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Focus Area 2

Strengthen Adult SEL

Cultivate a community of adults who engage in their own social and emotional learning (SEL), build strong connections and work collaboratively, and model SEL in their interactions.


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. CASEL defines SEL as the process by which all young people and adults acquire and apply knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions, and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions. It is an integral part of human development, not just for youth. Adult SEL is a term that is inclusive of the learning and discussion that supports adults to continue to grow and model social and emotional competencies as well as the structures and practices that promote adult well-being.

Through the Collaborating Districts Initiative (CDI), CASEL has learned that schools are more effective at teaching and reinforcing SEL for students when they also attend to adult SEL. A growing body of research shows that when educators have strong social and emotional competence, feel connected to their school, and are supported to cope with work-related stress and emotional exhaustion, it boosts their job satisfaction and personal efficacy and also improves academic, social, and emotional outcomes and well-being for students (Collie & Martin, 2017; Oberle & Schonert-Reichl, 2016; Arens & Morin, 2016; Madigan & Kim, 2021). Further, 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.

The Evidence-Base for Adult SEL Interventions

Studies of interventions to support the SEL and/or well-being of educators have increased in recent years, and a growing number of programs are available that aim to reduce emotional exhaustion and feelings of depersonalization, increase professional efficacy and satisfaction, and build specific skills to support relationship-building and cope with the social and emotional demands of teaching—all elements that are also associated with improvement in students’ achievement and well-being.

Interventions may be directed at organizational structures (such as by allocating time and establishing practices for collaborative work, building connections, and managing workload), at individuals (such as through mindfulness programs, cognitive reappraisal activities, behavioral skill-building strategies), or a combination. Meta-analyses indicate that interventions are promising, showing reduced stress and anxiety, increased well-being and self-efficacy, and improved emotional regulation among teachers. To learn more about this topic and specific programs that have shown evidence of effectiveness, you can review the studies and meta-analyses included below:

CASEL recommends that school teams identify strategies that are based on current research on adult SEL, are culturally responsive, and use relevant data paired with a continuous improvement cycle to ensure they’re achieving their goals.

Your school’s SEL 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 SEL. You will likely find that staff need professional learning as well as time for authentic discussion and collaboration with colleagues to engage with new programming or curricula, take on different responsibilities, or fine-tune their professional practices to align with the school’s SEL goals.

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.

As the field of adult SEL continues to grow, we provide information here to help SEL teams establish a community of adults who are engaged in ongoing SEL. 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:

Support staff in reflecting on personal social, emotional, and cultural competencies, prepare professional learning experiences that demonstrate SEL and create opportunities for practice and application, and learn from the school community to build on strengths and be responsive to needs as you develop and improve your SEL implementation plan. This section includes guidance and resources for:

— Professional learning about SEL

— Building on strengths and experience

— Reflecting on personal social and emotional skills

— Examining cultural competence

Take an intentional approach to building strong relationships that enable authentic communication and partnership among all members of the school community and establish structures and practices that facilitate meaningful collaboration. This section includes guidance and resources to:

— Connect and collaborate among staff

— Connect and collaborate with students

— Connect and collaborate with families

Adopt strategies for living out social and emotional competencies, mindsets, and skills in the way that school leaders and staff interact with each other, with students, and with families. This section includes guidance and resources to support:

— Modeling SEL among staff

— Modeling SEL in interactions with students and families

— Modeling SEL as a school leader


While you do not need to achieve all your goals for this focus area before beginning work on 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 in tandem. 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 competence 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; Mahfouz et al., 2019). In this section of the Guide to Schoolwide SEL, we highlight specific practices school administrators can implement to be visible ambassadors for schoolwide SEL:

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