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How Schools can Implement Systems that Foster SEL for Students

The importance of social and emotional learning (SEL) cannot be overstated. These skills are critical to maintaining healthy lifestyles, enabling children and adults to identify and manage their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. During the pandemic, high school students receiving virtual or blended instruction more frequently reported that their mental or emotional health worsened. This is echoed within the December 2020 Colorado School District Needs Inventory conducted by CDE ad CEI.  Regardless of the instructional model districts and schools opt to employ, the most effective way for schools to support social and emotional learning and student wellness, connection, and achievement is to create a positive school climate and culture in which each student feels safe and valued. Teaching social and emotional skills improves the overall mental and behavioral health of children, families and communities. Therefore, this module outlines approaches to implementing social and emotional learning opportunities for students.

Context and Considerations.

Schoolwide Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) integrates academic, social and emotional learning across all school contexts. This approach, according to CASEL, provides a learning environment that infuses SEL into all aspects of instruction and promotes equitable outcomes for all students (CASEL, 2020). Central to this system is high quality professional learning and the use of data for continuous improvement. When fully implemented, schoolwide SEL contributes to more successful and equitable outcomes for young people and is evidenced by schoolwide SEL indicators (CASEL, 2020). There are several examples of effective implementation of schoolwide SEL. CASEL has identified ten indicators of schoolwide SEL to provide schools with evidence of high-quality implementation. Their video collection addresses these indicators and provides practical applications for districts and schools pursuing quality schoolwide SEL (CASEL, 2020).

Designing for Equity

Educational equity, according to the CCSSO (Council of Chief State School Officers), means that “every student has access to the resources and educational rigor they need at the right moment in their education regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, language, disability, family background or family income.” Striving for educational equity, therefore, will challenge Colorado's education system to examine biases and modify inequitable practices that may exist in order to create inclusive school environments that cultivate the interests and talents of children, youth, and adults from diverse backgrounds. Successful implementation of social and emotional learning occurs when all students’ and adults’ cultural values, socioeconomic status, race, gender and disability are affirmed and respected. Social and emotional learning practices must be evidence-based and nondiscriminatory or harmful to historically underserved students and their families. Diverse student cultural experiences should be appreciated and respected as sources of strength and healing. The transformative SEL practices and resources outlined by CASEL are great tools for districts and schools to add to their repertoire for attending to and advancing equity through social and emotional learning.


The Wallace Foundation and CASEL offer a wealth of resources, including guidance on planning and implementing systemic SEL  .

■ Districts and schools can prioritize adult SEL and self-care by providing time for adult learning, collaboration and modeling in the five core SEL competencies of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.

■ SEL should be integrated throughout the academic day to ensure continuous practice of social, emotional and behavioral skills. Schools and districts may identify an SEL curriculum or program to explicitly teach SEL.

■ Implementing systemic SEL is not a one-time process; practices should be reviewed and evaluated for effectiveness and sustainability. Use implementation and outcome data to continuously improve all SEL-related systems, practices and policies with a focus on equity


Indicators of systemic, schoolwide social-emotional learning include:

− Explicit SEL instruction

− SEL integrated with academic instruction

− Youth voice and engagement

− Supportive school and classroom climates

− Focus on adult SEL

− Supportive discipline

− A continuum of integrated supports

− Authentic family partnerships

− Aligned community partnerships

− Systems for continuous improvement

Note: The contents of this page was created in collaboration with the Oklahoma Department of Education, CCSSO, ASCD, Learning Policy Institute, and REL West.

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