Model SEL Among Staff

Just as a supportive classroom environment can bring out the best in a student, a supportive workplace environment can “enhance staff members’ SEL abilities [and] set the conditions for using them effectively” (Jones et al., 2013).

This kind of environment is built through continual day-to-day social and emotional interactions like reflecting together, collaborating to make decisions, and celebrating collective success (Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Bryk, 2010; Edwards-Groves et al., 2016). Members of the SEL team can support and model these interactions throughout the day. Some of what you will read below, along with additional strategies for building community, can also be found in Connect and Collaborate Among Staff.

How can you begin to support and model SEL for staff? Establish a set of practices that make SEL-centered interactions a habit, incorporate them into routines, and share responsibility for facilitation so they stay fresh and meaningful. There are many ways to do this. Below you will find guidance and tools for three examples:

  • Return to shared agreements
  • Embed SEL practices into meetings, professional learning, and coaching
  • Recognize effort and honor growth

Return to Shared Agreements

When your team builds shared agreements, you develop a common idea of what you want your environment to look like. Shared agreements identify what every person in the community needs from each other to feel safe, supported, open, and trusting, and provide common language about how people aspire to work and be together (National Equity Project, n.d.).

Shared agreements center around these questions:

  • What kind of environment will help our community succeed and thrive?
  • To this end, how should we communicate and interact with each other? With students? With families?
  • What practices/processes should we use as we meet and work together?
  • How will we hold each other accountable for these agreements?

To create space for staff to discuss these questions, some schools in CASEL’s Collaborating Districts Initiative (CDI) use a one- to three-hour activity outlined in the tool Creating Staff Shared Agreements.

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Creating Staff Shared Agreements

Guidance for building on a shared SEL vision to collaboratively develop a set of shared agreements for staff to guide interactions with colleagues, students, and families


All members of the group help to develop the agreements, maintain accountability for them, have agency to surface moments when they are broken, and work to resolve problems and repair relationships. By practicing the self awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making necessary to recognize when harm has been done and work to repair, you will be modeling the vulnerability required to act as a leader, no matter what role you are in.

Plan a way to revisit shared agreements regularly. How can you make them “lived agreements” that have a real impact on the school environment? For example, you might decide to show the agreements on screen as you begin all-staff meetings or professional learning and ask the group to speak to a partner about how they have seen the agreements come to life lately or which agreement they want to focus on in the coming week.

School leaders can model their commitment to growth by asking for anonymous feedback about whether they are fulfilling the agreements and how they can do better. Periodically revisit the agreements to determine whether any should be amended or added to ensure their ongoing impact.

Embed SEL Practices Into Meetings, Professional Learning, and Coaching

SEL practices can be modeled and embedded into any meeting where staff come together. Staff meetings, professional learning communities, team meetings, and even mentoring or coaching relationships can be opportunities for modeling SEL practices. Practices may include intentional opportunities for personal connection and sharing of appreciation, the exchange of perspectives, collaborative problem-solving, and reflection. This benefits staff and also provides an example that staff can apply as they strengthen learning environments and relationships with students.

Research shows that a sense of agency and strong teacher leadership structures are a key lever for improving school climate (Allensworth & Hart, 2018; Donohoo et al., 2018). To bolster this, leaders act as facilitators and support communication between staff teams, helping to scale co-created solutions schoolwide. For example, at the top of a meeting, stay brief with updates and information and then plan to spend the bulk of this precious “together time” to elevate staff ideas and experiences and work together purposefully.

The SEL 3 Signature Practices can be used to model SEL and create opportunities for connection and collaboration. They provide a concrete example of how SEL can be modeled throughout the day—in classrooms, staff meetings, and professional learning:

  1. Inclusive Welcome:
    A brief, interactive experience that makes room for each participant’s participation as they connect to one another and the work ahead. The more we fully share ourselves and are fully received and understood by others, the stronger and safer our learning environments become.Example: At a meeting to prepare for an open house, the facilitator invites all attendees to share a story with a partner or small group about a time they were able to make a meaningful connection with a student’s parent or with their own child’s teachers. Then, she asks volunteers to share with the full group what they see as key to making families feel welcome and valued.


  2. Engaging Practices:
    Activities that guide participants to explain or apply ideas, elaborate on their thought processes, listen to and build upon others’ ideas, and reflect on what they are learning. This includes brain breaks—vital opportunities for anchoring learning, regaining focus, and transferring concepts to long-term memory—and opportunities to get up and move to keep brains refreshed and open to learning.Example: After introducing a new concept, the facilitator asks staff to pair up and take a walk and discuss the concept, sharing examples of how it does or doesn’t align with their experience.


  3. Intentional Close:
    A final message or activity that makes space for staff to reflect on their learning and progress, assess their level of confidence, and identify personal next steps. It may also encourage participants to recognize the contributions they and others have made. Not necessarily a cheery ending, this closing activity highlights an individual and shared understanding of the importance of the work and can provide a sense of accomplishment and support forward thinking.Example: The facilitator reserves the last five minutes for staff to write a letter to their “future self” about what they learned and want to apply to their work, to be delivered weeks later once they are in the thick of the school year.

Click here to visit the SEL 3 Signature Practices Playbook

Recognize Effort and Honor Growth

The SEL leadership team can also encourage staff to model SEL by fostering a culture that celebrates progress and growth. Staff who receive recognition for their learning and collaboration efforts are more satisfied with and engaged in their work, and motivated to work toward collective goals (Senechal et al., 2016; Shah et al. 2012; Ali & Ahmed, 2009).

Here are some ways to recognize effort and honor growth:

  • Acknowledge individuals for honoring shared agreements.
    Establish regular opportunities for all staff to acknowledge their colleagues’ contributions. Staff can share appreciation aloud (for example, during a Staff Circle discussion or as an intentional close) or in writing (for example, on a bulletin board, in a memo, or in staff mailboxes).
  • Honor the work staff are already doing to support SEL.
    Begin with the assumption that all staff already incorporate SEL in some ways and ask them about their experiences. (Our Program and Initiative Inventory offers an interview protocol for learning from staff this way.) When conducting observations (see CASEL’s Walkthrough Protocol) or having one-on-one conversations, watch and listen for ways staff are engaging with SEL—perhaps in an assignment, a display, a relationship with a student, or a process from a team meeting. Spotlight these examples by sharing anecdotes aloud and in writing.
  • Ask for feedback from staff, students, and families and clearly explain how you are acting on it.
    Seeking and using feedback shows others that you value their perspectives. You recognize your own need for and value the process of continuous improvement. When the school community sees the impact of their feedback, they’ll feel more agency and willingness to engage in the future. These kinds of exchanges provide a model of trust and vulnerability that may help others seek and receive feedback from colleagues as well.
  • Increase emphasis on discussion, problem-solving, and improving over time.
    If an SEL implementation plan is compliance-driven, staff members will learn to “check the box.” When an SEL implementation plan includes regular cycles for review, discussion, and collaborative problem-solving, staff members can see that the long-term aim is to improve outcomes for students and adults.




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