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Focus Area 4

Continuously Improve Schoolwide SEL Implementation

Use a Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle to drive high-quality schoolwide SEL implementation.

The implementation of schoolwide SEL is not a one-time process. To be done effectively and sustainably, SEL must be implemented using continuous improvement approaches that allow schools and districts to learn from both their successes and challenges, adapting their approach along the way and adjusting strategies as the needs of their stakeholders evolve.

The School Guide was designed to help school teams implement SEL through an iterative continuous improvement cycle. Many different frameworks can help schools structure these improvement cycles. If your school is not already using a structured cycle, CASEL recommends a Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) framework, which is among the most prominently used in education.

Using the School Guide, your school engages in this PDSA continuous improvement cycle as you:

  • Plan: Clarify your current state, needs and resources, and your goal, determining what steps the team will take to drive implementation, and the metrics used to measure whether the goal was achieved.
  • Do: Implement the plan, documenting how things are done, and collecting high-quality implementation and outcome data.
  • Study: Examine and reflect on data to reflect on successes, challenges, and learnings, comparing the progress you made to the progress you thought/expected to make.
  • Act: Take action based on what you’ve learned, and make adjustments to SEL goals or strategies as needed.

If you have already begun gathering and reflecting on SEL data, use the rubric or the questions below to identify areas for continuous improvement: 

Does the SEL team use a full range of implementation data and disaggregated outcome data to track progress toward SEL goals and monitor outcomes?

Do staff have dedicated time, resources, and the skills necessary to engage meaningfully in regular cycles of continuous improvement?

Does the SEL team use a structured, ongoing process to collect, reflect on, and use implementation and outcome data to inform decisions during meetings?

Does the SEL team regularly (at least quarterly) communicate their findings and create opportunities to use data to drive continuous improvement at the school, classroom, family, and community level?

Using the PDSA cycle to drive schoolwide SEL implementation can help school teams make decisions based on what they’re learning from ongoing work, improve the quality of SEL implementation, increase the likelihood that their efforts produce positive outcomes for students, and ultimately help to maintain momentum and commitment to the work.

It’s important that the SEL team:

  • Requests access to data regularly from administrators, the district, and other stakeholders who generate relevant data.
  • Communicates that the purpose of data collected for schoolwide SEL is to drive improvement, rather than evaluate staff, students, or the school itself.
  • Uses multiple sources of data whenever possible. (Louis, Leithwood, Wahlstrom, & Anderson, 2010; Wayman & Stringfield, 2006)
  • Designates time for reflecting on schoolwide SEL implementation progress at least once per semester. Typically this involves incorporating data reflection into ongoing SEL team meetings, as well as designating specific team meetings throughout the year for more in-depth reflection and to meet with relevant staff for more information or to engage them in making improvements.

Additionally, some SEL teams may choose to engage the entire staff in the continuous improvement process through highly-structured all-staff data reflection meetings. This is particularly important when SEL implementation goals require all staff to engage in a change of behavior. To prepare for these meetings, the SEL team determines who is responsible for facilitating these meetings, as well as who is responsible for ensuring that the relevant data is present, compiled, and in a format that is necessary for the team to effectively review. For examples and guidance on how to share school climate data to stakeholders, see this module from the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments (NCSSLE).

Sources of Data

Each school will have access to different kinds of data depending on what is collected at the school and district level. There are two broad types of schoolwide data that can be used for continuous improvement:

  • Implementation data: Data that provides information on whether you’re following the plan you’ve created, how far implementation has spread, and the quality of implementation. This data can help SEL teams identify what is going well and where there are challenges.
  • Outcome data: Data that show the result of a strategy or process can demonstrate changes over time and show whether the school is reaching its goals. These outcomes could relate to student social and emotional competencies (see Choosing and Using SEL Competency Assessments), academic achievement, attendance, equity-related outcomes, or attitudes and beliefs related to school climate and culture.  Some of these outcomes may be achieved in a year or two, while other outcomes may take 3-5 or more years to observe.  Forecasting a timeline and monitoring those outcomes can help to guide improvements and set realistic expectations for stakeholders.

