Effective and Sustainable, Part I: Taking a Whole Community Approach to SEL | Nick Haisman-Smith | 4 Min Read

Advancing equity-rooted, Social and Emotional Learning that is both effective and sustainable over time, is a challenge to which all schools must rise in the post-pandemic world. In this article, I will share an evidence-led framework and some practical insights that will guide compassionate and impactful action, regardless of your school’s current level of SEL development.

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is a process of lifelong learning to understand and flourish in our intrapersonal and interpersonal worlds. It is through SEL that we learn critical skills to ensure an equitable, just, and inclusive society in which empathy abounds and all people thrive.

A Whole Community Framework for SEL

To ensure that aspirations for nurturing SEL across a community are realized and sustained over time, a Whole Community Approach, looking beyond just the curriculum, is essential.

This broader focus brings integrity and a sense of community-wide consistency to SEL work. It also avoids SEL becoming an add-on or something that happens only in Advisory or Morning Meeting or something that lives with the counselor.

The Institute for SEL’s Whole Community Framework 
1. Teaching Student SEL skills through an evidence-led spiraling curriculum 
2. Pedagogical practices to integrate SEL into all teaching/learning areas, including essential anti-racist, anti-bias, and trauma-informed practices
3. A focus on adult SEL and well-being 
4. SEL lens on schoolwide structures and systems
5. Connections to home
6. SEL-informed responses to every day and more significant events that impact the community 

Each of these dimensions of a Whole Community Approach is complex and warrant detailed investigation. For this article, I will focus on just the first three — not that they are the most important, but rather that they are often the starting points for schools.

1. Teaching Student SEL Skills

The explicit teaching and learning of SEL skills are the foundation of an effective, impactful approach to SEL in schools. It is through the transformative experiences of SEL lessons that students learn, reflect, and integrate SEL into their lives, behaviors, and decisions. In the design of this curriculum, a spiraling approach enables students to revisit the SEL competencies over time, deepening their understanding and seeing them through the lens of each new developmental stage.

The SEL tool of communication is one example. In the youngest grades, we teach about the companion skills of listening and speaking,…

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Nick Haisman-Smith

Nick Haisman-Smith ([email protected]) is the Executive Director at the Institute for Social and Emotional Learning and a doctoral researcher at the University of Bristol, UK, focusing on social and emotional learning, educator well-being, and education policy.