce skill-acquisition of SEL competencies and can be used during any group learning opportunity such as during class time, in staff meetings, and during after school activities.

Family Engagement

Family Engagement

We know that parents and caregivers are the first teachers of social and emotional learning for their children, and therefore, partnering with families to support SEL skill development across all facets of a child's life, including at home, is an integral part of community-wide SEL growth. Some examples include sharing information about emotions and brain development with parents and caregivers, and adapting in- and out of school time practices for at-home use such as creating a calming area at home or developing a family treatment agreement to agree on family-wide expectations.


Explicit Skills Instruction

SEL Explicit Skills Instruction

Teaching the five SEL competencies through a selected curricular program, which guides students through explicit naming and practicing to develop key SEL skills like positive relationship-building or listening to others’ perspectives, among others.

SEL Dallas sites are implementing either Sanford Harmony or Leader in Me as their explicit skills curriculum. CASEL has also developed a Program Guide with curriculum recommendations, inclusive of all grade levels.

Content Integration

Content Integration

Infusing SEL connections with ongoing learning, including specific subjects (math, reading, social studies, science, etc.) and / or activities (service projects, games and play, arts projects, etc.). Reminding students of regular connections between learning and SEL skills provides context and brings relevance to skill acquisition.

Content integration examples include a writing prompt exploring the values of friendship, project-based learning that develops student voice and leadership, or art projects where students explore and share aspects of their identity (and learn about the identity of others).

SEL Dallas has finalized a set of SEL Learning Standards to help describe what we want students (and adults) to know and do within each competency.

Although the PSELI grant was limited to a select set of organizational partners and key staff member roles, future SEL implementation across Dallas will continue to evolve and look different for each campus and OST program.  Based on our PSELI grant experience, we highly encourage in and out of school time partners to work together whenever possible to embed and align SEL practices and approaches across both student-facing learning experience as well as adult training and operations.

We recommend that sites review their partnerships (and potential partnerships) to design a full continuum of SEL-focused experiences for students and adults: before the school day, during school hours, during out-of-school school time, and extending into the community and at home.  Along that continuum of experiences, adults should consider what comprehensive SEL looks like in each of those spaces, what planning efforts may be needed to implement all four areas of comprehensive SEL, and finally, what connection points are needed across different “spaces” and partners to build a consistent and aligned set of SEL-focused experiences.  Ultimately, the goal is to build intentional reinforcement of adult SEL practices and student SEL skill-building across an entire day and across all learning opportunities at a campus.

With that context in mind, each campus will have a unique set of partners, teams of staff members, student populations, and families / caregivers. Here are a few guiding questions to begin building cross-cutting partnerships to focus on SEL planning and implementation:

  • At a given campus / site, who are the partners who directly serve students? Inventory site-based organizations and groups who may be valuable contributors to this work.
  • What does each partner do in terms of academics, programming, enrichment and / or outreach and engagement?
  • How might SEL practices “show up” in each of these programs or partnerships?  What are the opportunities to embed SEL practices in student-facing learning opportunities (as well as in adult learning and planning, too)?
  • How often do partners collaborate with each other already (if at all)?  What processes and meeting times can be identified to foster cross-partner collaboration around SEL implementation?
  • What are the goals and priorities of each partner? Are there any common youth-focused goals across partners?  And how do those priorities connect to social and emotional learning?
  • Who is committed to SEL implementation and to what extent are partners committed to the work of SEL knowledge-building, planning, and continuous improvement?

The questions above are meant to jump start reflection and preliminary thinking about the alignment of in- and out-of-school-time SEL practices at a given campus.