Support, Value, Connection – Lenses for Supporting Adult SEL

While social and emotional learning (SEL) is not new, calls for SEL and for people to lead that work within schools and districts have increased exponentially in recent years. At the same time, pandemic shutdowns, misinformation, social justice crises, school shootings, community divisiveness and the resulting anger, fear, disconnection, and sheer overwhelm have taken a toll on everyone within the education ecosystem. 

For many who lead SEL initiatives within schools and districts, whose careers are dedicated to fostering connection and belonging at school, to the development of inter-and intrapersonal skills that support academic achievement and post-secondary success, and to humanizing the education system, the last few years have simultaneously galvanized their efforts and depleted their resilience. Given the reciprocal and symbiotic relationship between student, teacher, and community social and emotional wellbeing, if the increased investments in SEL made over the last several years are to yield the intended outcomes for students, the social and emotional wellness of those leading that work must be a priority.

Whose responsibility is that? Within systems, this is a shared responsibility between the individuals and the system itself.  While an individual’s self care practices contribute to their overall wellness, advocating for educators to “just practice self-care” as the pathway to sustained wellness ignores the crucial role of communal care in supporting individual and systemic wellness. Communal care calls for members at all levels of an organization to regularly examine, and take action to correct, systems and processes that contribute to stressors and burnout. SEL leaders and school systems can use the lenses of support, value, and connection to strengthen social and emotional wellness at the individual and organizational level.

“If we want improved social and emotional outcomes for young people in our communities, we need to start with all adults, and especially school leaders” (Nick Haisman-Smith, IFSEL)


Individual Leaders
As you build implementation plans to support systemic SEL, include regular reflections on your own wellness within your workflows.
This practice reflects and develops self-awareness and self-management skills, allowing more timely recognition of where you may be getting close to depletion before burnout occurs. Tools such as the  Educator Resilience and Trauma-Informed Self-Care Self-Assessment from Center for Great Teachers and Leaders provide a framework for this type of reflection and can be included as a regular, individual action step in your SEL implementation planning. 
School Systems
As leaders create and update comprehensive plans, plan for the development of practices that promote trust at all levels of the organization. Organizations with higher levels of trust outperform those characterized by distrust (Paul, 2017). Alongside trust, organizations can include on-going opportunities for faculty and staff to recognize and reduce stress as part of their existing districtwide professional learning – a practice that more and more schools and districts with a trauma-informed approach are integrating into their PD calendars. 


Individual SEL Leaders
It feels really good to know you are valued by colleagues and leaders for your contributions. Equally important is being able to recognize and celebrate your own value. One approach to developing that sense of intrinsic value is to identify what you find most fulfilling about this work and  what provides you with  a sense of accomplishment. Each month, set at least one calendar reminder to engage in the aspect of your role that you find most fulfilling and  contributes to your own sense of value. This can help balance the parts of the role that are necessary but don't necessarily reflect or boost your sense of value. 
School Systems
When school and district leaders include those leading SEL in long-term planning and decision-making, they signal that this work and the expertise of those leading it are valued. Doing so also ensures that SEL is not an add-on or afterthought, but is integrated into the teaching and learning happening at all levels, amplifying the initiatives and practices in place across the district.  
IFSEL uses a model with many schools called “Make SEL Visible”. This model encourages schools to capture visual evidence and artifacts of SEL ‘in action’ and opens space to celebrate effective practice and engage in peer-to-peer learning and reflection. 


Individual SEL Leaders
Ironically, leading SEL initiatives  within school systems can be isolating work. Prioritize time to connect with students (classroom visits, modeling lessons) and supportive colleagues (eating lunch together, quick walk and talks). Building connections with other SEL leaders can be incredibly validating and restorative. IFSEL offers a 7-month SEL Leadership Program that focuses on high impact practices and tools, alongside space for connection, reflection and collaboration with other SEL Leaders. 
Many state and regional networking groups for SEL leaders also provide opportunities for in-person and virtual connections nationally and internationally.
School Systems
School and district leaders can include structures in their meeting agendas that regularly create space for simple, brief, personal connections at the beginning or end of routine meetings. IFSEL recommends a range of creative practices for emotion check-ins and inclusion activities to start meetings. 
Additionally, promoting open communication within departments and among stakeholder groups through regular check-ins, feedback loops, and community forums where active listening and curiosity are valued can sustain a sense of connection throughout the school year. 

While this blog focuses on those leading SEL in schools and districts,  the strategies above are beneficial for all individuals within a school system.  The challenge for the individual and the system becomes consistently creating the space for these strategies when time is perpetually short and compliance demands and crises consistently draw our focus away from proactive wellness strategies. In the urgency of the education system, no one is going to give us this time. Rather, we need to be willing to claim it ourselves, knowing that doing so contributes to the social, emotional, and academic outcomes for students that we are all seeking and to sustained resilience for educators and leaders whose needs are often overlooked. 


Zak, Paul J. (2017). Trust Factor. The Science of Creating High-Performing Companies. New York, NY: AMACOM

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