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Using indicators to monitor progress

There are many things in school that are easy to quantify. Attendance. Days remaining in the school year. Number of students in your classroom, school or district.

SEL is often harder to quantify. How do you measure how students feel? Do staff feel more or less connected to each other after a meeting? Does a mentorship program help school morale? There isn’t one easy measure for any of these questions.

There are, however, good indicators that can help you know if you’re on the right track. This Playbook is designed to provide you with a roadmap so you can see where you need to go and so that you’ll have what you need when you get there.

We’ll talk you through questions to consider as you set your “North Star.” We’ve suggested a Progress Monitoring Cycle below as a way to stay on track and adjust if needed. We also know that buy-in, whether individually, with colleagues, or with students and the community, is essential. We strive to make sure that everyone feels like they belong in the room and as part of the SEL. To help with this, we’ve suggested a few ideas to support buy-in with your SEL offerings. Read on!

“Core practices you may believe are part of what you do may actually be living primarily with just a few leaders or early adopters. All of our MS teachers had been trained in circle and were using it regularly. We really believed it was just part of how we did advisory. Then a couple of key positions turned over (the principal who had been upholding the expectation, and the lead Advisory teacher who had been supporting and training others in the practices), and even the teachers who had been doing it before gradually let it fade from their practice. Lesson learned: build systems and codify practices to outlive people, and ensure that onboarding of new leadership includes clear statements of non-negotiable practices.”


Set Your North Star

Why do you do SEL? What motivates you to work with and for students every day? How is SEL part of your daily practice–for yourself, your students, and your community? How does equity factor in? Having answers to these questions has helped us when challenges came up or when we felt like we weren’t

having the impact we’d hoped to have. Setting a “North Star” allows us to course-correct when we’ve gone astray and gives us key goals to work towards. It also helps us consider equity in the work.


We do our SEL work with an explicit focus on equity. Our SEL is not “white supremacy with a hug,” as Dr. Dena Simmons has phrased it. We make sure our practices specifically serve students who are farthest from opportunity, including students of color, students with disabilities, students who are in the foster system or are living homeless, and students who are refugees and/or multilingual learners. When this work makes a difference in the lives of those students, we know we’re on the right track.

“SEL is not meant to make folks acompliant, or get the ‘bad behavior’ or ‘trouble makers’ but instead to honor voices. It comes back to Indigenous wisdom. To have that normalized across a broader mainstream spectrum is so powerful–for me as an individual but also more broadly. And that everybody owns it. And it’s not unspoken, we talk about things openly.”


We found that centering equity in SEL requires intentional shifts to focus on system design and individual student well- being

Move from this...
SEL that focuses on the individual student
SEL that focuses on interpersonal relationships
SEL implementation that is confined by the boundaries of a standalone program, perceived as a separate initiative or has limited reach
Toward this
Examining and changing the system-level conditions in which students are being asked to learn and practice SEL
Fostering understanding of root causes of systemic inequities and one’s identity, role and agency
Coherently integrating SEL throughout all aspects of the education system including academics

Helpful Resources

Here are some resources that may help inform your SEL journey.

Heeding the Call for Change: Centering Equity in Social & Emotional Learning

This publication explores the different ways educators and school systems are centering equity in SEL

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Integrating a Focus on Equity into Social and Emotional Learning

This resource helps educators ground SEL with a focus on equity.

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SEL as a Lever for Equity and Excellence

This website from CASEL offers tools for districts working to advance equity and excellence by cultivating adult and student practices that close opportunity gaps and create more inclusive school communities.

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Why SEL Alone Isn’t Enough

This article from ASCD by Dr. Dena Simmons gives concrete examples and next steps so that SEL does not become “white supremacy with a hug.”

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Generating Buy-in and Community Co-Creation

How can we create SEL in our communities that respects and honors where everyone is in the process and the wealth of experience they bring? Some students, colleagues, and families are just beginning their SEL journeys, while some have been doing this work for years. How can we consider buy-in and co-creation in our SEL planning?

Buy-in and co-creation are not the same. With buy-in, sometimes the work has started, and we’re trying to bring people in where we are. Or new staff members join, and we want to include them in the work. While it can be challenging to bring people in while the work is underway, it is always helpful to have more motivated adults and students to move the work forward. Do your best to ask questions, be open to new ideas, and let the growing and changing team be a source of inspiration.

“Make sure that you include opportunities for students to express their voice and choice. Kids need to feel like their opinions matter. Even if you, as a teacher, have a great idea, be willing and flexible to make changes according to your students’ points of view.”

With co-creation, we identify as many key partners in the work from the beginning, and we create our SEL programs or activities with them. That could look like students helping to identify a need for classroom “peace corners,” and working with teachers to decide what will be in those spaces and how the class will use them. Or it could look like a mentorship program where mentors and mentees co-design the arc of the year’s activities.

“My tip: Find out who else might be doing SEL work in your district and connect with them. It’s easy to feel unsupported. When I got this grant, I didn’t even know who was in charge of SEL in the district. I reached out over the summer just to talk, and he had no idea about the work that my colleague and I were doing at the high school. Sometimes it’s just about creating those connections.”


More helpful Resources

Here are a few more resources to help:

Edutopia: “Creating Buy-In for SEL at Your School”

This article shares seven tips to help get colleagues on board with SEL.

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Move this World: Eight Strategies to Generate Buy-In

This blog post shares strategies to help get fellow educators on-board with SEL practices.

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Schools Face Fears of ‘Critical Race Theory’ as they Scale Up Social and Emotional Learning

This article in Education Week examines some of the political questions around SEL.

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Generating Buy-in and Community Co-Creation

Is your SEL having the impact you expect? Let’s find out! We suggest a 6 step process, along with guiding questions, as you consider assessing your SEL work:

1. Define goal
  • What are your goals?
  • Who else is working on something similar?
  • Who else has a stake in the success of these goals? Have they had a chance to give input?
2. Methods & measures
  • How will you collect data – quantitative and/or qualitative — for our SEL work?
  • What are the pros and cons of a survey? A focus group? Something else?
  • Whose voices are you collecting in this data? Whose voices are you leaving out?
3. Criteria of success
  • What does success look like?
  • What does success feel like?
  • Who will celebrate the success? Who might be disappointed?
4. Collect & analyze data
  • Who is helping you analyze data?
  • Why is it important to collaborate on analyzing data?
  • What data is important to collect every month? Every quarter? Every year?
5. Reflect on areas of improvement
  • What was successful?
  • What was challenging?
  • What felt connecting and engaging?
  • What felt disappointing or frustrating?
6. Report results
  • Who would benefit from hearing how things went?
  • Whose voices do we need to showcase as part of our results? Whose voices are left out?
  • Who has a stake in the next chapter of the work?

Then repeat! We do this process at varying cadences: sometimes monthly, sometimes quarterly, sometimes on trimesters or semesters. Repeat the progress monitoring cycle at the frequency that makes the most sense for your SEL work.

“The grant award ended up being the catalyst to change the lives of many students and staff. Our grant’s focus was to get more girls active in sports and wellness in order to learn more about science, gain confidence, and seek opportunities not yet heard of. Our project accomplished great goals. We incorporated dance, cultures, nutrition, goal setting and so much more which helped bring out the best in our school culture. Students earned scholarships in sports, had a higher participation in sports, a deliberate focus on culture, and expanded through multiple schools in our district. I have recently transferred to the continuation school in our district. The grant has given me confidence to connect and collaborate with other educators and the work is being recognized. Hopefully I get another opportunity to see how many stars we can reach.”

All photos by Allison Shelley for EDUimages