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T-SEL Conditions: Classroom and Expanded Learning

Guidance for people leading classrooms and expanded learning programs (educators) to co-create Transformative Social and Emotional Learning (T-SEL) Conditions for Thriving.

The guidance below builds upon the California Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Guiding Principles (PDF) to provide recommended practices that classroom and expanded learning program leaders (educators) can use to co-create conditions that support Transformative Social and Emotional Learning (T-SEL) development. Implemented thoughtfully and consistently, and supported by others working at all levels of the education system, these practices and actions can support development of equity-focused learning environments in which children, youth, and adults have opportunities to develop and practice T-SEL skills.

In addition to the specific actions educators can take, all adults working across the education system are encouraged to implement the following practices to co-create Conditions for Thriving:

  • Value positive relationships and belonging as conditions for learning and promote educational climates that are welcoming, inclusive, culturally responsive, identity affirming, and empowering for all students, staff, families, and community partners.
  • Cultivate affirming, caring relationships with families that engage them as partners in their child’s learning and create a climate that affirms the strengths, values, cultures, and lived experiences of students and families of diverse racial-ethnic identities.
  • Involve educators, students, family, and community members representative of varied gender, racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds in decision-making processes. Articulate shared language for T-SEL and its direct connection to whole child development and learning.
  • Adopt culturally informed and affirming policies and that reinforce equity, inclusion, and anti-racism. Use T-SEL to address bullying, racism, and disparities to cultivate advocacy and decrease adversity.
  • Demonstrate self and social awareness as it relates to the demographics of the student body and community. Notice whose perspectives and modes of communication are dominant in meetings, discussions, school processes, and events and seek out or elevate the voices of individuals from marginalized groups.
  • Model and practice T-SEL competencies with all people, in all settings, and all aspects of work to foster engagement and belonging and regularly engage in reflective practice regarding implementation and modeling of T-SEL competencies.

The California Department of Education (CDE) plans to refine this guidance as we learn more regarding how it is being used across the state. Please consider sharing feedback regarding your experiences with the California T-SEL Conditions for Thriving.

SEL Guiding Principle 1: Adopt Whole Child Development as the Goal of Education

Take a systems approach to promoting student academic, social, and emotional learning, physical well-being, and college, career, and civic life readiness. Name SEL as not a “nice to have,” but a “must have” to ensure student success in school, work, and community.

Subprinciple 1A. Systems Change

Embed and promote SEL across all education and youth development systems and structures, including but not limited to: vision statements, strategic plans, budgetary decisions, staffing, professional learning, school-wide policies, curricular adoption criteria, instructional practices, and instructional quality assessments.

Educators understand the importance of T-SEL and its direct link to whole child development, academic achievement, and wellness. They incorporate T-SEL into curriculum, instruction, and activities that promote a positive classroom climate.

  • Strive to integrate T-SEL competencies into all content areas, instructional strategies, classroom procedures, and learning activities.
  • Plan varied learning experiences informed by assessment and differentiate instruction to address the unique needs of each student.
  • Inform improvements in T-SEL skills instruction and learning opportunities with a strengths-based measure of student social-emotional growth.

Subprinciple 1B. Diverse and Inclusive Leadership Teams

Systems change is most effectively driven by bringing together educator, student, family, and community member representatives of varied gender, racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Educators are members of diverse school leadership teams, professional learning communities, and problem-solving teams that integrate T-SEL into the classroom environment and instructional practices.

  • Seek input from and work alongside colleagues, students, families, and community members to infuse T-SEL content and model SEL practices into classroom, school, and district structures and systems.
  • Leverage participation on existing leadership teams to influence agendas, scope of work, and goals to reflect diverse perspectives of the broader community.

Subprinciple 1C. SEL Skills Development

Students and adults must have opportunities to practice, demonstrate, and reinforce social and emotional skills within the context of supportive relationships. Additionally, social and emotional skills instruction and integration into academic content areas contribute to a comprehensive approach.

Educators model, integrate, scaffold, and coach T-SEL competencies throughout content instruction and classroom management processes, explicitly teach T-SEL skills, and provide opportunities to practice skills in all grade levels and settings. They use reflective practice to challenge their own thinking, examine assumptions and implicit bias, and mitigate bias within their practice and school.

  • Center practice in positive, affirming relationships with all students and colleagues, grounded in genuine positive regard, a growth mindset, and a strengths-based approach.
  • Reflect on their own mindset and practices, classroom policies and procedures, and management strategies for congruence with T-SEL competencies.
  • Communicate T-SEL expectations and outcomes and help students identify, practice, and reflect on T-SEL competencies and skills throughout the day.
  • Empower students by encouraging student voice and choice and providing multiple opportunities for leadership, problem solving, and decision-making to promote student agency.

