Frequently Asked Questions

Using the DRC and Other CASEL Resources

1. What’s the difference between the CASEL District Resource Center and the CASEL Guide to Schoolwide SEL?

The District Resource Center is for district-level leaders and teams, while the CASEL Guide to Schoolwide SEL is for school-level leaders, but these are companion resources. Both sites provide a theory of action and resources for systemic SEL implementation. The District Resource Center is the district leader’s ”first stop” for systemic SEL implementation across the district, while the Guide to Schoolwide SEL is helpful for supporting the work in individual school communities.

2. How can other youth-serving organizations use CASEL’s District Resource Center?

While the tools and information on the District Resource Center have not been modified for out-of-school time providers, they can be useful to these partners. Focus Area 3: Family and Community Partnerships describes why and how school districts should prioritize partnerships with other youth-serving organizations, including tools for aligning SEL frameworks, practices, and language between schools and out-of-school time providers. Additionally, the CASEL Guide to Schoolwide SEL, District Resource Center’s companion site, includes more than 30 tools created for out-of-school time providers.

Starting Out with District-Level SEL Implementation

1. I’m not in a position to make major district decisions. What can I do to move SEL forward?

Even if you aren’t the decision-maker, you can inspire those who are by clearly communicating  how SEL is a major lever for school and student success. In the District Resource Center, Focus Area 2: Strengthen Central Office Expertise provides information and resources to support this effort, including these resources:

2. How have large school districts approached SEL implementation? Small districts?

  • For large districts: Given the size and complexity of large districts, it’s often a good idea to start with a pilot. By starting small, you can identify programs and approaches that fit while building a community of SEL advocates.
  • For smaller districts: If feasible, a districtwide launch may be a more equitable option than piloting, while also creating consistency, streamlining progressive professional learning, and promoting cross-school collaboration.

So, to pilot or not to pilot? This chart compares the two approaches. Here are a few examples of pilot-based, multi-stage professional learning plans from CASEL’s collaborating district partners:

3. What are some things to bear in mind when planning and developing district professional learning for SEL?

Districts should consider how SEL professional learning will fit into the district calendar and limited schedules. The tool Planning for Professional Learning on Evidence-Based Programs can help your team answer important questions, assign tasks, and set a timeline.  Some advanced districts have begun to integrate SEL professional learning into pre-service training, or have created microcredentials and leadership pathways to develop teachers and other staff as localized leaders who can provide ongoing support to others. Focus Area 2 contains more information about designing and implementing an SEL professional learning program for schools.

4. What should districts consider when selecting an SEL program?

Evidence-based programs are important, but they’re just one part of a broader, systemic implementation strategy. When choosing a program as part of that larger strategy, look for evidence-based programs that are well-designed and provide high-quality professional learning. CASEL’s Program Guides evaluate evidence-based programs that fit these criteria. Once you’ve selected a program, it can be helpful to pilot it with a small group of schools to determine whether it’s a good fit and has strong support from the teachers, principals, students, and families. A pilot can also help you determine if your district can support implementation with professional learning, resources, and materials and whether the program aligns with existing academic standards or initiatives. Visit Focus Area 3: Evidence Based Programs and Practices for more information and resources.

5. What does it cost to implement districtwide SEL and how have other districts funded SEL initiatives?

Cost varies by district size, average staff salary, and, most importantly, support model.  CASEL’s Roadmap for Sustainability offers information, interactive tools and cost calculators, and budget case studies to help plan for the long-term cost of implementation. To explore the various strategies for funding SEL implementation, visit Focus Area 1, Align Resources for SEL.

Integrating SEL with Other Initiatives, Approaches, and Priorities

1. Our district has already invested in other strategies to strengthen positive and supportive climates in our schools (e.g., PBIS, Restorative Practices, trauma-informed practices, MTSS). How does districtwide SEL intersect with these approaches?

The CASEL Guide to Schoolwide SEL describes the differences and the alignment between schoolwide SEL and two common frameworks for student support (MTSS and PBIS).  It’s important to recognize that SEL is neither solely behavior support nor solely academic support, but aligns with and complements both behavioral and academic supports at all tiers. In addition, Focus Area 3: Integration on the District Resource Center describes how SEL can be integrated with academics, discipline, and student supports.

2. How can my district integrate SEL with academics?

This is an important question because students develop social and emotional competencies not just during a freestanding SEL lesson but through their daily interactions with peers and adults. Furthermore, a meta-analysis of 213 studies has shown that participants in school-based SEL programs demonstrated improved skills and an 11 percentile point gain in achievement, including academic performance. Focus Area 3: Integration on the District Resource Center describes how SEL can be integrated with academics.

