SEL Dallas Vision

A city where children and adults are prepared with the social and emotional skills to lead healthy, productive lives.

SEL Dallas Mission

To foster collaborative communities that promote social and emotional development through in-school and out-of-school programs.

SEL Dallas Definition

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) builds the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that both students and adults need to be successful in school, work, and life. They include things such as knowing and controlling your emotions, teamwork, understanding others, making positive choices, and resilience.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has identified five core SEL competencies, including Self-Awareness, Self Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision Making.  Together, these competencies support both inner and outer connections such as understanding one’s identity and values while likewise building positive relationships with others and valuing diverse experiences and perspectives.  In this way, SEL is an ongoing process for both students and adults with relevant applications in all aspects of our lives (personal, academic / professional, etc.).


CASEL usually visualizes the five competencies within three rings: classrooms, schools, and home and communities, noting that these areas of a student’s life are closely connected (and therefore, SEL should likewise be infused across these areas).  We would add out of school representation to the school level, noting that afterschool programs are an integral part of a student’s life as well and an excellent opportunity for SEL skill development as well.


Download a one-pager describing the five SEL competencies.

CASEL SEL Definition

In 2019, the Aspen Institute released a report, From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope: Recommendations from the National Commission on Social, Emotional, & Academic Development, describing the need for social and emotional learning and providing implementation recommendations for a range of stakeholders. Incorporating social and emotional learning into ongoing learning is meaningful for students and adults in the following ways:


  • With an approach grounded in SEL skills and relationship-building, students develop positive relationships with peers and adults as well as collaboration skills such as communication, listening to other perspectives, and empathy, to use while learning in school and during out of school time activities.
  • By emphasizing ongoing individual reflection and perspective-taking, SEL can support the development of individuals’ beliefs and pride in their unique identities as well as develop appreciation of others’ identities and viewpoints.
  • Above technical skills, employers look for employees with strong SEL skills including communication skills, the ability to work well in teams, emotional intelligence, and the ability to follow through on challenging tasks, among others.  In a recent study, the majority of companies surveyed (79%) ranked social and emotional skills as their number one most important skill set.*
  • Finally, we know that a key antidote to trauma is positive, trusting relationships with others (especially for students to have positive relationships with adults). By embedding regular opportunities for relationship-building, we can support students and adults in building safe, supportive learning environments and reduce the negative impact of trauma.


Adults and students do not simply gain these skills with the passage of time.  It is valuable and necessary to directly teach these specific SEL skills, incorporate them in ongoing learning, and guide continual refinement across all five SEL competencies. 


*W. Cunningham and P. Villasenor, “Employer voices, employer demands, and implications for public skills development policy connecting the labor and education sectors,” World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 7582 (Washington: World Bank Group, 2016).

Purpose & Background

In the summer of 2017, Dallas Independent School District and Big Thought were awarded a six-year Partnerships for Social and Emotional Learning Initiative (PSELI) implementation grant from the Wallace Foundation.  The grant’s guiding question is: If urban schools and their afterschool partners work together to improve and align experiences and climate to foster children’s social and emotional learning, will students benefit?

Six communities were chosen by The Wallace Foundation to receive six-year PSELI implementation grants.

Each of these communities had previously committed to including social and emotional learning in their services to children. Sites were chosen based on fit with The Wallace Foundation’s dual goals of helping local partners to strengthen their capacity and developing new knowledge that will be useful to the field.



To effectively answer this question in Dallas, Dallas ISD and Big Thought are partnering with Dallas Afterschool and City Of Dallas Park & Recreation to align planning, training, and continuous cycles of improvement for the benefit of staff and students at our 14 PSELI grant sites.  This ongoing collaborative partnership among Dallas ISD, Big Thought, Dallas Afterschool, and the City of Dallas Parks & Recreation is called SEL Dallas.  The SEL Dallas team receives ongoing planning and implementation support from our technical assistance partners at CASEL and the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality.


Grant Phases

Our 14 PSELI grant sites are broken up into two Phases. Phase I sites are expected to implement comprehensive SEL in grant years 1 through 4, which includes intensive, ongoing support from all local partners.

Alternatively, Phase II sites, during grant years 1-4, are meant to operate “business as usual” and not implement any SEL practices or related training (for in- or out of school time) as part of a long-term study of PSELI implementation.

During grant years 5-6, Phase II sites lead their SEL implementation process and receive ongoing support for in- and out of school alignment at an accelerated pace with local partner guidance.

Phase Sites


Long-Term Study

To document the learning process and collect relevant information for the field, The Wallace Foundation has partnered with the RAND Corporation to conduct a long-term study of the PSELI grant (across six PSELI communities).  Not only does this benefit each of the PSELI communities as they receive ongoing data and feedback from students and staff members over the course of the grant but this likewise contributes to a national understanding of what it takes to effectively align in- and out of school SEL implementation efforts for meaningful impact.

By the end of the 2020 school year, SEL Dallas had achieved the following:


  • Six of seven Phase I sites became AQuA certified by Dallas Afterschool for the quality of their afterschool programming. AQuA Data Across Years
  • Big Thought and Dallas Afterschool developed an out of school-focused pacing guide for Sanford Harmony, an SEL explicit skills curriculum for elementary grade levels.  The OST Pacing Guide is meant to supplement (not duplicate) in-school Sanford Harmony lessons during afterschool time by providing literacy-based activities and reflection questions.  
  • All Phase I sites have established collaborative, functioning SEL Steering Committees (inclusive of in- and out of school representation) that guide planning, progress towards goals, and ongoing refinement of SEL practices on their respective campuses. See steering committee information in Section V.
  • SEL Dallas had developed a robust set of communication tools and resources including the SEL Dallas website, Resource Portal for Phase I staff members, monthly SEL newsletter for Phase I staff and external partners, and related SEL Dallas collateral (presentation templates, branded materials for Phase I sites, etc.).
  • SEL Dallas finalized a set of SEL Learning Standards to help describe what we want students (and adults) to know and do within each competency.


The PSELI grant in Dallas is expected to end in summer 2023.  Our partnership’s collective learning and resource development during the PSELI study has shaped our Guidebook content and rand will serve as a catalyst for future implementation efforts across Dallas.