Sources of Implementation Data 

The CASEL Guide to Schoolwide SEL provides three main tools for collecting and reviewing implementation data (found on the Track Progress page):

  • The Schoolwide SEL Implementation Rubric is typically completed by an SEL team toward the beginning and end of the school year as a self-assessment of a school’s overall level of SEL implementation and progress made throughout the year. The data may help your team identify barriers to implementation or give insight into what the team should focus on next. The rubric ratings can also be informed by the two sources of data below.
  • The SEL Walkthrough Protocol can be completed by the SEL team, school leaders, or district visitors after implementation has had a chance to take root, often toward the middle of the school year. This protocol can be completed multiple times during the school year to collective observable evidence of high-quality implementation. Data from this walkthrough protocol can provide supporting evidence of a rating on the implementation rubric, or may point to areas that the team needs to examine more closely.
  • The Staff, Family & Community Partner Survey is typically administered once per school year to gather input from stakeholders on their perceptions of SEL implementation. Data from this survey provide helpful insight into how well implementation has been embedded in practices that reach staff, families, and community partners.

Sources of Outcome Data 

Data on student attendance, academic achievement, discipline, and other measures are likely already collected through your school or district and can be used to examine outcomes of SEL implementation.

Additionally, there are various resources available online for finding and using measures of students’ SEL competencies, as well as school climate and other kinds of SEL-related assessments.

  • Choosing and Using SEL Competency Assessments — Spearheaded by CASEL, the SEL Assessment Work Group (AWG) and RAND created this guide for selecting and using measures of student SEL, including guidance on how to select an assessment and use student SEL data and real-world accounts of how practitioners are using SEL assessments.
  • RAND Education Assessment Finder — A web-based tool that practitioners, researchers, and policymakers can use to explore what assessments are available, what they measure, how they are administered, and how to use results.
  • Are You Ready to Assess Social and Emotional Development?: Including a brief, decision tree and an index of available SEL assessments, this suite of tools from the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is intended to help education leaders, practitioners, and policymakers decide whether and how to assess social and emotional development.
  • School Climate Survey Compendia: The National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments (NCSSLE) – from the American Institutes for Research (AIR) – maintains a compendium of valid and reliable surveys, assessments, and scales of school climate that can assist educators in their efforts to identify and assess their conditions for learning.

Recommendations and Additional Data Sources

Each Focus Area in the School Guide provides recommendations and additional data sources for continuous improvement. For easy reference, these are summarized below:


Each Focus Area in the School Guide provides recommendations and additional data sources for continuous improvement. For easy reference, these are summarized below:

Continuous Improvement for Focus Area 1a: Building Awareness, Commitment, and Ownership

  • Schoolwide SEL Rubric: Focus Area 1a.
  • SEL team participation data.
  • CASEL-AIR Staff Survey of SEL
  • Communication data

Continuous Improvement for Focus Area 1b: Create a Plan

  • Schoolwide SEL Rubric: Focus Area 1b.
  • Achievement of school improvement plan tasks and milestones. ◦
    • Revisiting the Schoolwide SEL rubrics annually.

Continuous Improvement for Focus Area 2: Strengthen Adult SEL Competencies and Capacity

  • Schoolwide SEL Rubric: Focus Area 2.
  • School climate data.
  • Staff survey data

Continuous Improvement for Focus Area 3: Promote SEL for Students

  • Schoolwide SEL Rubric: Focus Area 3.
  • Evidence-based program fidelity.
  • Student social and emotional competence data. (See CASEL Assessment Work Group’s Choosing and Using SEL Competency Assessments for additional guidance).
  • Student behavior data.
  • Student attendance data
  • Student participation in community-based learning opportunities.
  • Family engagement data.
  • Community partnership data.
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