3. How can my district align with SEL with equity?

SEL can be a powerful lever for creating caring, just, inclusive, and healthy communities that support all individuals in reaching their fullest potential. Systemic implementation of SEL both fosters and depends upon an equitable learning environment, where all students and adults feel respected, valued, and affirmed in their individual interests, talents, social identities, cultural values, and backgrounds. Learn more about how SEL is a lever for equity on the District Resource Center.

Supporting School-Level Implementation

1. As a district staff person, how can I move school-level decision makers to embrace SEL?

SEL encourages collaboration. Here are some productive strategies for including school leaders throughout the planning and implementation processes:

  • Bring school-level leaders in early to contribute to the districtwide SEL implementation strategy and rollout plans. Use CASEL’s vision-planning worksheet to help include a range of stakeholders in crafting the district SEL vision.
  • Leverage peers from similar schools to advocate for school-level implementation, and highlight how schools are already prioritizing SEL. Use professional learning communities and cross-school visits to enable school leaders to share best practices and ideas.
  • Make it easier for school leaders to choose to prioritize SEL by:
    • Integrating SEL into the standard framework for school improvement and strategic planning.
    • Including SEL resources/training within any menus of district supports.
    • Providing a list of community partner organizations that provide high-quality SEL training, coaching, or enrichment programs.
  • Allow for school flexibility while communicating overall district expectations.

2. What does successful SEL implementation look like in high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools?

A useful guide for “what SEL implementation looks like” are the 10 indicators of schoolwide SEL, which can be found on the CASEL Guide to Schoolwide SEL, the District Resource Center’s companion site. The Guide to Schoolwide SEL outlines the schoolwide SEL process, which breaks SEL implementation down into four focus areas: build foundational support and plan, strengthen adult SEL competencies, promote SEL for students, and practice continuous improvement.

It may also be helpful to view these short videos on the five SEL competencies, which can be found on the District Resource Center:

The District Resource Center also includes many examples of successful SEL implementation, including:

Finally, you can find even more illustrations of how various aspects of school systems and practices contribute to social and emotional development in Edutopia’s How Learning Happens video series, including examples from:

3. How can district staff support the continuous improvement of school-level SEL implementation?

A key resource for supporting school-level SEL implementation is the CASEL Guide to Schoolwide SEL. By encouraging school leaders to make use of this resource, you offer them the tools they need to make the work effective and sustainable.

To further support this effort, district-level staff can support continuous improvement in school SEL by keeping abreast of the work and its outcomes. It’s easy for the central office to feel far removed from what’s happening in the schools. You can close that gap through school visits and observations, school self-assessments, and reviewing related data. The information you glean will help ensure that SEL is being implemented consistently and equitably, and will help the district determine how best to support schools.

When gathering this information, be mindful of the schools’ need for a sense of autonomy and self-determination. Often, district/school relations can be unidirectional. Be sure to:

  • Model social and emotional competence by devoting attention to relationship-building, communication, and perspective-taking with schools.
  • Shape conversations around how SEL practices can help schools achieve their existing goals.

Focus Area 4: Documenting Implementation and Outcomes provides information and resources about progress monitoring and data collection. The CASEL Guide to Schoolwide SEL also includes aligned progress monitoring tools.

SEL Assessment and Continuous Improvement

1. Why should districts measure the impact of SEL?

Assessing students’ social and emotional growth is an important part of continuous improvement. Establishing a baseline, collecting data about implementation and outcomes, and reflecting on those outcomes are all critical for ensuring that SEL implementation is effective and sustainable. While CASEL encourages districts to assess SEL implementation outcomes, there are some important considerations to bear in mind:

  • CASEL discourages practitioners from using assessments of students’ SEL competencies to screen for deficits (e.g., behavioral or emotional problems).
  • It is not appropriate or productive to use SEL competency measures for high-stakes purposes such as state accountability systems or teacher-evaluation systems.

Learn more about measuring the impact of SEL in Focus Area 4: Practice Continuous Improvement and the Assessment Guide available on the Assessment Work Group’s website, Measuring SEL.

2. How can districts use data to assess the impact of SEL?

CASEL’s SEL Trends: Using Data for Continuous Improvement explores how four districts have used data in this way. Learn more about using data to assess the impact of SEL implementation in Focus Area 4: Practice Continuous Improvement.

3. What kind of SEL data should be used in decision-making at the district level?

Focus Area 4: Practice Continuous Improvement includes guidance on building a robust strategy for collecting, reflecting on, and reporting data about the impact of SEL and using it for action planning. Additional key resources include:

Not sure where to begin?

Not sure where to begin?

Use our priority setting questionnaire to reflect on your district’s current SEL implementation and help identify areas for future focus.

Take Priority Setting Questionnaire
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