SEL Implementation

CASEL’s guidance has taught us that schools are more effective at teaching and reinforcing SEL for students when they also cultivate SEL competencies in adults. Your site’s implementation plan will likely call on many adults – from teachers to lunchroom staff to out-of-school time partners – to take an active role in learning about and promoting SEL. It’s critically important that school wide SEL implementation intentionally nurtures a work environment in which staff gains social and emotional competence through learning, collaborating, and modeling their social and emotional skills. It’s recommended that schools continuously assess their needs surrounding adult SEL and establish systems and supports that strengthen both adult and student SEL.

Focus Areas 2 of CASEL’s School Guide provides much guidance on adult SEL, but here are a few checkpoints to get started:

  • Staff identify and reflect on their own social and emotional learning competencies.
  • Leadership models and encourages self-care practices across the entire campus.
  • All staff members study and reflect on equitable practices, including strategies for educators and parents on having conversations with young people in school and at home about race, racism, racial violence, understanding biases, and how to advocate for racial justice.


Where an out-of-school program exists, additional collaboration opportunities exist, including:

  • Group workshops with content aligned to in-school partners.
  • Weekly professional development with front-line staff workers.
  • OST collaboration with in-school partners within the campus steering committee.
  • Collaboration between OST and in-school leadership in development of the campus SEL goals.
Implementation Stages

The goal of implementing SEL is to ensure that SEL practices and systems are firmly integrated into all operational aspects of the school. This is most likely to be achieved with a strong commitment to SEL implementation by all stakeholders and a common understanding that becoming an SEL campus is a long-term process. Our team has developed three primary implementation stages (Launching, Developing, and Sustaining) with indicators of progress at each stage. Each campus should reflect on its current status (or progress over time) through the SEL Implementation Survey to identify its implementation stage and to assist with the development of SEL goals.


Launching Campus

A launching campus is at the beginning stages of SEL implementation and staff members are focused on learning about SEL competencies and skills, establishing systems and structures that create a climate and culture conducive to furthering SEL, and adopting the transformational mindsets necessary to implement comprehensive SEL. Depending on the results of its SEL Implementation Survey, a launching campus may not choose to begin explicit skills instruction during its first year of implementing SEL practices and approaches.


Developing Campus

A developing campus sustains the preliminary SEL practices and systems from its initial implementation year, and focuses on refining SEL knowledge and campus-wide systems. Depending on capacity, a developing campus may begin rolling out regular, campus-wide SEL explicit skills instruction and participate in training around content integration. 



Sustaining Campus

A sustaining campus has reached a high-level of campus-based leadership, knowledge, and facilitation around social and emotional learning. The campus is sustaining practices and systems from previous years and drives its own SEL goal setting, planning, and progress monitoring. The SEL Steering Committee actively incorporates and monitors SEL practices on their campus, facilitates effective decision-making around campus-driven SEL goals and priorities, and intentionally guides students and staff in continual learning around SEL. Moreover, the campus develops strong partnerships with parents and, caregivers, and community partners by sharing ongoing SEL information and leading SEL-related engagement opportunities. Support from Dallas ISD’s SEL department includes SEL Coordinator-led consultation and coaching, professional development, and access to department resources.

OST Pacing Guide

With explicit instruction alignment in mind, Big Thought and Dallas Afterschool codeveloped an OST Pacing Guide, using the Sanford Harmony Focus Areas and the Dallas ISD weekly themes. The OST Pacing Guide consists of weekly lessons with four components:


