Connect and Collaborate Among Staff

A collaborative workplace culture is a critical component of educator effectiveness (McLaughlin & Talbert, 2001). Meeting the needs of all learners is complex, and educators benefit from the collective knowledge and experience of the entire staff. A supportive environment helps educators feel comfortable sharing both their strengths and challenges in the service of learning, which in turn strengthens connection.

When staff support and trust one another, they:

  • Form a strong professional community,
  • Feel more committed to their schools,
  • Share knowledge and expertise, and
  • Work collaboratively to achieve collective goals.

Staff members who feel connected to their colleagues and have time and structure to collaborate (such as shared planning time, time for collaborative activities during team and all-staff meetings or professional learning) are more likely to try a new practice, discuss authentically what they think of the practice and how it went, and collaborate to continuously improve effectiveness (Goddard, et al., 2007; Johnson, et al., 2012).

Cultivate Connection and Community

SEL teams can support connection among staff by carving out structured time for relationship-building throughout the year. SEL practices can be embedded into any meeting where staff come together, get to know others and feel known, share appreciations, and take time to reflect on experiences and challenges. Cultivating connection and community is a continuous process. We suggest the following strategies:

  1. Start by creating shared agreements and developing a shared understanding of the importance of SEL in your community.
  2. Continue to strengthen connection and communication with the SEL 3 Signature Practices.
  3. Incorporate practices for connection into regular meetings throughout the school year.

Often, teams start by creating shared agreements to set the context for a safe, supportive work environment. The ongoing process of creating and then checking in on those agreements in authentic ways, and adjusting them as needed, is foundational for sustaining a trusting, connected community. Once teams have determined how they will work together, this discussion protocol can help structure an initial conversation around CASEL’s framework and develop a shared understanding of its importance at your school.


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Creating Staff Shared Agreements

Guidance for creating shared agreements about how staff will work together to achieve a shared vision for schoolwide SEL


As the year progresses, continue to strengthen connection and communication with the SEL 3 Signature Practices. These practices are a concrete way to build capacity for collaboration and also provide an opportunity to practice social and emotional skills. They can be embedded into staff meetings and professional learning to set the tone for inquiry and sustain connection.

  • Starting with an inclusive welcome brings the voice of every participant into the room, making a connection to one another and to the work ahead.
  • Engaging strategies anchor thinking and learning through interaction and reflection.
  • Finishing with an intentional close uplifts the learning, acknowledges the work being done, and creates momentum towards taking action.

Click here to visit the SEL 3 Signature Practices Playbook.

As educators become more comfortable with each other and more confident with a focus on SEL, it’s important to incorporate practices for connection into regular meetings throughout the school year, making authentic sharing and discussion integral to the way staff interact. This takes dedicated time, and finding enough time is a frequent roadblock in schools. Whether you are able to set aside 10 minutes or an hour to strengthen connection by discussing SEL, the time is well spent.

If you can allocate 10 minutes during a regular team meeting:

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Using Team Meetings to Support SEL

This tool is good for those who don’t yet have dedicated time built into the schedule to connect and reflect around SEL specifically, but want to begin by integrating it into existing meetings. Include these quick prompts in the agenda of a meeting that’s focused on something else, like a weekly science team meeting, to provide space for colleagues to strengthen relationships and learn from each other.


If you can, dedicate regular meetings to SEL collaboration throughout the semester:

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Circle Discussions for Staff

A circle discussion can be used to build community and connection and for collaborative problem-solving. This format makes room for all voices to be heard and supports everyone in feeling safe and respected so they can be open and honest. Use it in the beginning and throughout the year to build and strengthen relationships.


If you are leading a professional learning community, book club, or other ongoing learning:

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Teacher Small-Group Discussion Guide

This discussion guide provides readings, individual and group reflection questions, and activities for small groups to discuss and support each other to implement practices that strengthen learning environments. Use this tool as a source for materials for discussion and activities for any recurring teacher meeting—whether you are able to dedicate full meetings or just 15 minutes to discuss supportive learning environments.


