Committee for Children Blog

Four Tips for Aligning and Integrating Social-Emotional Learning

two teachers talking integrating social-emotional learning

Calling all teachers, administrators, school social workers, school psychologists, guidance counselors, specialists, and assistants!

Are you functioning in burnout mode? Do you feel like you’re working too hard and doing too many things to ensure your students’ social, emotional, and academic needs are met? There has to be a better way to support all those needs, right?

There is a multitude of programs and practices we can adopt in schools, all claiming to benefit students. Many link to similar outcomes. Most schools implement several programs and practices at once, which can quickly lead to staff fatigue, especially if these changes happen every couple of years. Our intentions are good, but we end up creating a disconnected system of partially implemented practices that do not lead to the effect we hoped for, and we work harder and less efficiently.

Once you understand the difference between alignment and integration and how they work together, you can be more systematic about implementation.

Alignment means bringing greater congruence to a program or elements of a program, initiative, or curriculum. Alignment shows how different practices or curricula relate to and support one another, and where they are similar. These Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) charts provide many examples of SEL alignment.

Integration is about doing the actual work of blending initiatives, curricula, or programs. For example, social-emotional skills can explicitly be integrated into the teaching and learning of core academic subjects, such as the teaching of math.

Alignment is important to understanding how two programs or initiatives are related to one another, and is often a good first step to integration. Both are needed to effectively streamline understanding and practices and their connections to your vision, mission, goals, and strategic plan.

Now for the four tips on effectively aligning and integrating SEL. These are not the only pieces to consider, but they are four important ones that are good to start with as you think about what this will look like in your school, district, or organization.

Tip 1: Start with the Outcomes

Outcomes drive the work. What specific outcomes do you want to achieve, and do you have a manageable number? Take school climate, for example. Are you looking to increase students’ feelings of safety or to reduce reports of bullying? Do you make these outcomes explicit and public for all to see? Do you refer to them and revisit them on a regular basis when making decisions?

Tip 2: Use a Systematic Selection Process

Once you’ve narrowed down the most important desired outcomes, your determinations about which programs and practices to implement should be based on those outcomes. Establish a consistent process for making decisions on what to adopt or change. Consider having common review questions, such as:

  • What is the evidence behind the program? Does it link to identified outcomes? For example, if considering Second Step, review the research page to see how the outcomes align to yours.
  • If adopting another program or practice, are there others that need to be dropped because they don’t align with your priority outcomes?

Tip 3: Make the Best Use of Teams

Determine which team oversees the process of selecting programs and practices. Make this part of the role of an existing team, such as the leadership team, instead of creating yet another team. This role would also include gathering data about the program’s impact, looking at the data regularly, and adjusting practices based on those outcomes. When teams lead, implementation sustains.

Tip 4: Communicate

With all that educational staff have do, communication can be challenging. Set up a process for regularly communicating with staff. Share the defined outcomes, how they are being met, and what adjustments are made in response to those outcomes. Make sure everyone knows about positive outcomes. When staff see that their efforts are connected to positive outcomes, they are more likely to buy in and to do the work.

I hope these tips help you to streamline your implementation and efforts in integrating SEL in a way that makes sense.