5 things for effective SEL in your school community

  1. It must be flexible to include all cultures.
  2. It must have a component for each stakeholder: not just students.
  3. The language and strategies must be effective for every age (K-adult).
  4. The learning practices must be active and experiential.
  5. The instructional practices must include the 5 c’s of a 21st Century learning environment.

Stress, worry and anxiety are common consequences of not implementing effective SEL in the learning environment.

The inability to pay attention, behave appropriately and feel motivated are common effects of not having the skills to manage emotions and possess the cognitive skills to think through problems.

In this article you will learn how to choose an effective SEL program to meet the needs of your school community.


1. For an SEL program to be effective, it must be flexible.

First and foremost, school leadership such as superintendents and school principals should choose a SEL framework that allows for the flexibility of different regions, ethnicity, language, and culture.

When students are presented with something they can’t relate to, they stop listening. This reaction causes them to discount even the things that do apply and would help them.

Many SEL programs and lessons on the market deliver a one-size fits all solution. According to CASEL’s SEL policy brief, evidence-based SEL programs must include culturally affirming SEL competencies.


2. An effective SEL has a component for each stakeholder: school leadership, school staff, teachers, coaches, parents, students and the community.

SEL programs designed for students only are not effective.

Managing emotions, emotional awareness, building relationships and communicating effectively are relevant in all aspects of life, therefore each person in a students’ circle of influence must possess a common language, and common SEL skills and practices.

21st Century students learn through repetition, consistency, and practice. In order to provide SEL as a systemic structure everyone in the community must be involved and participating.

According to CASEL’s SEL policy brief, to most effectively bolster systemic implementation of SEL, districts must:

  • promote SEL for students
  • support adult SEL competencies and capacity-building
  • align SEL efforts across schools, families, and communities

Think of how hard it is for a child of divorce who goes back and forth from mom and dad’s house, especially if mom and dad have different expectations and rules.

It is imperative that your SEL program has a community component. Community groups, sports, local youth organizations and places of worship have a strong influence on the way youth experience and manage emotions and build relationships.


3. For an SEL program to be effective the language and strategies must be appropriate for all grades K-12 and adults.

All too often primary schools adapt SEL programs using language and strategies that are only effective when children are in primary school and are reliant on adults to manage their emotions or relationships.

Strategies such as:

  • Telling someone to stop
    (we can’t control other people)
  • Telling a teacher
    (usually when children try to tell their teacher they are met with “not now, I am teaching”).
  • Adults attempting to fix a child’s problems by calling the other parents or going to the principal.
  • Telling children to “ignore” a problem

When adults give children advice or answers that are NOT effective in solving their problem children lose confidence and trust in adults, making it less likely the child will seek help the next time.

Providing a child with a strategy/solution that doesn’t work can be very damaging leading to long term trust issues.

When a child transitions from one school building to the next:

  • elementary school to middle school
  • middle school to high school
  • high school to post-secondary

they need to already possess the necessary SEL skills to navigate the increased social pressures and academic demands.

School districts must focus on providing the language and thinking patterns for students to navigate the increased workload, multiple teachers and the lunchroom social ladder.

Children learn by watching therefore it is important that teachers, principals, and superintendents are role modeling effective SEL skills.


4. Effective SEL programs use active and experiential learning.

SEL and the possessing the skills to understand how to manage stress and anxiety requires more than just lectures and lessons.

Superintendents and school principals understand the importance of using a SEL framework that equips students with personal skills to manage stress, relieve anxiety and time management in order to achieve to their full potential academically.

According to CASEL in order to maximize effectiveness, evidence based SEL programs should include active forms of learning. CASEL advocates learning approaches that align with SAFE model, where A stands for Active forms of learning.

In order for any school SEL program to be effective the program must be able to be personal and interactive. If we have 1,000 people in our school community who are of all ages, cultures and experiences school leaders know they can’t approach SEL by telling people what to feel and what to say in any given situation.

An effective SEL program solves this problem by providing a common language, common strategies, and a psychological component that allows people to build cognitive skills.

Cognitive skills are learned and built through experience and ongoing practice. Every stakeholder in every school community needs a tool box to manage emotions, communicate effectively and build relationships.

School superintendents and principals agree that effective SEL frameworks focus on building skills such as eye contact, body language, active listening and respect.

In order to achieve social health, school communities need to work on skills like empathy, compassion, and trust. Skills that allow for equity and inclusiveness such as acceptance, tolerance and setting expectations.

Skills that build emotionally and socially healthy communities need to be experienced, not taught.

Effective SEL programs require for a scalable model, something that easily learned by new students and new staff each year. A structure with routines, practices and habits.


5. Educational Research foundations agree that SEL programs MUST use 21st Century Instructional practices.

Superintendents and school principals are guiding their school staff in using instructional practices that are specific to 21st Century Learners. Research on brain development of today’s youth has shown that technology and our exposure to it has changed the way we learn and interact.

School superintendents and principals have been guiding their teachers with learning strategies specific to 21st century learners in all subject areas. SEL must align themselves.

According to Edutopia, “without fully supporting teachers in developing instructional practices that align with the 5 C’s, 21st century education will never happen in your school or district.”

These 5 instructional practices (5 C’s) include communication, collaboration, creativity critical thinking and connection. In other words, each SEL learning exercise must have each of these instructional components embedded within the instruction for effective learning.

An effective SEL framework requires classmates to communicate and work together, in order for them to experience and build the muscle memory. An effective SEL framework allows staff, students, families and community members to experience emotions which drive their thoughts and actions.

By providing an SEL framework that provides practices that use inquiry-based instruction to encourage each student in thinking their way through the learning exercise is imperative.

Participating in consistent and routine exercises that practice empathy, compassion and build trust, strengthens the connection between student and teacher, teacher and parent, principal and teacher, principal and parent and superintendent and principal: strong and trusting connections allows for collaboration, forgiveness and growth.

In sixth grade, Sierra received a text message identifying her as the slashed figure in the drawing above.

Jill Brown
Founder and President
Generation Text Online
Phone: 781-820-6629
Jill. Brown@GenerationTextOnline.com