Subprinciple 1D. Student Centered Discipline Policies and Practices

Discipline policies that are aligned with promoting social and emotional growth, as opposed to punishment and exclusion, have been shown to yield the strongest student outcomes while offering the opportunity to repair harm and build community.

Educators cultivate a classroom environment, behavioral expectations and norms, and learning experiences that are culturally affirming, developmentally appropriate, and supportive of individual needs.

  • Build student agency and buy-in on classroom management processes through co-creation of agreements and norms and ownership in classroom practices.
  • Use T-SEL competencies to teach and reinforce positive behaviors with a growth mindset, acknowledging the role of educators in addressing student needs and providing opportunities for learning more proactive behavior.
  • Use restorative and trauma-informed practices to address behavior and disciplinary issues with students, seeking a deeper understanding of students who may come to school with excessive stressors, trauma, and/or neglect impacting their readiness to learn and be part of the classroom community.
  • Include student-led problem solving, conflict resolution, and restorative practices that address relationships and interactions within the school community and center reflection and collective health and well-being.

Subprinciple 1E. Climate and Culture

SEL and school climate are interrelated and reciprocal. A positive school climate and culture can be developed when community members are building strong social and emotional skills

Educators scaffold T-SEL competencies to co-create an empowering classroom climate where the identities of all students are affirmed and respected, student knowledge and lived experiences are valued, and students are active participants in maintaining a caring, inclusive, and collaborative learning community.

  • Model cultural and intellectual humility, a growth mindset, and make your own growth and learning visible.
  • Cultivate responsive, respectful, and inclusive interactions among students with multiple opportunities for active listening and constructive communication throughout the day.
  • Foster a growth mindset among students, normalize challenge and failure as part of the learning process, and help students acknowledge their progress and accomplishments.
  • Support high expectations for all: Engage student agency through critical thinking and decision-making to create norms, design or refine procedures, and generate class plans.
  • Provide multiple opportunities across disciplines to take diverse perspectives and develop empathy and compassion through the ability to reflect on their own and others’ feelings and actions.

SEL Guiding Principle 2: Commit to Equity

All students must have opportunities to build SEL skills and receive an assets-based educational experience that is personalized, culturally relevant and responsive, and intentionally addresses racism and implicit bias. Use practices that build on the existing strengths of students, educators, families, and communities.

Subprinciple 2A. Address the Opportunity Gap

Opportunities to build SEL skills must be offered to all students and not be determined by race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, language, socioeconomic status, documentation status, or ZIP code

Educators teach for equity and social justice through explicit instruction, modeling, coaching, practicing, and integrating T-SEL skills into instruction, classroom management, and disciplinary processes in school and expanded learning settings.

  • Acknowledge that racism and cultural bias negatively impact the academic performance and school experience for historically marginalized student groups.
  • Consider how their own identity frames their perspectives of student learning, behavioral expectations, and their own teaching practice.
  • Engage in reflective practice to become aware of unconscious biases and deficit-focused narratives in order to interrupt deficit thinking, adopt affirmation of strengths, and use of cultural assets as a basis for learning.
  • Commit to proactively addressing acts of racism, bias, and bullying in the classroom, school, or community, as well as mitigating the indirect impact of longstanding inequitable educational policies and school practices.
  • Dialogue with colleagues, parents, students, and community partners about equity, inclusion, and educational disparities and ways to best incorporate lived experiences and cultural assets.

Subprinciple 2B. Ensure Representation

When the educator workforce is representative of, and connected to, the student body, academic, social, and emotional outcomes improve for students.

Educators value a diverse faculty and staff and support representation inclusive of historically marginalized groups.

  • Offer alliance to faculty from historically marginalized groups to have opportunities that fairly support their contributions around diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Subprinciple 2C. Student and Adult-Led

SEL efforts are most effective when schools are participatory and engaging and diverse student voices are included in decision-making and improvement efforts

Educators support T-SEL development through the use of instructional and classroom management processes that facilitate student agency, engagement, and empowerment.

  • Provide students opportunities to make choices as appropriate throughout the day, including instructional content, processes and modalities, preferred activities, and interests.
  • Invite student perspectives, ideas, and feedback to improve the classroom program, with care to include students whose voices are marginalized or quiet.
  • Design learning activities that foster collaboration, applied problem solving, and creating products demonstrating skills or content knowledge.
  • Collaborate with students, families, and community partners to create curriculum and learning activities that build on students’ cultural assets (knowledge, skills, languages, and community connections).
  • Tap into student interest, sense of responsibility to their community, and potential as change agents to engage in action-oriented research and social justice advocacy.

