Professional Learning About SEL

An important part of schoolwide SEL implementation is ongoing, high-quality professional learning that supports staff in developing practices that prioritize and promote SEL. Effective professional development involves educators as active participants in their learning and is focused on schoolwide impact.

If you have already begun developing a professional learning plan, use the rubric or the questions below to identify areas for continuous improvement:

Do staff engage in ongoing, high-quality professional learning, including receiving coaching and formative feedback when practicing new strategies?

Is professional learning aligned to the school’s SEL goals?

Is professional learning designed in a way that demonstrates and develops skills for cultivating supportive, equitable learning environments and promoting SEL for students?

Are professional learning opportunities scaffolded to support staff based on their roles and current knowledge of SEL?

Has the SEL team developed a culture of learning that invites curiosity and reflection, and do they collect staff input and ideas to shape an effective approach to ongoing support and coaching?

Professional learning should be driven by your SEL goals

When your school community has developed SEL goals, an aligned professional learning plan lays out what learning needs to occur so that all staff members:

  • Know how to effectively carry out their role in SEL implementation.
  • Are supported to use specific strategies or programs that support the goals.
  • Have space to connect with each other and with SEL leaders about how implementation is going and how they can improve over time.

Professional learning about SEL, as with any kind of professional learning, needs to have a clear purpose and immediate applicability. Show staff members how professional learning will lead to intended changes by drawing direct connections to schoolwide SEL goals. For example, here’s how one school developed a clear goal, then planned professional learning in alignment with that goal:

SEL Goal: All teachers will self-report that they consistently use one or more research-based SEL strategies for building relationships in the classroom by the end of November. As we make progress on this implementation goal, we expect to see improvements in student and teacher perception of school climate as well as student attendance and engagement.

Aligned Professional Learning:

  • The school SEL team will attend a two-day workshop on building intentional relationships in July and will meet twice in August to prepare professional learning for staff.
  • The SEL team will provide a two-hour professional learning session to all teachers on relationship-building strategies during the September professional learning days.
  • Members of the SEL team will meet every other week with grade-level teams to discuss implementation, answer questions, share and celebrate successes, and collaboratively problem-solve between September and mid-November. In mid-November teachers will complete a brief survey about their use of strategies that were demonstrated in the September learning session.

As you begin to organize your plan for professional learning, work with your team to describe the following for each of your SEL goals:

  • Learning Objective
    What do school staff members need to know and be able to do to achieve this goal?
  • Measurement
    How will you measure whether you have met the learning objective? How and when will you monitor progress? How and when will data be shared with staff?
  • When and Where
    Consider the schedules and requirements of all participants who should be present in professional learning to ensure they can engage fully. This may require attention to teaching schedules, as well as attention as to when out-of-school time and community partners can be present. Professional learning can take place throughout the school year as a component of in-service days, staff meetings, grade-level or department meetings, dedicated professional learning communities, off-site experiences, or online events.
  • Professional Learning Opportunities
    Which professional learning opportunities from the district or community partners can support this goal? What other professional learning is available (e.g., conferences, webinars)? What online or print resources can we build from to develop our own professional learning?
  • Follow-Up Strategy
    How will you provide follow-up outreach to all and focused support as needed?
  • Dates/Owners
    When will this happen throughout the year? Who will take the lead on making arrangements and preparations?

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Create a Professional Learning Plan

A template to organize a learning plan that is clearly tied to the schoolwide goals for SEL, can be assessed for effectiveness, draws upon available resources, and includes intentional follow-up to ensure that new practices are sustained and supported over time


Professional learning should be active and experiential

Experienced professional learning facilitators infuse SEL into the way they design sessions to ensure impact and engagement. Learners use social and emotional skills during professional learning when they exercise self-awareness about their own effectiveness, self-management as they tune in to and manage emotions that surface, relationship skills as they share with and listen to their colleagues, and social awareness and responsible decision-making as they work together on solutions to improve instruction and support for students. In all professional learning, whether specifically on SEL or any topic, SEL-embedded activities and experiences align with the science of how adults learn best (Learning Forward, 2022), by:

