In last month’s blog post, we discussed recent findings on the positive impact of social-emotional learning on student outcomes. We also discussed the current survey data from CASEL and the Aspen Institute. This study suggests that implementation of SEL varies significantly, with only 35% of principals surveyed having a systemic plan for teaching SEL, and only 23% perceive they are getting enough support to implement their plans fully. 

With these numbers in mind, the Leading Learners Institute proposed that these numbers could represent a lack of focus on preparing leaders to do this type of work. We also offered up a different set of competencies derived from modern leadership frameworks that leaders need to lead the vital work of developing social-emotional learning in their schools. These competencies include: 

  • Vision, values, and culture for SEL: 
  • Understanding the landscape of SEL
  • Personal Skills, Mindsets, and Values for SEL
  • Capacity building for SEL innovation and continuous improvement:
  • Shared responsibility and structures for innovation and continuous improvement of SEL

In this month’s blog, we will explore the first two competencies, what it means for school leaders, and the questions you should be asking.

Vision, Values, and Culture for SEL

School leaders or team thinking about going down the SEL route must consider the deeply engrained aspects, mental models, and beliefs about the nature of what students should learn in schools. With the recent emphasis on academic outcomes and test scores, most schools and teachers understand the need for SEL but may struggle with understanding why an explicit focus on SEL is necessary. 

It is imperative then that school leaders 

  • Guide their staff to examine deeply their assumptions and beliefs about what students should be learning and about the nature of SEL.
  • Guide their staff in forming a new collaborative vision about the power and influence of SEL
  • Continue to build a culture of learning in which teachers can continue to examine the nature of SEL and their practice of guiding SEL.
  • Accept the nature of being learner-centered for your teachers understanding that each will move at their own pace just like students
  • Model the importance of continuous improvement by discussing movement toward your vision and taking collaborative next steps in the journey.

So ask yourself as a school leader

  • How can I help my staff surface their assumptions and beliefs about SEL?
  • What steps can I help my staff take in exploring the power of SEL?
  • Beyond a statement, how can I guide the creation of a living, breathing vision for SEL?
  • How can I build a learning culture in which people are free to make mistakes and surface their successes and failures?

Understanding the Landscape of SEL

Most school leaders are grounded in content- reading, math, science- and have spent most of their careers focusing on developing our understanding of how students best learn and teachers best teach the critical knowledge and skills in these domains. Again, while most survey data suggests principals see the importance of SEL, their understanding of the landscape of SEL may need development. Landscape, in this sense, means knowledge about SEL, emerging ideas, best places to find resources, and providers of services. In essence, if a teacher comes to you with a question about SEL that you are unsure of, where do you turn?

The field of SEL is vast and complex, with many different frameworks and ways to develop with our students. It is imperative then that principals

  • Know where to turn to for resources to guide their thinking- publishers, websites, centers, and best book titles.
  • Know the ideas and frameworks surrounding SEL and what they are based on.
  • Know who to turn to for help and assistance.

So ask yourself as a school leader

  •  Have I developed a robust mental model for what SEL is and how all the parts fit?
  • Do I know where do find the best resources on SEL?
  • Do I know where to go to get help on SEL if I need it for my staff?

So Are You Ready?

Like we discussed in our last blog, schools now have an open opportunity to focus on the whole child and rebalance the nature of learning. Instead of only focusing on the cognitive aspect, we have a chance to teach and develop the full nature of human development with a focus on the crucial lifetime areas of social and emotional learning. 

This opportunity, however, will require school leaders to also add to their knowledge base and skill set around SEL and develop the vision, values, and culture for SEL in their schools. Additionally, school leaders will need to understand fully the landscape of SEL and how they can develop their understanding. Next time, we will continue discussing the other competencies school leaders will need to develop to lead SEL in their schools.

Until next time.