Adopt and Implement PreK-12 SEL Standards or Guidelines

Adopt and Implement PreK-12 SEL Standards or Guidelines

Standards establish developmentally appropriate and culturally responsive benchmarks for SEL and send the message that SEL is a core part of students’ education.

Below you’ll find an overview of: WHAT high-quality implementation looks like, WHY it’s important, WHEN to engage in this key activity, and WHO to involve. Also see the PROCESS page for step-by-step guidance on how to engage in the work, and the RESOURCES page for additional tools to support your efforts.

What are SEL standards or guidelines?


Similar to academic standards for mathematics, science, or language arts, social and emotional learning standards serve as a district’s “blueprint” for instruction in SEL. They identify specific goals and benchmarks for student SEL grade by grade and articulate what students should know and be able to do related to SEL.

Strong SEL standards or guidelines:

Are comprehensive, developmentally appropriate, and culturally responsive.

Include benchmarks for what all students should know and be able to do from PreK through grade 12.

Are rolled out with communication and professional learning that orients district and school staff to standards.

Use the Rubric to assess your current level of implementation of SEL standards.

SEL standards differ from academic standards in that they do not imply assessment measures or suggest accountability. It may be helpful to think and talk about them as “learning goals” or “competencies” instead of “standards.” Standards can guide the selection of evidence-based programs and the creation of professional learning related to SEL. See examples of SEL standards from across the nation.

“To develop the standards, we simply asked, ‘What is it you wish kids could graduate with? What are the skills you most depend on as an adult?’ Those were all the standards we needed.”

– Anchorage School District

Why does my district need SEL learning standards?


When clear SEL learning goals and explicit objectives for student learning are in place, district leaders, staff, parents, and community partners can consistently and intentionally create conditions that foster SEL. These goals or standards help establish a common language and developmentally appropriate benchmarks for SEL. Additionally, adopting these kinds of learning goals sends the message that SEL is a district priority and merits instructional focus.

“The decision to develop standards sooner rather than later had a significant impact on our ability to concretely connect social and emotional learning (SEL) to what occurs in schools on a daily basis. It served as the primary planning document and is the foundation for all of our training. In addition, having multiple stakeholders engaged in the process left us with a strong product that educators own and utilize to improve practice.”

– Washoe County School District

When should my district adopt SEL learning standards?


Your district may want to begin adopting learning standards or goals:

  • After district leaders, including the board of education, have become familiar with SEL and have identified it as a priority for district time and resources. This includes the introduction of SEL to at least some school staff, parents, and community partners.
  • Before districtwide adoption of evidence-based programs, instructional practices, or assessments of student SEL competencies. Standards should guide how the district makes decisions about curricula, programming, professional learning, assessment, etc.

Who needs to be involved?


Ideally your district’s SEL lead will oversee the process of developing or adopting SEL learning goals or standards. You will also want to involve key stakeholders, including those who will play a role in successful implementation, especially if they have not been previously involved in SEL planning. Consider including some stakeholders who have a solid knowledge of SEL, as well as those whose support your need to ensure the implementation of SEL.

Once you’re ready to pilot your newly developed learning standards, you’ll want to involve teachers and others who will be able to provide feedback on their implementation.

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