Committee for Children Blog

The Lasting and Effective Schoolwide Journey


Social-emotional learning (SEL) at the classroom level has a significant impact. Implementation at the schoolwide level strengthens its collective impact. When ALL staff are teaching SEL skills to ALL students, and when ALL students are learning, supporting, and reinforcing one another in using these skills, it can foster a positive climate and culture. It can also lead to many other positive outcomes such as improved attitudes and behaviors, fewer negative behaviors, better academic performance, and reduced emotional distress for students.

Taking SEL schoolwide is not on my top 10 list of easiest things to do. It involves a lot of time and effort and ongoing collaboration among many people. With the need to scale up resources it can take 3 to 5 years for full systemic and systematic implementation. Reflecting on my years of supporting districtwide implementation, I can remember how quickly things would change. I still look back at those schools that were among the highest and most successful Second Step or Steps to Respect implementers only to become non-implementers within a few months. It took me many years of working through these experiences, learning from them, reading about what works, and searching for answers to truly understand the complexity and importance of systems change, which is critical for program success and sustainability. There is no one magical solution, and I still do not have it all figured out, but these are some of the actions I have learned to be effective in sustaining schoolwide program implementation.

Taking SEL Schoolwide

  • Elicit staff buy-in before implementing: Provide staff with a rationale by sharing the benefits of SEL.
  • Break it into steps: Start small and grow. If buy-in is low (less than 75%), start by asking a few “champions” to implement the curriculum. Ask them to share the benefits they are seeing regularly. Expand implementation to other classrooms over time. It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop. —Confucius

Reinforcing SEL Schoolwide

  • Give regular time for collaboration: Provide opportunity for staff to talk about their lessons, share ideas, and make academic—SEL connections.
  • Have an implementation team: When one person oversees implementation and that person leaves the job, it can be difficult to sustain. Utilize an existing team for implementation support, such as the PBIS Tier 1 team or Leadership team. This team determines needs and establishes goals, plans and coordinates implementation activities, communicates efforts, and solicits regular input from diverse stakeholders.
  • Engage families and the community: Enable meaningful, ongoing collaboration with families. Include families in decision-making at the school and individual level and foster meaningful participation in SEL classroom and schoolwide activities.
  • Use data-based continuous improvement: Ensure ongoing, reflective use of data to provide structures for supporting implementation and to drive the work. Collect multiple forms of formative and summative data. Use multiple types and sources of data to inform actions, such as universal screening and progress monitoring, teacher and student interviews, mapping, and curriculum “assessments.”
  • Provide layers of support: SEL is not just for students with behavior difficulties or social needs. It is important for all students to learn and practice these skills. Layering on additional extension activities and furthering support through grouping is important, but will not be as effective if universal supports (e.g. curriculum implementation in all classrooms) are not in place.
  • Make it fun: Offer make-and-take sessions for staff, where they can make and take props and activities for further supporting SEL in their classrooms. Hold SEL events for students, such as compassion day or a day of problem-solving challenge activities.

When considering next steps in beginning or scaling up schoolwide implementation, break it into small tasks, track your progress, and reward yourselves for achieving steps along the way. Always consider the big picture by setting your goal and visualizing it. The end result? A collective sense of purpose and commitment that ensures the well-being, safety, and success of every student. Now that is something to work for!