Academy for Social-Emotional Learning in Schools

How to Lead a School Toward SECD

  • April 9, 2017
  •    BY Joan Duffell (Contributor)
Presentation of idea

Joan Duffell is the Executive Director of the Committee for Children

The process principals use to lead SECD across the school community matters a lot. The community of people who will be doing the work each day (teachers, counselors, paraprofessionals) need to OWN the work. No matter how invested a district (or even a principal) is, when the classroom door shuts, the teachers will do what they believe is best for themselves and their students. Teachers and classified staff need to believe in this work if they are going to sustain it.

The steps below are consistently critical steps in the process from our experience at Committee for Children, working with thousands of schools. These steps are considered through an elementary school perspective. High school will be a completely different scenario and should be thought about very differently.

Step 1

Ask faculty’s opinion about bringing on an SECD program (the principal’s job is to get them to say YES—there are many ways to do this)—or if the district has already determined SECD needs to be happening, go straight to #2. If the principal goes straight to #2, they will share good reasons why SECD is needed in the district. This is a great time to ask if teachers in the school have implemented SECD programs before, and if so have them share their experience.

Step 2

Invite school staff to participate in a decision-making process in order to:

– Set up a site-based support team for SEL/SECD.

– Select a program(s) –from a list of evidence-based programs (or, if a program was already selected by the district, appoint a team to dive into the program and make a report back to their peers at a subsequent faculty meeting. Program providers should also be helpful in this process). Consider local/cultural needs of students, faculty, parents in the selection.

– Pilot selected program to get feedback from end users (teachers, counselor) –determine time frame for selecting a school-wide program (or, if district has already chosen, ask the district to share what they learned when they presumably piloted—important to share this so that people know that there has been some locally/culturally-based validation for the program).

– Select a program for school-wide implementation; establish the training, implementation, and assessment schedule for the whole school.Establish a framework describing how the SECD program integrates with and mutually supports other school-wide initiatives such as Restorative Practices, PBIS (some providers have these resources available).  Discuss ways to build in and integrate culturally-based content.

– Establish roles for SEL implementation: 

Principal: Visible, daily SECD leadership across the school:  Integrating SECD into school assemblies, morning announcements, faculty meetings, parent meetings, discipline referral practices (for students whose behavior lands them in the principal or asst. principal’s office). Principal and SECD coordinator should have training focused on SECD leadership and support.

SECD coordinator: Oversee, champion, coach, and support the work school-wide (riding shotgun with the principal, pardoning the term!)—this is not a new staff member (most schools cannot afford to hire someone additional) but someone the principal appoints from among the faculty—often the counselor or someone keen on SECD who also has the leadership skills to build momentum across the school community.

SECD measurement coordinator: Might be the SECD coordinator, might be the counselor—but someone should be focused on working with teachers to measure student SECD competencies.

Classroom teachers: Attend training, teach lessons with fidelity to program design or in the case of a program like Ripple Effects, be the wise guide on the side J; model SECD competencies in teaching practice (this will require some training too); integrate SECD into academic areas, PBIS, Restorative Practices, etc.; cue, coach & reinforce students’ use of skills in real life; communicate with parents.

Certified staff/specialists (music, art, computers, etc., if a school is lucky enough to have these folks): Provide training and ask them to develop ways to integrate SECD into their subject areas (some programs include these subject integration activities/ideas)—and at a minimum, cue and coach students to use SECD skills when issues arise in their classrooms.

Classified staff (lunchroom, playground supervisors, secretaries, bus drivers, etc.): provide training and simple tools that help them cue and coach students to use SECD skills when issues arise in their areas.

District level trainers/coaches: These can be very helpful supports to school-wide SECD, IF the school has put the foregoing into place.  We sometimes see districts with trainers who are good—but the school sites have not done their job of developing a process and structure for quality and sustained implementation so enthusiasm dies off when the trainer leaves (a la Alice’s example).

Program providers, trainers/implementation assistance staff and resources will be involved (often, providers’ implementation support teams work with district trainers and principals/site coordinators).

– Principal and SECD coordinator need to consistently and visibly lead from the SECD perspective. Faculty meetings can include check-ins on how SECD is going in classrooms, on the playground, with parent connections, etc. Principal should be asking teachers about SECD lesson activities in the course of their supervision, checking in with bus drivers and playground supervisors on a regular basis to see how the process is working for them (people rarely ask these folks their opinions—and they are often very keenly aware of what is and is not working)

– Assessment—best case, measures are implemented in the mid-fall, winter (teachers/counselors can use these data formatively), and in the spring (this interval is helpful to see how SECD is having an impact on students across the school from fall to spring).  Assessment can be a terrific motivational tool if used well—when teachers see that they are in fact moving the needle, they tend to be more motivated to keep the work going.  

Joan Duffell is the Executive Director of the Committee for Children. She can be reached at

    • April 9, 2017
  •    BY Joan Duffell (Contributor)
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