Social Emotional Learning

SEL in the Wild: States Behind in Their Commitments

While social emotional learning (SEL) has become a darling among many states as an indicator of school health in their ESSA plans, a new brief from Transforming Education has questioned whether the work behind the scenes is keeping up. Specifically, the brief noted, most school systems haven't adopted policies to prioritize the development and assessment of student SEL competencies, coordinated the implementation of evidence-based SEL practices or made it part of district decision-making discussions.

Without those aspects in place, stated "A Data-informed Approach to Social-Emotional Learning," schools will miss the boat on using SEL to serve its students more effectively. The report offers policy recommendations for state and local leaders to structure a "locally-created, systematic and data-informed approach" to SEL.

TransformEd, which consults on the topic of SEL, defined SEL as the "development of intrapersonal and interpersonal mindsets and competencies that have been shown to be meaningful, measurable and malleable." Examples of SEL include self-management, growth mindset and social awareness.

The recommendations shared in the report covered three broad areas:

  • Gathering input on learning environments through stakeholder engagement, pilots and climate surveys and integration of SEL data into needs assessments;
  • Beginning measurement of SEL competencies through a network of districts, sharing lessons and tailoring existing assessments to incorporate SEL competency measures; and
  • Using data to build teacher capacity and influence on-going practices.

The report included references to numerous states and districts. For example, Harrisonburg City Public Schools in Virginia, a TransformEd client, is developing its data-informed approach to SEL. Currently, the district is administering surveys on school culture and climate and student SEL competencies as part of building out its plan for systemwide SEL practices and to set a baseline for measuring future progress.

And Washoe County School District in Nevada has developed a survey of students' social and emotional skills, habits and mindsets, according to the researchers. District officials are mashing the data with additional information from an early warning indicator system to help identify those students who may need additional social and emotional supports in order to graduate. School staff there are also getting professional development on how to "debrief school-level data with students" and work with them on school improvement planning.

The use of a "data-informed approach" for SEL will give school leaders the information they need to prioritize and help students develop competencies, the report concluded, while also leading to better district-wide coordination and planning of SEL activities and identifying which programs are working the best.

Both the brief and a summary are openly available on the TransformEd website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.