Selecting the right social-emotional learning curriculum takes time and research, and with dozens of options, school leaders should carefully consider which evidence-based models best fit their unique needs, Heather Schwartz, a practice specialist at the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, and Alexandra Skoog-Hoffman, director of Research-Practice Partnerships at CASEL, write for Edutopia.
Evidence-based SEL programs focus on child development with a range of strategies, so it's essential to get input from a variety of stakeholders in the school community and consider the specific needs of the student body. Clearly defining those priorities will ultimately make it easier to identify the best program.
School leaders should also keep in mind it may take more than one program to achieve all of those priorities, so it's key to maintain a growth mindset with understanding that changes, additions and tweaks will be needed to better suit any new concerns or needs that arise.
Even before the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic drew new attention to students' social-emotional needs, a 2019 report from CASEL found 70% of principals thought formal SEL curriculum was needed, up from 43% two years prior. The report also found 57% of schools had implemented an SEL curriculum, but there wasn’t consensus about which curriculum to use.
Resources like CASEL, RAND Corp. research and the What Works Clearinghouse can help district leaders sort through which approaches may work best for them. It’s also important to gather input from a wide variety of stakeholders including intervention coordinators, mental health facilitators, administrators, counselors, psychologists and teachers.
A school district's unique factors, such as high poverty levels or youth mental health data, can add additional context when it comes to deciding which curricula or model may be best.
Social-emotional learning curricula has shown tangible benefits like improved attendance and a reduction in disciplinary actions as students are equipped with strategies for managing their emotions effectively. Teachers also benefit from SEL, gaining skills to mitigate their own stress and prevent fatigue so they can better serve students.
In one approach that has seen success in Metro Nashville Public School, Meigs Academic Magnet Middle School has an SEL program that teaches students to embrace a growth mindset, understanding that failures and challenges are opportunities to grow and learn skills such as resilience and persistence.
Similarly, Belle Plaine Junior/Senior High School in Minnesota begins and ends each day with an activity from Move This World's SEL curricula, and staff members from each grade level meet monthly to discuss improvements to the program. A student ambassador team offers input as well.