  1. Literacy
  2. Extension Activity
  3. Hands-On Activity
  4. Guiding Questions and Reflection
Best Practices to Guide SEL Implementation Efforts: In School Considerations
  • Establish a steering team with inclusive membership.
  • Endeavor to create a welcoming, safe and nurturing environment campus wide to set the stage for explicit skills instruction.
  • Maintain a strong collaboration between in- and out- of- school- time for professional development and related SEL implementation decision-making.
  • Evaluate community partnerships ensuring that they support SEL goals and efforts.
  • Evaluate discipline practices to ensure they are “supportive discipline” practices.
  • Review SEL goals and implementation progress regularly and share with stakeholders.
  • Adopt the mindset that SEL supports academic success and is an integral part of all systems and practices.
  • Find opportunities to collaborate with community partners and other SEL implementer’s as part of continuous improvement and deepening adult SEL acquisition.
  • Expect adults to model SEL in all interactions: (e.g., adult- to- adult, adult- to- student).
  • Engage in additional foundational studies on topics such as trauma-informed care, growth mindset, culturally responsive teaching practices, self-care / well-being, mindfulness, etc.
  • Identify featured campus SEL practices and ensure they are practiced in all areas of campus life, including common areas and OST environment (e.g. signature practices – (see Appendix), calming areas, respect agreements, emotional check-ins, threshold greetings, etc.).
Best Practices to Guide SEL Implementation Efforts: Out of School Time Considerations
  • Ensure that space is allocated and conducive to accommodate the programming and logistical considerations of the OST environment.
  • Provide guidance in collaboration with the district to effectively implement a social and emotional learning initiative; by which children and adults develop essential emotional and social competencies and experiences.
  • Develop and maintain strong collaborative relationships between in- and out- of- school- time for professional development and related SEL implementation matters.
  • Support school-wide implementation of the SEL program, including standards, staff development, curriculum, and assessment.
  • Model and adopt the mindset that SEL supports academic success and is an essential part of all systems and school climate.
  • Seek out opportunities to collaborate with in- school partners as part of continuous improvement and deepening the adult practice of SEL.
  • Train on correlated content such as trauma-informed care, growth mindset, culturally responsive teaching practices, self-care / wellbeing and, mindfulness, which reinforces and enhances the understanding of SEL.
  • Adapt and support the SEL programs within the schools and provide leadership for work to build and deepen a positive school climate and culture.
  • Align programming to ensure that featured campus SEL practices are reflected in the OST environment.
Additional Suggested Topics of Study
Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students (Zaretta Hammond)

Advances in neuroscience have led educators to better understand how the brain learns and leaves educators with this truth: All students are wired for expansive learning and self-determination. Culturally responsive teaching is necessary for optimizing learning opportunities. This book improves the awareness of educators to adopt strategies that bring relevance to the diverse students in our classrooms in order to support engagement and sense-making. The author has strong research around literacy, vocabulary development, and equity, and has designed culturally responsive tutor training programs aimed at volunteer reading tutors for a variety of nonprofit organizations. Additional information on the topic can be found on Hammond’s blog:

The Morning Meeting Book (Roxann Kriete, Carol Davis – Responsive Classroom) The Power of Our Words (Paula Denton, EdD)

This book illustrates that language is one of the most powerful tools educators have to open the doors of possibilities for students. Our words become effective tools when we pay  attention to our choice of words and tone of voice.  The author presents compelling research and explanations that cause examination of habits and beliefs that can be barriers to student engagement and success. Examples of effective language provide a reference for educators to adopt that can transform classroom instruction toward SEL supported, student-centered learning.

Book studies

Campus leadership can facilitate collective studies on selected initiatives through book studies. This practice provides a focused alignment of selected topics among educators, broadens learning, and improves teaching skills as educators read, explore, discuss, and reflect on common topics. Campuses can include OST and other community partners in the book studies to strengthen the circle of learning. 

Developing Academic Mindsets

Academic mindsets are beliefs or ways of perceiving oneself in relation to learning, and lay the groundwork for deep academic, social and emotional learning. These mindsets are adopted by adults and children, through continuous reflection and discussion.

  • I belong in this academic community. Students who feel a sense of belonging in their schools and classrooms demonstrate higher levels of competencies such as self-efficacy and intrinsic motivation.
  • My ability and competence grow with my effort. As explained in Carol Dweck’s groundbreaking work on the subject, a “growth mindset” leads to the belief that we can improve with effort and new strategies, and that struggle is part of the process. These beliefs encourage students to practice and develop the social and emotional skills to stay motivated, set goals, and reflect on progress. By contrast, students (and adults) who see intelligence as “fixed” view struggle as a sign of inferiority and something to be avoided or disguised. For more on the Carol Dweck’s work, visit Mindset Works.
  • I can succeed at this. Believing that one can be successful leads to increased effort and engagement, creating a positive feedback loop between hard work, mastery, and increased self-efficacy beliefs.
  • This work has value for me. Learners are naturally motivated when they find a task compelling or see connections between the learning and their personal aspirations.
  • For additional resources, see Academic Mindsets, an instructional handout with signs for classroom use.