The Principal’s Role in SEL

Create an environment that infuses SEL into every part of students’ educational experience.

Create an environment that infuses SEL into every part of students’ educational experience.
October 2019, Volume 43, Issue 2

The challenges facing our nation’s principals continue to increase. The invisible backpack brought into the academic setting by students and adults continues to enlarge. Social and emotional learning (SEL) are at the forefront of school leadership needs. But a recent study showed that principals need greater knowledge and support to effectively implement school wide, evidence-based SEL programs.

To help meet this need, NAESP hosted a webinar, “The Principal’s Role in Social and Emotional Learning,” presented by Melissa Schlinger, vice president of Practice and Programs at the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL); Justina Schlund, director of Field Learning, CASEL; and Sherrie Raven, director of PSELI Implementation, CASEL.

Here’s how these three champions for SEL integration recommend principals coordinate and build upon SEL practices and programs to create an environment that infuses SEL into every part of students’ educational experience and promotes equitable outcomes.

Breaking Down SEL

What is SEL? It’s a combination of skills like self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness that, in combination, set students up for success in school and life after school.

What do Schlinger, Schlund, and Raven say SEL should look like, feel like, and sound like? Indicators of schoolwide SEL are:

  • Explicit SEL instruction;
  • SEL integrated with academic instruction;
  • Youth voice and engagement;
  • Supportive school and classroom climates;
  • Focus on adult SEL;
  • Supportive discipline;
  • A continuum of integrated supports;
  • Authentic family partnerships;
  • Aligned community partnerships; and
  • Systems for continuous improvement.

Areas of Focus

Schlinger, Schlund, and Raven highlight four areas of focus to establish SEL programming.

Focus Area 1: Build Foundational Support and Create a Plan

  • Create a highly-functioning representative SEL team;
  • Dedicate time and space to engage the school community in foundational learning;
  • Lead the collaborative development of a shared vision for SEL;
  • Engage your team in reviewing current implementation, needs and resources, setting goals and developing an implementation plan;
  • Allocate resources to support SEL goals and implementation; and
  • Communicate frequently about SEL as a school priority.

Focus Area 2: Strengthen Adult SEL Competencies and Capacity

  • Create opportunities for staff to learn about and strengthen SEL professional skills and their own social and emotional competence;
  • Create structures that foster trust and collaboration among staff; and
  • Identify ways to explicitly model SEL in your interactions with staff, families, and students.

Focus Area 3: Promote SEL for Students

  • Align school climate, programs, and practices to promote SEL;
  • Review and adopt an evidence-based SEL program and ensure staff have access to related curriculum, professional learning, and ongoing coaching;
  • Support teachers in developing supportive classroom environments that engage in explicit SEL and integrate SEL throughout instruction;
  • Develop authentic family partnerships; and
  • Leverage strategic and aligned community partnerships.

Focus Area 4: Practice Continuous Improvement

  • Create a schoolwide continuous improvement culture, including modeling your own reflective practice with data and learning from mistakes;
  • Provide the SEL team and other involved staff with access to high-quality SEL-related data;
  • Offer opportunities for staff to cultivate knowledge and skills for analyzing data and presenting it to others;
  • Ensure that staff have authority to act on what they’re learning.

Watch the full webinar, listen to the webinar, or download the slide presentation.

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