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The Case for Districtwide SEL Initiatives

After the events of this past year, administrators are reexamining strategies used to address student behavior and improve educational intervention. With students and staff returning in full to classroom environments following a taxing year of stress, isolation and varied learning models, many will need help acclimating. A well-executed curriculum that focuses on integrating social-emotional learning strategies into existing programs will play a key role in supporting this change and student behavioral outcomes.

For social-emotional learning (SEL) to be successful, integration needs to happen at every level of the educational system, starting at the district level and funneling down into schools, classrooms, and communities. Through districtwide initiatives—which include prioritizing adult SEL as well as providing ongoing data about SEL implementation and improvements—superintendents can achieve systemic SEL and instill confidence at every level. This establishes a solid social-emotional foundation that supports students and staff in this “next normal”. With an emphasis placed on mental well-being, students will be able to better focus on their academics and achieve expected behavioral growth outcomes, such as higher attendance rates, lower suspension rates, and greater social-emotional competency.

Districtwide Collaboration for Systemic SEL Integration

When districts support the integration of SEL instruction into existing programs, the curriculum becomes more manageable and positive outcomes become more systemic. Even moderate investments in a well-executed SEL program can benefit all settings—the key is collaboration.

In 2011, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) helped districts embed SEL within existing learning programs and align social-emotional strategies with district-level activities. This positive growth model was supported by CASEL’s Collaborating Districts Initiative (CDI)—a proposal that helped school districts across the country systemically integrate SEL into every work level.

Through assessments conducted by the American Institutes for Research (AIR), district findings from 2012 to 2015 supported the realization of the CDI within a step-by-step integration method, where district-level activities were successfully organized into four manageable categories:

  • Cultivate a commitment to the SEL vision by establishing communication and office expertise.
  • Identify district needs and align resources to support SEL integration.
  • Support SEL programming instruction through professional development opportunities.
  • Implement strategies that support the continuous development of SEL programming.

The results of the CDI on academic and behavioral outcomes through AIR’s analysis were undeniable: Districts that participated, sustained growth during all four CDI years and developed capacities to support long-term SEL integration.

District surveys collected in Chicago, Cleveland, and Anchorage during the CDI years also demonstrated positive and consistent trends in the academic and behavioral growth of students. And that includes districts—like Anchorage—where school climate was already showing an upward trajectory.

How Behavioral Outcomes Are Impacted by Well-Executed, Districtwide SEL Programs

Well-executed initiatives, like the CDI, helped promote SEL for all; it made the program achievable in diverse settings. CASEL’s key findings on the impact of the CDI on students and schools in Anchorage, Chicago, Cleveland, Austin, Oakland, and Nashville showed behavioral improvements in the following categories:

  • Graduation rates – In Chicago, rates increased by 15%.
  • Attendance – In four out of six districts, findings showed that attendance improved.
  • Suspensions – Data showed a decline in suspensions in five districts, where data were collected.
  • Social and emotional competence – Based on student and teacher surveys, districts participating in the initiative found that students’ social and emotional competence had improved.

These district assessments also revealed that students felt more connected to their supportive learning communities after the districtwide implementation of the CDI. And that’s an outcome that has continued to influence student behavior and support consistent growth in school environment and culture.

Long-Term Benefits of SEL Programs on Student Behavior

With regard to adding a districtwide SEL program to curricula, the long-term outcomes—particularly on student conduct, skill level, and academic performance—are proof of the initiative’s practical benefits. These expected outcomes were put to the test by CASEL, where evaluations were performed to gauge the effectiveness of SEL programs when compared to current school services. After the completion of SEL programs, researchers found that 22% fewer students showed conduct problems, 24% showed improved social behaviors as well as lower levels of distress, and 23% showed improved attitudes. Not only were these results in favor of the program’s overall effectiveness, but a 2017 meta-analysis showed that the practical benefits of an SEL program were ongoing across the board—in some cases, lasting up to 18 years after completion. These long-term benefits of districtwide SEL integration ultimately supported CASEL’s five social and emotional competencies, with particular emphasis on self-management skills and self-awareness. All in all, the positive outcomes on student behavior supported a growth mindset that encouraged better mental health, future successes, and positive relationships.

Join the Districtwide Initiative for SEL Programming

If you’re ready to join the initiative and improve student behavioral outcomes through well-executed SEL strategies, download this Suite360 a Solution of Navigate360 + CASEL brochure. With it, you can gain a deeper understanding of how our Suite360 SEL curriculum meets the industry’s highest, most accepted standards through alignment with CASEL.

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