  • Drawing on learners’ knowledge and experiences.
    Facilitators demonstrate respect for learners and curiosity about their context when they center the expertise and wisdom of the learners. Self-awareness activities guide learners to examine and share their experiences, identity, and their journey of knowing the things that they know and recognizing what they need to learn. The experience of being asked for input and hearing from and sharing with colleagues can also generate a more trusting, collaborative environment.
  • Leaving room for connection and discussion.
    When there is little time and much to learn, presentations often focus too much on information-sharing and shortchange time for learners to talk. Discussion is an essential way that adults integrate and apply new information so they can carry out their SEL implementation role more effectively while also fostering connections and belonging among learners. Activities that engage social awareness and relationship skills guide learners to co-create new understandings with colleagues that support changes in mindsets and practices over time.
  • Encouraging engagement in collaborative problem-solving.
    Reading and hearing new information can build a knowledge base, but collaborative inquiry is more effective in changing practice. Activities that encourage problem-solving and inclusive decision-making about real issues support learner agency and collective efficacy. Facilitators position themselves as a co-learner, trusting that the group can work together to devise solutions to the challenges they face.
  • Prioritizing time for application and practice.
    A facilitator’s goal is to move a group from learning to understanding and application, and then to continually build expertise over time. No one will apply learning to their work in precisely the same way: they need time to process what they are coming to understand in the context of their upcoming work. When facilitators design learning in a way that allows for choices, individual goal-setting, and time to work on a plan they will use with students, learning is more likely to impact practice.

Professional Learning on Improving Classroom Engagement


During the pandemic, a large school district in Maryland created a Teacher Fellowship on Virtual Engagement. They collected student experience data using the Elevate survey and student empathy interviews to determine which learning conditions they needed to address to increase student engagement. Teachers reviewed and discussed the data in a professional learning community and collectively recognized the need to work on the learning conditions of classroom community, meaningful work, and student voice (PERTS, 2023).


Teachers made choices about how to apply learning for their context. Two teachers decided to focus on the classroom community by implementing “Student Celebrations,” where students learn about their peers through highlights they choose to share about themselves. A second group of teachers opted to work on student voice. They gave students “choice in output” by asking students their preferred mode of output and then allowing them to choose from three formats to demonstrate their learning on weekly assignments. After teachers implemented these changes, later administrations of the student survey showed that the modifications greatly impacted students’ sense of belonging, student voice, and meaningful work. Assignment completion and mastery rates also increased. Teachers continued to monitor progress on these objectives and refine their practices over time, even after the return to classroom learning.

From Using Student Experience Data to Co-Design Learning Environments (CASEL & National Equity Project, 2023)

For more ideas, examples, and tools, explore Lead by Learning’s Playbook for Creating the Conditions for Adult Learning and our tools below:

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12 Strategies for Adult SEL Facilitation

Clear strategies for facilitating effective SEL professional learning


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SEL 3 Signature Practices Playbook

Guidance and examples for using inclusive welcoming activities, engaging strategies, and intentional closings in professional learning.


SEL and Equity in Action

How can professional learning facilitators lean into the five SEL competencies to advance equity …More

How can professional learning facilitators lean into the five SEL competencies to advance equity and excellence?

SELF-AWARENESS → with a focus on identity
“My identities impact how I perceive and navigate the world and how others perceive me. It is important to be aware of this and continue to explore and reflect on this.”

Example: A facilitator reviews their session design and facilitation plan with a lens for biases. They ask, “Did I design this session to meet my own needs as a learner, or did I take into account other people’s learning styles and preferences? In what ways can my session design or facilitation style be more culturally responsive or culturally aware? What would that look and sound like? How will I be perceived by this group of people, and what gaps should I be aware of or acknowledge between our lived experiences?”

SELF-MANAGEMENT → with a focus on agency
“I know I can have an impact and choose to act to improve conditions for myself and others. I will intentionally make room for others to act as well.”

Example: A facilitator recognizes that the choices they make have power to promote deeper engagement among participants. They consider what can be done to meet the needs of everyone participating, such as compensation, adequate time, classroom coverage, or meals. They offer participants choices about how they will engage with material, and during the session provide time and guidance for them to plan their next steps.

SOCIAL AWARENESS → with a focus on belonging
“I am best able to contribute when I feel I am valued, welcomed, and an essential part of this community. It’s important to support others to feel this way, too.”

Example: A facilitator first determines why the topic matters to participants and how they need to feel in order to engage in learning activities. They recognize that participant behavior that may look like resistance or hesitance to engage is often connected to social dynamics, and they tailor the design of their session with activities to build trust and a sense of belonging.

RELATIONSHIP SKILLS → with a focus on collaborative problem-solving
“I am more effective when I listen to others to understand problems and share ideas to develop solutions. The process of sharing power and working together is important to get to the best solution.”

Example: A facilitator designs the session to limit their own talk time and promote opportunities for individual and group processing and discovery. They ask for feedback and openly share what they learned from the group’s feedback and how it will be incorporated. 

RESPONSIBLE DECISION-MAKING → with a focus on curiosity
“I lean in with courage and choose to learn about myself, others, and the world. It is important to be open to and seek new information and perspectives when making decisions.”

Example: A professional learning participant makes no secret of the fact that they don’t think the session is a good use of their time. Resisting the impulse to feel defensive, the facilitator leans into curiosity and asks questions to better understand where they are coming from, looking for common ground. They communicate that critical perspectives are an asset and make shifts so that all participants can use built-in planning time to do work that is meaningful to them.

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