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  • Lee McDonald

Creating a Strategic Plan for SEL

Social and Emotional Learning has become the buzzword among K-12 educators. This is certainly understandable given the current thinking around what it means to educate the whole child.

While the momentum is promising, schools must invest the time and energy needed to create a comprehensive strategic plan for social and emotional learning. Otherwise, SEL may not be sustainable and could become just another educational initiative that passes.

Let’s walk through five essential steps to create a sustainable strategic plan for SEL...

Gather essential stakeholders and begin to understand what SEL is and what SEL is not. Create a well-rounded committee that brings multiple perspectives to the table. Ideally some individuals that know the district and community well and some that do not. Include different roles and not just the obvious ones. Students, parents, teachers, counselors, administrators certainly make sense. Perhaps a local clinician (psychologist, psychiatrist), pediatrician, youth pastor, fitness and or health care professional can be added. That said, make sure those in the room have the potential to effectively debate the merits of whole child education and speak to the structures, supports and strategies needed for an appropriate strategic plan for social and emotional learning. Get the team together and take a deep dive into what SEL is all about. Review the CASEL Competencies and take a look at state standards for SEL to start the conversation. The Kansas Department of Education offers a wealth of resources.

Do your homework and immerse your team in what is happening in the SEL community. Gain new insights by identifying what researchers say about the benefits of SEL and the keys to effective implementation. The Handbook of Social and Emotional Learning (Durlak, Domitrovich, Weissburg & Gullotta, 2016) is an excellent resource. Understand the challenges of SEL integration faced by practitioners who are further down the road than you are. Reach out to those in your area, state or nationwide; do not be afraid to have a conversation about their victories and challenges. What do they know now that they wish they knew one, two or three years ago? The answers could both inspire your team and ground them in the reality of what lies ahead. Begin by reviewing the Enacting Social-Emotional Learning report which offers many lessons to be learned from the CORE California School Districts. Get on twitter and do a search for #SEL to find tons of articles that will whet your appetite for SEL.

Assess where you are. Take stock of what you have by completing a district inventory for SEL. Review data that might provide feedback on current district, school and classroom conditions. (e.g. climate surveys). Identify programming, initiatives and resources by grade level (elementary, middle and high school). Sort by category. For example, three years into our SEL journey within the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District, we identified three major buckets. Social Emotional Learning, which includes the likes of direct SEL instruction and curriculum integration; Social Emotional Wellness such as mindfulness practices and school climate initiatives and Social Emotional Supports including our school counseling team and tiered system of academic and behavioral supports. Next, recognize strengths and areas in need of growth. Know the current structures, platforms and practices in which future work can be grounded. Understand staff, student and parent capacity for short and long term SEL implementation. Acknowledge the barriers for SEL integration (e.g. beliefs, structures, professional development) and discuss potential strategies to address these obstacles. Think about leveraging what is going well as your entry point to provide stakeholders with possible SEL exemplars.

Set your goals, identify strategies and craft a vision for the future. What are your district’s desired outcomes? What are the strategies your district will use? What are the supports your district will need? Who will be responsible for implementing the plan? How long will your plan take and when will you revisit your plan? How will you measure progress toward your goals? What will student, staff and community outcomes look like? Take a look at what other districts have developed. I spent the better part of a full school year working collaboratively with our stakeholder team to create a plan for the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District. Use recently published resources such as the Aspen Institute’s Integrating Social, Emotional, and Academic Development Report, an action guide for school leadership teams or CASEL’s SEL Implementation Tools and Resources. Finally, understand that SEL takes time and should not be done in isolation. Think about how you will create a culture for SEL across classrooms, schools and the district.

Share your plan, gather feedback and seek input from the broader school community. Leverage an anonymous student, parent and teacher survey. Facilitate a stakeholder focus group. Run a town hall meeting. Present before the board of education. Once feedback is secured, make revisions and rework your plan accordingly. Next, develop a budget for your work to allocate the needed resources to carry the plan forward (e.g. professional development). Putting money behind the plan not only supports the work ahead but sends a message to the community that social and emotional learning is a priority for the district. Congratulations, you are now ready to ground your school, district and community in SEL and move toward a better future!


#SEL #SchooClimate

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