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Conditions for Thriving: District Leaders

Guidance to support district leaders 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 district leaders can use to co-create conditions that support 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 district leaders 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, schoolwide policies, curricular adoption criteria, instructional practices, and instructional quality assessments

The district establishes T-SEL as essential to the educational mission and whole child development for learning, aligns T-SEL to core district values for students and adults in the school community, and provides support for systemic implementation.

  • Include T-SEL in the district’s board-adopted goals and articulate shared language for T-SEL as essential for whole child learning.
  • Review adopted curriculum for T-SEL integration to ensure T-SEL competencies are included as teaching strategies or as part of the content base.
  • Consider including T-SEL goals, actions, and metrics in the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP); build the budget to include T-SEL initiatives and communicate this to stakeholders.
  • Promote collaboration among school and district leaders on T-SEL initiatives linked to academics, inclusion, and equity.
  • Adopt human resource policies and practices that support T-SEL.

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.

District teams include students, staff, family, and community members representative of the district community. Students, staff, families, and community members have shared ownership of system components and assist in reporting out decisions and data to stakeholders.

  • Include families, students, staff, and community members representative of varied gender, racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds on leadership teams or committees involved in decision-making capacities and collaboratively create agendas for meetings.
  • Include diverse family, student, staff, and community partner representation to critically examine disaggregated data with a focus on root causes of inequity, develop collaborative solutions to address bias and discrimination, and ensure that every student has access to what they need to develop their academic, social, and civic potential.
  • Incorporate diverse stakeholder input in planning, budgetary decisions, policy, curriculum adoption, initiatives, and goal-setting.

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.

District leaders practice and model T-SEL competencies in interactions with all district staff, students, families, community partners, and other stakeholders and promote T-SEL skill development opportunities in all district sites and programs.

  • Design district-sponsored meetings, professional learning sessions, board meetings, and stakeholder sessions with T-SEL constructs, formatting, and practices.
  • Support school site, program, department, board, and parent leaders with professional learning and support for practicing, modeling, promoting, reinforcing, and coaching for adult T-SEL.
  • Convene students, families, community partners, and staff from throughout districts settings and contexts in developing the T-SEL implementation plan.

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.

District leaders develop student discipline policies and practices that are grounded in relationships, go beyond compliance, and are developmentally appropriate, instructive, and equitably applied.

  • Promote ongoing evaluation of comprehensive discipline data and site practices to ensure optimal and equitable T-SEL growth and the cultivation of relationships among the school community through restorative practice.
  • Clearly communicate discipline policies, processes, practices, and outcomes to staff, students, families, and community partners; listen to and address concerns; and share anonymized disaggregated discipline data as part of continuous improvement.
  • Provide school leadership and staff with ongoing support and coaching in behavior-focused T-SEL strategies and restorative practices.
  • Use staff wellness and workplace evaluation data along with input from staff at all levels to co-create plans to reduce staff stress.

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.

District leaders promote T-SEL as integral to educational equity and positive school climate, providing leadership and advocacy around district-wide adoption of T-SEL.

  • Center the collaboratively developed T-SEL vision and mission statement in district communications to educators, students, families, and the community.
  • Commit to deepening systemic SEL practice in all instructional, student support, and business operations district-wide.
  • Show a clear commitment to T-SEL in policy, practice, resource allocation, staffing, program design, school day structure, instructional modalities, use of time, meeting and professional learning structures, and relational processes.
  • Provide ongoing training for all staff in T-SEL, culturally-responsive education, relationship-building, and anti-racist, anti-bias practices.

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.

District leaders commit to equity for all by targeting systems-level policies and structures, adopting initiatives that address the opportunity gap, and provide access to T-SEL for all students.

  • Examine disaggregated demographic data to better understand the communities served by schools. Use this data to examine how current policies and practice decisions impact the experiences and outcomes for all students, including those from historically marginalized groups.
  • Facilitate professional development and learning experiences that help educators critically examine their identity, reflect on the beliefs they bring into the classroom, and how their teaching practices reinforce or disrupt systemic racism, bias, and inequities.
  • Examine and understand the impact of racism in society and schools.
  • Collaborate with families, students, and community partners leveraging voices of historically marginalized groups.

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.