High-quality connections also help create a sense of social support and collective care and reduce burnout (Fernet et al., 2012; Ju et al., 2015) and potentially turnover. Educators strive to bring their best selves to the classroom on a daily basis while working long hours, juggling individual student needs, and pushing toward ambitious goals. Many teachers also face escalating job demands with few resources, which adds to the stress of the profession. Building professional and social connections makes spaces for joy, alliance, and belonging, which are critical to motivation, well-being, and achievement.

Collaborate to Implement SEL

When staff collaborate to implement SEL systemically throughout the school, they are thinking about more than lessons for students (although that is an important part of the work). Collaborating to implement SEL systemically includes getting clear about the changes the school community collectively wants to see, including students, families, educators and staff, and community members and organizations, and what that could look like in practice. Changes could be to teaching practices, supportive discipline, authentic family partnerships, or any other indicator of systemic schoolwide SEL that aligns with school priorities.

As you move into the early stages of SEL implementation, all staff members should be included in collaborative processes to develop a shared vision and goals for SEL. For more detail about these processes, see Focus Area 1b: Create a Plan.

Once implementation begins, focus on progress monitoring and continuous improvement. Build formal and informal opportunities for staff to discuss how their work is going and share ideas and strategies they’ve been trying out with students, families, partners, and colleagues. When SEL implementation challenges arise, use protocols for collaborative problem-solving to allow staff members to pool their knowledge and resources to develop and test out possible solutions.

Collaborative Problem-Solving in Teacher Team Meetings 

Teachers at a middle school in a small, suburban district had begun implementing an evidence-based SEL program. For the first three weeks, they received training, conducted practice lessons, and gave one another feedback. The team was eager to start using the program with their students. However, they quickly encountered difficulties, from feeling crunched for time to managing challenging behavior during class discussions. They were able to set aside time during their content-area team meetings to use the consultancy protocol below, to gain outside perspective and explore their own thinking. For some, just the act of articulating the challenge allowed them to step back and take a wider lens.

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Consultancy Protocol

A tool to help groups think deeply about a concrete challenge around SEL implementation and strengthen collaboration by building on the wisdom in the room


Collaborative problem-solving is more likely to support teacher efficacy when teachers have “influence over instructionally relevant school decisions” (Goddard et al., 2004). It is crucial that district and school administrators foster authentic agency among staff so that opportunities for meaningful collaboration are connected to actual decision-making power.

SEL teams can also work with staff to examine SEL data and determine how implementation can be improved to meet the needs of all students. For example, teams can avoid ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions by disaggregating data to consider factors such as race, gender, and socioeconomic status to illuminate differences and inequities in the ways students are experiencing SEL programming and support. This could, for example, help teams look for patterns around disciplinary data, student-reported feelings of belonging, staff-student trust, or opportunities for student leadership. By asking what blind spots might exist within the team and who should be brought into the conversation, they will be more effective in meeting the needs of every student.

Promoting equitable outcomes for all members of the school community requires spaces of belonging and a stance of shared inquiry where all voices are heard and included in the decision-making process, especially those representing diverse perspectives. Learning with and from members of marginalized communities can help all educators understand and address complex challenges together, with open and respectful attention to diverse perspectives and solutions.

Reviewing SEL Data Together

A high school SEL team was focused on increasing students’ sense of belonging and positive teacher-student relationships and had implemented multiple strategies to achieve these goals. When their student climate survey data came in, they were disappointed to see their strategies had barely moved the needle. When they reviewed disaggregated data, they could see that students with individualized education plans (IEPs) were 14 times more likely to report feeling isolated from peers and a lack of trusted staff members. This revelation led them to work more directly with this and other groups of students who were not equitably benefiting from the team’s SEL strategies to revise their action plan and improve results for all students.

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SEL Data Reflection Protocol

A structured reflection process to observe trends and discuss ideas for continuous improvement of SEL implementation, also available in Spanish




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