Subprinciple 2D. Healing Informed

Educational experiences must seek to counteract the institutional and structural biases and related traumas that often drive inequitable outcomes for students.

Educators provide a classroom experience that is emotionally safe, healing-informed, culturally responsive, and inclusive. Learning experiences are personalized, differentiated, and focused on developing student agency and empowerment.

  • Understand the effects of trauma and multigenerational trauma on child development and learning.
  • Teach students about the impact of trauma on the human brain and body in a developmentally appropriate manner that promotes student awareness and builds agency in coping, wellness, and resilience. 
  • Identify safe spaces for students who need a break from the learning environment, provide students with resources that support self-regulation and restoration during the break, and establish processes for a clear path back to learning activities.
  • Adopt healing-informed and restorative practices that acknowledge and attempt to mitigate institutional racism and structural biases that have resulted in traumas and inequitable outcomes.
  • Facilitate student agency by providing opportunities to address issues of social and environmental justice and equity in the school and community as part of a standards-based curriculum.

SEL Guiding Principle 3: Build Capacity

Build the capacity of both students and adults through an intentional focus on relationship-centered learning environments and by offering research-based learning experiences that cultivate core social and emotional competencies.

Subprinciple 3A. Positive Relationships and Belonging

To cultivate resilience to adversity and build the foundation for social and emotional growth, ensure every student and adult feels that they belong, have value, and have a network of caring peers for support.

Educators cultivate meaningful, authentic, reciprocal relationships with students; facilitate relationships between students; and reflect a climate of empathy, appreciation, and respect for all.

  • Show genuine interest in student identities, lived experiences, talents, and ideas, and reciprocally share their own identities, interests, and experiences.  
  • Devote time to relationship development with the use of T-SEL embedded in content areas, community circle discussions, goal setting exercises, and other instructionally-focused activities that allow students to reflect on and share about themselves.
  • Create an inclusive classroom community that welcomes extended family members and community partners and engage in behaviors that reinforce belonging, invite participation, and show appreciation for all members of the learning community.
  • Cultivate peer to peer relationship development through intentional instructional practices that incorporate T-SEL and include collaborative or cooperative learning; inquiry-focused activities, hands-on opportunities; service-learning, creative expression, and civic engagement.

Subprinciple 3B. Student and Adult Competencies

Identify specific, research-based social and emotional competencies to address, such as self- awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible-decision making, or related pro-social mindsets and affective skills. Ensure common definitions of competencies are used.

Subprinciple 3C. Developmental Standards

To bring intentionality to practice, identify SEL teaching and learning standards or indicators that are responsive to student strengths and needs.

Subprinciple 3D. Pre-Service Training and Ongoing Professional Learning

Schools of education and ongoing professional learning should address student social and emotional development as well as personal growth strategies, including addressing bias, among those working with children, such as educators and other adult staff.

Educators participate in ongoing professional learning opportunities to share best practices in systemic T-SEL and support teacher candidates and colleaguesto learn about T-SEL in professional practice.

  • Participate in professional learning experiences, aligned to the Quality Professional Learning Standards, to continuously improve T-SEL integration into the curriculum.
  • Leverage and expand T-SEL knowledge by collaborating with colleagues to design and implement professional learning experiences regarding T-SEL practices and evidence-based instructional approaches.
  • Provide opportunities for teacher candidates and colleagues to observe models of T-SEL, practice T-SEL instruction in classrooms and expanded learning programs, and receive feedback to improve practice.

SEL Guiding Principle 4: Partner with Families and Community

Maximize the resources of the entire school community, including expanded learning opportunities, early learning and care programs, and family and community partnerships, to advance SEL and student well-being.

Subprinciple 4A. Family Engagement

Provide families with options for meaningful contributions to, and participation in, their child’s learning experience to build respectful, mutually beneficial relationships.

Educators develop relationships with families as valuable partners in student learning, provide multiple pathways for meaningful engagement, and connect cultural assets and knowledge to enhance T-SEL and student well-being.

  • Engage in relationship development with families by sharing about themselves both as an educator and community member and learning about the family structure, cultural and educational values, and goals for their student.
  • Plan classroom events with working families in mind. Offer classroom visits, events, or other ways to welcome families into the classroom at non-instructional times to meet the teacher, see the environment, ask questions, and voice concerns or suggestions.
  • Actively seek input from families around T-SEL. Develop multiple opportunities for meaningful engagement (via surveys, meetings, classroom activities) and use input from families to determine desired outcomes and co-construct strategies to promote culturally sustaining and empowering T-SEL skill development.
  • Communicate through multiple venues (e.g., newsletters, personal communications, calendar, shared digital folders, parent engagement apps, and at school events), using culturally and linguistically appropriate outreach, in order to connect with all families. 
  • Share positive, affirming anecdotes with families, such as student T-SEL skill development; kind, inclusive behavior; leadership; creativity; or other contributions to the classroom and school to highlight student success.

