Build on Strengths and Experience

When thinking through how to support adult SEL, it is easy to focus on the gaps or what others need to learn. However, when developing a plan for adult learning, it is indispensable for SEL leaders to learn first from the school community—to lean into curiosity about what they already know and do to promote SEL, formally or intuitively, and build on those strengths.

For an SEL leadership team, examining what is already familiar, embraced, and successful provides a strong starting point, and it also aids buy-in. A deficit orientation presents SEL as a shiny new solution to intractable problems: It can provoke defensiveness and skepticism. In contrast, an asset-based approach presents SEL as the next step in the right direction. It allows SEL leaders to say:

  1. Here’s what we’ve learned from you about what is already working and what is needed.
  2. This SEL strategy is a next step that will help us build on that to be even more intentional, consistent, structured, supported, and effective.

SEL teams can center the wisdom, perspectives, and experiences of staff to build a responsive approach to adult SEL:

Drawing on Teacher Knowledge to Design Adult Learning Strategies and Processes

In a recent study, researchers from CASEL and the UChicago Consortium on School Research (Nwafor et al., 2023) documented examples of school districts piloting an SEL strategy that involved student experience surveys, data reflection, and teacher practices that improve the learning environment and elevate student voice.

Pilot teachers shared knowledge and experience as well as concerns that leadership were not aware of. Their input as co-designers improved training sessions, set a feasible calendar for surveys and analysis meetings, and ensured the workload was manageable by reducing other obligations. By identifying and honoring teacher expertise, leadership promoted trust in their learning community and expanded their understanding of the conditions and supports that enable or hinder the intended outcomes of the initiative.

Similarly, SEL leaders should learn from and honor the deep knowledge and experience of community partners, families and caregivers, and students themselves. Their voices will shape an SEL implementation plan that is well-supported and sustainable.

Learn From Community Partners

Learn From Families and Caregivers

  • The Family/Caregiver Survey on Schoolwide SEL Implementation (also available in Spanish) is a valid and reliable survey that SEL teams can use to learn about what families have experienced in their interactions and communication with the school, how well their child’s needs are being met, and the quality of the school-family relationship.
  • The SEL Discussion Series for Parents and Caregivers (also available in Spanish) supports families in learning more about SEL and its applications at home, but also creates a trusting space for families to share priorities, interests, concerns, and knowledge with school leaders and grow together as advocates.

Learn From Students

  • Consider these strategies for gathering student feedback to develop a simple, age-appropriate plan to learn what is working to help students learn and feel supported.
  • 5-Minute Chats With Students is a basic template for connecting one-on-one with students to check in and invite their feedback. This tool was written in collaboration with high school students.
  • CASEL learned alongside school districts that were using a student feedback tool to explore how routine collection and review of student feedback data can help educators co-design new practices and policies to improve learning environments. This blog summarizes what they learned.

Learning From Students to Shape SEL Practices for an Advisory Period

A Chicago high school had established an alternate schedule every Wednesday to make space for a morning advisory period. Each staff member was assigned a group of 15 to 20 student mentees and used their time together to check in with students individually about attendance and grades, help them make plans to improve, and offer support as students did homework or made up missed work. Advisory was having a positive impact on some students’ grades, but on-time attendance began to dip on Wednesdays as more students chose to skip their advisory period.

When the counseling team surveyed staff and students about their experience, results were mixed. Most students had a positive perception of advisory, especially those who reported that they felt personally connected to their advisor, that it was an opportunity to get to know their peers, and it was a useful time to get support with schoolwork. Teachers’ perceptions of advisory were less positive, with many reporting that they struggled with the lack of structure during this period.

The team responded to this feedback by taking what had been designated as an academic intervention period and building onto it with SEL. In addition to monitoring grades and offering supported work time, counselors also provided structured and sequenced activities for advisors to build connections with students and among students. They met with students to identify topics for discussions and trained advisors to facilitate biweekly community-building circles.



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