Academy for Social-Emotional Learning in Schools

School Culture / Climate



Students’ Sense of Belonging at School Is Important. It Starts With Teachers

Summary:  This article speaks about the importance of establishing a positive relationship between students and teachers and how that contributes to a sense of belonging and connection at school.

Source:  Evie Blad, Education Week, June 20, 2017

Categories:  SEL Basics, Positive Relationships, School Culture/Climate



Social and Emotional Skills are the Foundation for Deeper Learning

Summary: This article provides a reflection from Chris Harried, an incoming graduate student at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education and a Commissioner for the Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development about the importance of SEL Skills in his own development as a prospective teacher.

Source:  Chris Harried, Education Week, June 22, 2017

Categories:  SEL Basics, School Culture/Climate, Character Education, Mindset



Classroom Learning Mathematics Students Study Concept

Madam Secretary, Help Us Improve Social-Emotional Learning

Summary:  This article, in the form of a letter to the secretary of education, advocates for a more universal approach to social-emotional learning in our schools.  The authors also list nine effective practices for social-emotional learning in schools.

Source:  Maurice Elias et al, Phi Delta Kappan, May 2017

Categories:  SEL Basics, School Culture/Climate, Core Values




Social-Emotional Learning as a Pathway to Student Well-being, Confidence, and Success

By Connie Sanchez, Executive Director, Unity Charter School, Morristown, NJ

Building a positive climate to reinforce a student’s Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) has been part of Unity Charter School’s culture and climate since its inception in 1998. Unity Charter School is located in Morristown, New Jersey and is a K-8 school. As a Positive Discipline school, we strive to ensure all of our students thrive academically, while developing the social-emotional skill set to be successful well beyond their Unity years.

At Unity Charter School, we understand the importance of social and emotional learning for the student’s wellbeing and as an important factor in contributing to a student’s confidence and success as a learner and as an active member of the school community. We strive to create relationships that allow our students to form positive attachments with each other and with adults, and to thrive. In addition, we are equally committed to maintaining a positive climate in which all stakeholders are supported. Teachers are supported with Positive Discipline professional development throughout the year and regularly scheduled sessions in which teachers help teachers to resolve problems with individual students in the classroom, self reflect, and expand their own skills. Parents are offered free workshops and ongoing opportunities to bring SEL concepts into the home environment.

We teach self-awareness, self-regulation, conflict resolution and reflective decision making skills throughout the school day by taking the time with students to model behaviors, use self and other affirming language, and make positive choices. Experiential integration is an important factor in supporting internalization of what we teach and practice during more structured class time, and during whole school meetings. We value our students’ competencies as learners and provide instructional opportunities that reinforce self-efficacy through collaboration, exploratory learning, questioning, and discovery. This instructional approach invites teachers to facilitate the learning process while students are trusted to construct meaning independently or collectively.

Unity Charter School does have more formal, structured times for students to learn, explore and practice social-emotional skills through daily 30 minute class meetings and whole school meetings.   Younger students in the lower school begin each day with a community meeting. During this time students compliment and acknowledge each other. They are introduced to visitors in the school, and celebrate special occasions in each other’s lives (e.g., birthdays, a sports victory, or a community service project). Class meetings provide daily opportunities for students and teachers to form relationships, to be seen as individuals, to understand cultural differences and to learn and practice new social skills in a supportive environment.

At Unity, we provide students many opportunities to develop their voices and to be heard. Students participate in Democratic Governance, make suggestions for improving campus life, and have their own Climate and Culture team. The administration and faculty has an open door policy where students are ecouraged to present ideas, voice concerns, or talk about challenges they face at home or at school.

We are aware that students come through our doors with histories and life challenges that may impede their abilities to learn these skills and we have developed a system of supports to help build trust and feelings of safety. One prevalent reason children struggle seems to be exposure to childhood trauma. Trauma -related experiences (particularly in childhood), undermine attachments, thereby creating a cycle of further trauma, intra psychic distress and alienation from sources of support.

To address this, we adopted a no suspension policy. Students who are struggling with secure attachment in school don’t benefit from being home suspended. Research indicates the contrary. At Unity students receive an alternative learning space assignment. They may spend the day with the Dean of Students, the Director of Curriculum or the Executive Director. This depends on who has an established relationship with the child. The day is spent doing classwork. This prevents a child from getting further behind and provides an opportunity to have heartfelt conversations with an adult they trust in school and to reflect on what has happened. The reflection continues that evening at home with the parent. In more extreme situations, Unity Charter School has established relationships with community resources. Support outside of school is coordinated with our Dean of Students, a member of our Special Education department and our School Counselor, whose primary job is counseling students.

Mutual respect, self-advocacy, and a sense of trust in the adults that surround them instills a willingness in our students to dare to be themselves in an atmosphere of acceptance while developing empathy and awareness for others. This frees them to delve into their passions and set a course for the future that reflects who they are as individuals who also have the ability to work collaboratively with others towards a common goal.

Connie Sanchez, Executive Director





Bus Kids

Student Absenteeism: Three New Studies to Know

Summary:  With the new ESSA regulations, chronic absenteeism has become a major issue and schools will need to find ways to deal with it.  This article reports on three studies about how to deal with chronic absenteeism and getting students to attend school.  

Source:  Sarah D. Sparks, Education Week, May 8, 2017

Categories:  Educational Research, School Culture/Climate, Student Achievement



Military Family

How Social-Emotional Learning Helps Military-Connected Students Thrive

Summary:  This article, by guest writer Steven Noonoo, talks about the challenges faced by students of military families and how social-emotional competencies help these students manage constant change as they move from school to school. This article also reports on grants in two Texas school districts helping these students thrive.

Source:  Steven Noonoo, Education Week, May 9, 2017

Categories:  SEL Basics, School Culture/Climate, Whole Child



Teacher and Student

For Every $1 Spent on SEL, There’s An $11 Return

Summary: This article reports on a new research brief from Penn State University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation which found that money spent on SEL programs brought back a significant return on the dollar.

Source:  Autumn Arnett, Education Dive, April 11, 2017

Categories:  SEL Basics. SEL Research, School Culture/Climate, Student Behavior



Presentation of idea

How to Lead a School Toward SECD

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



HS Students

Social Emotional Learning in High School: How Three Urban High Schools Engage, Educate, and Empower Youth

Summary:  This article reports on in-depth case studies of three urban, socioeconomically and racially diverse small public high schools, a student survey, and a comparison of student survey results to a national sample of students, Hamedani et al. investigate the ways in which school-wide social emotional learning can be implemented and how these efforts shape students’ educational experiences. 

Source:  Hamedani et al. SCOPE – Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, April 1, 2015

Categories:  SEL Basics, SEL Research, School Culture and Climate, Student Engagement




Chicago Public Schools Leads On SEL With Collaborative Approach to Implementation

Summary:  This article reports on the Chicago Public Schools’ initiative to support social-emotional in all of their 650 schools.  This is paired with the creation of a set of standards for SEL and a pathway for schools to earn a “Supportive Schools” Certification.

Source:  Tara Garcia Matthewson, Education DIVE, April 6, 2017

Categories:  SEL Basics, SEL Research, School Culture and Climate