Subprinciple 4B. Expanded Learning

Establish shared goals across all youth serving settings, such as after school programs and summer learning programs, to leverage capacity and increase shared responsibility for positive student outcomes.

Educators in classroom and expanded learning settings work in concert to establish a consistent, comprehensive learning experience with shared responsibilities and student outcome goals.

  • Are welcoming, build and maintain trust, and promote a sense of belonging through supportive relationships with expanded learning participants.
  • Hold participants to high expectations for behavior and achievement by acknowledging positive behavior and participant accomplishments and intervene with care when youth or adults are engaged in physically or emotionally unsafe behavior.
  • Provide a variety of activities that are active, collaborative, hands-on, or project-based, and are of high-interest to participants.
  • Operate and continuously improve programs consistent with the Quality Standards for Expanded Learning in California External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF).
  • Create intentional learning experiences that are relevant to the students and are designed to promote and allow students to practice specific social and emotional skills. Staff can identify and name the skills they are supporting participants to develop.

Subprinciple 4C. Early Learning

Consider the inclusion of early learning and care programs as SEL systems are developed.

Educators serving in early childhood programs expand foundational SEL and anti-bias education to develop and center T-SEL competencies for young children and adults.

  • Integrate T-SEL competencies in conjunction with the CA Social Emotional Development Preschool Learning Foundations, and CA Preschool Curriculum Framework.
  • Seek to continuously improve programs consistent with the California Early Childhood Educator Competencies (PDF) and integrate core CDE early learning best practices, inclusive of T-SEL competencies.
  • Understand that, across preschool through grade three, there are developmentally appropriate T-SEL practices and integrate T-SEL in accordance with developmentally appropriate practices.
  • Provide ample opportunities for children to practice and develop T-SEL skills in play.
  • Employ culturally and linguistically responsive teaching strategies and foster environments that develop appreciation, honor, and respect for all students and families.

Subprinciple 4D. Community Partnerships

Address the basic needs of students and families, including social and emotional well-being, through partnerships with community-based organizations and other local stakeholders.

Educators develop caring and affirming relationships with students and families that include regular check-ins regarding well-being and basic needs, remaining alert to indications that students or families would benefit from assistance, and linking families to community support.

  • Proactively send general information home to families about self-care, community resources, and basic services available in the community.
  • Learn about, and respectfully connect families to, community resources as appropriate.
  • Introduce students or families to school-community liaisons, related services personnel, and organizations.

SEL Guiding Principle 5: Learn and Improve

Adopt continuous improvement practices and use evidence to guide decision-making while aiming to enhance the quality of student social and emotional learning opportunities. Use data to inform improvement of instructional and school practices, not for accountability purposes.

Subprinciple 5A. Implementation Plans and Progress Monitoring

To drive high quality implementation, conduct comprehensive planning, monitor implementation, and adopt policies and practices which highlight places where additional resources or supports are most necessary.

Educators embed strategies and tools in their instructional practices to monitor student growth in T-SEL skills and adapt or refine practices for systemic T-SEL development based on the analysis of multiple measures.

  • Engage in continuous improvement practices to increase opportunities for students to learn and practice T-SEL competencies.
  • Include student reflection as a regular part of lesson design with such questions as: what they are learning, what they want to learn next, and what they perceive as barriers to success.
  • Monitor small group work to informally assess students’ ability to work collaboratively with peers.

Subprinciple 5B. Measurement

Educators working to improve students’ social and emotional skills should track linked outcomes, such as school climate and the quality and quantity of opportunities for students to learn and practice social and emotional skill building in both the school day and expanded learning settings. Educators that choose to directly assess students’ social and emotional skills should use evidence-based, improvement-focused tools.

Educators evaluate the climate, conditions for learning, and opportunities for T-SEL development available throughout their classroom or program and plan improvements to increase the quantity and quality of T-SEL building experiences.

  • Assess the results of explicit T-SEL instruction for collective classroom group skill development and reteach or increase opportunities to practice more challenging skills.
  • Monitor opportunities for students to learn and practice T-SEL in the classroom processes and management practices.
  • Provide students with opportunities for self-reflective measurement through the use of rubrics and inventories in assessing academic progress and growth.
Questions:   Professional Learning Innovations Office | CaliforniaSEL@cde.ca.gov | 916-322-9503
Last Reviewed: Wednesday, June 30, 2021
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