District leaders actively recruit, hire, and retain more staff from historically marginalized groups to ensure a diverse educator workforce.

  • Routinely examine the racial, ethnic, and linguistic demographics of their educator workforce as it relates to the communities they serve.
  • Organize formal internship programs that target diverse groups of college students to introduce them to the profession and the district.
  • Target and build strategic partnerships with universities that serve predominantly minority populations for diverse recruiting (i.e., historically black colleges and universities [HBCUs] and Hispanic-serving institutions [HSIs]).
  • Create affinity groups across the district to provide additional support for faculty from historically marginalized groups.

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.

District leaders engage staff, students, families, and community partners in shared power and decision-making to align T-SEL practice to district programs, including curriculum and instruction; academic, creative, and social enrichment; leadership opportunities; social justice advocacy; community empowerment; and professional learning.

  • Center the voices and leadership of students, staff, families, and community partners representative of historically marginalized groups to choose curricula, programs, or resources for explicit instruction in T-SEL.
  • Create structures (e.g., forums, task forces, teams) for student leadership and agency, centering voices of students from historically marginalized and under-resourced groups to inform the integration of T-SEL in the general education curriculum in a way that is meaningful, culturally responsive, and representative of diverse cultures.
  • Engage stakeholders to evaluate programs and practices for their potential to be healing, uplifting, and empowering for students and reducing the impact of race-based trauma.
  • Partner with staff, students, families, and community organizations representative of diverse cultures and historically marginalized groups to ensure the general education curriculum incorporates T-SEL and is meaningful, culturally responsive, and representative of diverse cultures.

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.

District leaders activate T-SEL to engage collaboratively with staff, students, families, and community partners in redesigning systems to counteract structural biases and create pathways to promote the healing and empowerment of students impacted by racism to improve student outcomes.

  • Convene an equity team to examine how racism and bias is operating in the district through the review of policies, practices, student disciplinary systems, award systems, curriculum, services, and opportunities. Utilize T-SEL practices to engage this team in ongoing districtwide change efforts.
  • Use T-SEL competencies and culturally responsive practices in planning and facilitation of meetings, communications, and in relationships with staff and stakeholders to encourage connectedness to the district and schools.
  • Involve staff representative of historically marginalized groups, students, families, and community partners in prioritizing district efforts, including how resources are allocated to increase student engagement and community empowerment.
  • Develop and support robust multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) that are healing and trauma-informed, focused on empowerment, and leverage cultural assets.

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.

District leaders build relationships with staff, students, families, and community partners by being available and responsive, communicating regularly, actively inviting participation in district leadership and decision-making, and cultivating a climate of appreciation and respect.

  • Use T-SEL practices to foster belonging and agency by listening to, seeking input from, and supporting school site staff.
  • Collaborate with school staff, students, families, and community partners to review, improve, and build on districtwide initiatives that facilitate connection and belonging.
  • Convene diverse student leadership teams focused on belonging, relationship development, and restorative practice, empowering students to lead activities on school campuses.
  • Promote and provide support for research-based learning experiences that build student agency, identity, and belonging, such as youth action research, service learning, project-based learning, and other student-centered, inquiry-based methods.

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.

District leaders provide ongoing professional learning opportunities for staff and create school partnerships with educator preparation programs to support the development of future educators, collaborate in professional development, and promote T-SEL.

  • Provide professional learning opportunities aligned to the Quality Professional Learning Standards for all staff districtwide focused on the infusion of T-SEL throughout all district programs.
  • Partner with educator preparation programs to provide candidates with the ability to observe masterful implementation of systemic T-SEL and opportunities to practice strategies and receive feedback in fieldwork classrooms.
  • Ensure the continuous development of educators able to embrace anti-racist education principles and use T-SEL practices as candidates transition from the preparation programs to the classroom.
  • Utilize partnerships with educator preparation programs to assist with facilitating implementation of T-SEL and evaluation of T-SEL outcomes.

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.

District leaders develop relationships with families as valuable and equal partners in learning and provide multiple pathways for meaningful engagement to connect cultural assets and contribute to the planning and evaluation of district programs.

