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Focus Area 2

Strengthen Adult SEL

Cultivate a community of adults who engage in their own social and emotional learning, collaborate on strategies for promoting SEL, and model SEL throughout the school.


To promote students’ social and emotional competence, it’s important for schools to simultaneously foster a supportive staff environment that cultivates the social and emotional competence and capacity of the adults in the building.

Through the Collaborating Districts Initiative (CDI), CASEL has learned that schools are more effective at teaching and reinforcing SEL for students when they also cultivate SEL competencies in adults. Successful SEL implementation depends on how well staff work together to facilitate SEL instruction, foster a positive school community, and model social and emotional competence. This calls on schools to focus on adults’ professional growth as educators as well as their own social and emotional learning (Jones et al., 2018).

Your school’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 promoting social and emotional learning. You may find that staff need to engage with new programming or curricula, take on different responsibilities, or fine-tune their professional practices to serve the goals of your plan.  At the same time, teaching is one of the most stressful occupations in the U.S. (Gallup, 2014). Stress affects teachers’ health and well-being, job satisfaction, job turnover, and student outcomes (Greenberg et al., 2016).

For these reasons, it’s critically important that schoolwide SEL implementation intentionally nurtures a work environment in which staff feel supported, empowered, able to collaborate effectively and build relational trust, and also able to develop their social and emotional skills.

Adult SEL is an emerging field. While robust research confirms that adults need to cultivate and practice social and emotional skills, much is yet to be established about how to support this development strategically and systemically.

As the field continues to grow, we provide information here to help SEL teams establish a community of adults who are engaged in ongoing social and emotional learning. This focus area will help your school create a supportive staff environment that cultivates adult social and emotional competence and capacity through the following sections:

LEARN: Support staff in reflecting on personal social and emotional competencies and developing capacity for supporting SEL in their peers and students. This activity includes:

— Reflecting on Personal SEL Skills

— Brain-Based Model for Workplace Collaboration

— Examining Biases for Cultural Competence

— Growth Mindset for Staff

— Self-Care and Re-energizing

— Personalized Professional Learning Plans for SEL

COLLABORATE:  Set up structures such as professional learning communities (PLCs) or peer mentoring for staff to collaborate on how to hone their strategies for promoting schoolwide SEL. This activity includes:

— Staff Shared Agreements

— Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)

— Peer Mentoring and Partnership

— Integrating SEL into Staff Meetings

— Peer Consultancy Protocols

MODEL: Support staff in modeling SEL competencies, mindsets, and skills throughout the school community with students, students’ families, community partners, and one another. This activity includes:

— Model SEL as a Staff

— Create a Culture of Appreciation

— Practices for Leaders


While you do not need to complete each activity within this focus area before moving on to Focus Area 3: Promote SEL for Students, it’s recommended that schools continuously take stock of their needs surrounding adult SEL and establish systems and supports that strengthen both adult and student SEL. You may choose to take or update the rubric for this focus area before or after starting the activities to track your progress and reflect on where to prioritize your efforts. As you’re implementing strategies to strengthen adult SEL, you may also want to engage in Focus Area 4: Practice Continuous Improvement to develop a plan for collecting and reflecting on data related to adult SEL.

Focus Area 2

Administrator Action

As the ambassadors of adult SEL, school leaders set the tone for a positive school climate. This involves shaping how staff collaborate and develop professionally while cultivating and modeling the…More

As the ambassadors of adult SEL, school leaders set the tone for a positive school climate. This involves shaping how staff collaborate and develop professionally while cultivating and modeling their own social and emotional competence.

Research shows that school leaders who foster collaboration among teachers create strong school climates that ultimately lead to academic gains for students (Allensworth & Hart, 2018). School leaders with strong social and emotional competencies are also better able to build and maintain positive and trusting relationships—a critical component of creating a positive, supportive, and effective school climate (Patti & Tobin, 2003). By consistently modeling SEL, prioritizing time for reflection and planning around SEL, and intentionally working to build relationships with school staff, administrators become visible ambassadors for schoolwide SEL.

Administrators also model SEL through collaborative leadership. Hank Rubin, president of the Institute of Collaborative Leadership, defines a collaboration as “a purposeful relationship in which all parties strategically choose to cooperate in order to accomplish a shared outcome.” In collaborative leadership, leaders create an inclusive decision-making process. Using all five SEL competencies, collaborative leadership encourages a sense of ownership, responsibility, and trust among organization members. Collaborative leadership has also been found to positively impact student learning (Hallinger & Heck, 2010).

Administrator Actions:

  • Identify and prioritize opportunities for staff to learn, plan, and reflect on SEL.
  • Create protected time for staff to regularly collaborate with each other.
  • Embed into existing staff meetings intentional opportunities for adults to connect personally, interact in meaningful ways, and share appreciations and reflections.
  • Identify ways to explicitly model your own social and emotional competencies and development as you connect with individual staff members and seek feedback.
  • Ensure those who will be affected by decisions are included in decision-making processes, and that all decision-making teams are representative of the school community.

Administrator Resources:

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