Approaching SEL as a Whole-School Effort, Not an Add-On: Lessons from Two Charter Networks

August 2021

There is wide recognition that supporting social-emotional learning (SEL) is a critical task for schools as they emerge from the pandemic, but implementation is challenging and SEL programs can easily turn into isolated and disjointed initiatives.

This paper highlights the approach that two innovative charter networks—Uplift Education and Distinctive Schools—took last year to address student well-being and social-emotional development. Above all, their examples suggest that education leaders should commit to weaving their work on SEL into the fabric of their school. They highlight the importance of leveraging shared approaches to SEL, data, and staffing to support SEL schoolwide.

Leaders heading into the fall must develop a comprehensive whole-school approach to SEL. They can start by asking themselves and their teams these pivotal questions:

  • How does our SEL work reflect our values? How do our values reflect our SEL work?
  • How are we supporting adults, as well as students?
  • Where are decisions about SEL happening? Are they in places that have access to authority in the organization?
  • How can we fit SEL into our existing routines and approaches? How do we elevate our understanding and analysis of SEL to be on par with how we approach academics?
  • As we invest in SEL in our district or school, what will we hold tight and what will we hold loose?
  • How can we make sure that our approaches are relevant for students and staff?