  • Seek input from families in the design and continuous improvement of T-SEL to promote culturally sustaining T-SEL implementation, in planning processes and decision-making capacities, and ensuring representation of all families.
  • Include families in training opportunities for T-SEL; tutoring or homework support techniques; wellness, mindfulness, or self-care strategies; and other topics as requested by families.
  • Support family engagement districtwide by providing enhancements such as childcare and school age activities, transportation, meals, and translation services to facilitate participation.
  • Provide professional learning opportunities for all adults at school sites to build their skill and knowledge in T-SEL and authentic family engagement.

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.

District leaders work to develop seamless learning experiences between school day and expanded learning programs that complement and inform one another to increase shared responsibility for positive student outcomes.

  • Provide school and expanded learning staff with shared ongoing professional development and planning time that supports staff to create conditions for T-SEL implementation across programs.
  • Leverage community agencies such as expanded learning programs and other youth development nonprofit organizations to engage youth and families in processes to assess the assets, challenges, and needs of their communities and engage in the decision-making process on how such needs are addressed, including how such agencies collaborate to promote positive developmental outcomes and T-SEL skill development.
  • Prioritize programmatic and service-oriented culture and practices that empower staff, including space and time for relationship building among adults across sectors, titles, and job descriptions, with an emphasis on building compassion, inclusion, belonging, anti-racism, and shared action.
  • Effectively braid education, health, mental health, and social service resources to address critical child, family, and community needs and promote whole child health, wellness, and social-emotional development.

Subprinciple 4C. Early Learning

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

District leaders collaborate with educators in early learning settings to develop a continuum of T-SEL supports, recognizing the foundations of early learning as an essential priority.

  • Elicit feedback from early learning stakeholders (educators, paraprofessionals, directors, parents) regarding T-SEL resources, professional learning opportunities, and opportunities to advance T-SEL.
  • Provide opportunities for professional learning for educators in various early learning settings focused on the integration of T-SEL practices.
  • Encourage representation of educators in early learning settings in teams that will drive T-SEL work.

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.

District leaders develop robust working relationships with community partners and agencies and serve as a resource and referral hub for community supports and resources for students, families, and staff.

  • Track both generalized needs across the school community as well as specific needs of identified families in order to plan for provision with resources and service partners, and monitor the status of student and family safety, security, and well-being.
  • Develop relationships and cross-agency agreements between local educational agency (LEA) and community partners to facilitate collaborative services for families, set policies for communication and information sharing, pathways for referrals and follow up, identify joint advocacy opportunities, and create mechanisms for reflective practice for improved collaboration and service provision.
  • Seek partnership with local, regional, and state agencies and organizations that center leadership and voices of marginalized groups to promote student learning and engagement in community improvement and develop student agency in local and global citizenship.
  • Communicate available supports and assist students and families with accessing resources, providing liaison or advocacy services able to facilitate student and family well-being.

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.

District leaders engage in collaborative leadership with staff, students, families, and community partners to create implementation plans for systemic T-SEL; design tools and strategies to assess opportunities for students to develop and practice T-SEL; and monitor status of student T-SEL for the purpose of continuous improvement.

  • Consider including measurable T-SEL goals in district plans focused on increasing and improving opportunities for T-SEL for all students.
  • Engage in collaborative review of district policies for alignment to and support of systemic T-SEL.
  • Involve students, family members, and community partners as well as less-represented staff or departments in improvement planning teams focused on T-SEL implementation.

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.

District leaders use disaggregated data to determine the status of T-SEL competencies development across the district and where and how opportunities to learn and practice T-SEL could be increased and improved.

  • Use school climate data such as the California Healthy Kids Survey and staff and family surveys to assess student perceptions of climate and the corresponding T-SEL skills that could lead to improvements.
  • Use data to examine patterns and practices of MTSS implementation to ensure robust application is provided for every student to support the development of T-SEL and other skills.
  • Collaborative district teams choose measurement tools to capture the status of adult T-SEL competency and conditions in the school environment that support T-SEL skill development.
  • Engage collaborative leadership teams inclusive of staff, students, families, and community partners to reflect on T-SEL data and use data-based information for continuous improvement.
  • Provide professional learning, collaboration time, and support for school leaders and staff to assess and monitor conditions across school programs and inform the district of districtwide needs.
Questions:   Professional Learning Innovations Office | | 916-322-9503
Last Reviewed: Friday, March 10, 2023