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Conditions for Thriving: School Leaders

Guidance to support school 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 school 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 school 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.

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.

School staff establish T-SEL as foundational to whole child development, learning, and well-being for students and adults; incorporate T-SEL into the educational mission, school climate, and all programs and activities.

  • Incorporate T-SEL competencies in all meetings, processes, and procedures related to staff, families, community partners, and students to model T-SEL competencies and facilitate adult development.
  • Sustain staff collaboration time to plan and review integration of T-SEL in academics, classroom management, and student guidance; explicit T-SEL instruction; and reinforce adult competency.
  • Routinely examine policies, processes, curriculum, and instruction for robust, equity-centered content, informed by quantitative and qualitative data with input from stakeholders.
  • Advance culturally responsive education and collaborate with families, community organizations, and students in providing opportunities for student engagement and agency in the broader community.

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.

School leaders facilitate diverse school leadership teams, professional learning communities, and problem-solving teams that integrate T-SEL in classroom environment and instructional practices.

  • Convene a collaborative team to facilitate an Implementation Plan for Schoolwide T-SEL that articulates goals for T-SEL integration throughout the school program, including strengthening adult T-SEL, promoting T-SEL for students, and continuous improvement mechanisms.
  • Involve educators, students, family, and community members representative of varied gender, racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds in decision-making processes for all aspects of the school program and operations, planning, budgetary decisions, curriculum, and policy.
  • Engage in cultural and historical analysis, value cultural assets, and affirm diverse identities and lived experiences of all students and families.

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.

School leaders and staff model, scaffold, reinforce, and coach T-SEL competencies for students and adults throughout the physical campus and all school programs and services.

  • Communicate the importance of T-SEL skill development and practices as core to the academic mission of the school.
  • Engage staff in creating a healthy culture and positive school climate to support the practice of T-SEL competencies by all students and adults in the school.
  • Reflect T-SEL signature practices, such as a welcoming ritual, engaging practices, and optimistic closure, in school-related meetings and conference agendas.
  • Incorporate T-SEL into processes, practices, and policies such that T-SEL skills are visible as processes and policies are enacted.
  • Facilitate Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) for ongoing peer coaching and observation, practice sharing, and evaluation for integration of T-SEL in academic content, instruction, and classroom management.

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.

Schools develop student discipline policies and practices that are grounded in relationships; go beyond compliance; are developmentally appropriate, instructive, and equitably applied; and meet the needs of students.

  • Adopt discipline policies and practices that are proactive, grounded in positive behavioral support, minimize punitive and reactive approaches, and are applied equitably across all student demographics.
  • Engage in critical examination of student discipline processes that focus on systemic, environmental, and contextual causes rather than child deficits and consider the effects of trauma, acculturative stress, and cultural heterogeneity in behavioral expectations.
  • Recognize when teachers and staff need support, and provide assistance that meets the needs of the staff member.
  • Monitor and support staff well-being and enact 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.

Schools center T-SEL practice and equity to create a safe, inclusive culture and school climate.

  • Create a culture that is characterized by positive interpersonal relationships and inclusion; affirm student identities and cultural heritage and value each student as an important school community member.
  • Ensure each student is consistently connected to supportive adults through advisories, homerooms, self-contained classrooms, school-within-a-school formats, mentoring programs, or specialized programs (arts, music, career-technical).
  • Display student-created work (that encompasses a variety of styles, content, and developmental levels) representative of diverse identities, created with a wide range of media, and tied to curriculum or school vision.
  • Understand time as a resource for T-SEL and allow adequate time for relationship development, critical thinking, and collaboration for both students and adults, as evidenced by such strategies as block scheduling, homeroom or advisory, class circles or meetings, and looping arrangements.
  • Provide collaborative and communal learning opportunities: staff and students engage with one another across grade levels in community-building and service learning in the broader community.

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.

Schools comprehensively address equity and social justice through the promotion of T-SEL and culturally-informed practices and policies that build on the strengths of students, families, educators, and communities.

  • Value and be responsive to the identities, cultures, and heritage of students; welcome families and community organizations as valued members of the school community; and integrate cultural knowledge in curriculum development, instructional strategies, classroom practices, and community projects or events.
  • Routinely examine disaggregated student data to inform and drive needed schoolwide services.
  • Examine current policies and practices to assess whether any may disadvantage youth from historically marginalized communities and further contribute to disparities in achievement, disproportionality in special education and discipline outcomes, and inequitable opportunities.
  • Commit to proactively addressing acts of racism, bias, and bullying in the classroom, school or neighboring community, as well as mitigating the indirect impact of longstanding inequitable educational policies and school practices.

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.

Schools actively recruit, hire, and retain more educators from historically marginalized groups to ensure a diverse educator workforce.

  • Center voices and lived experiences of educators from historically marginalized groups during schoolwide training and staff development.
  • Routinely examine the racial, ethic, and linguistic demographics of the educator workforce as it relates to the communities they serve.
  • Feature, highlight, and celebrate cultural content that goes beyond heroes and holidays.
  • Consider leadership development opportunities for educators 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.

Schools engage staff, students, and families in shared power and decision-making to align school programs to T-SEL practice, including teaching and learning; behavioral norms; academic, creative, and social enrichment; leadership opportunities; and professional learning.

  • Use T-SEL practices in meetings, parent conferences, and professional learning groups to foster engagement and belonging.
  • Convene a collaborative T-SEL implementation group with staff, students, families, and district and community partners that centers the voices and insights of members from historically marginalized groups.
  • Engage in reflective practice and elicit student voice to determine ways to increase student agency throughout school year, across school programs and services, and in daily practice.
  • Promote agency and leadership in students, staff, and families from historically marginalized groups in identifying and addressing issues of equity in the school program.
  • Acknowledge that students are most engaged when they actively participate in learning and make decisions about what and how they learn, and align instruction and programs accordingly.

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.

School staff create and maintain a welcoming, inclusive, emotionally safe, culturally-sustaining learning culture focused on removing systemic barriers to success by ensuring each student has access to meaningful, rigorous learning opportunities, enrichment experiences, and the individualized supports necessary to develop their talents and thrive.

  • Provide educators with professional learning and coaching for T-SEL, Universal Design for Learning, trauma-informed practices, anti-racist teaching, culturally-sustaining pedagogies, and differentiated instruction.
  • Use curriculum that reflects an accurate representation of historical and current systems, including examination of inequities and disparities across historically marginalized groups and accurate attribution of accomplishments and contributions of people from historically marginalized groups
  • Engage students, families, and community partners in evaluating the school program, including school climate, curriculum, instructional practices, and enrichment opportunities for student agency, empowerment, and community connectedness.
  • Collaborate with families and community partners to build opportunities for student learning and assessment that include advocacy for social and environmental justice in real-world contexts to increase student agency in addressing issues of concern.
  • Celebrate, acknowledge, or award diverse types of engagement and achievement, including but not limited to, individualized goals set by students, collective accomplishments, service contributions, cultural knowledge or skill, and collective awards as well as individual.

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.

Schools build positive relationships with students, families, staff, and community partners by creating a welcoming, inclusive, culturally responsive climate; being available and responsive; inviting participation; and conducting school business with appreciation and respect for all.

  • Develop a culture that is welcoming, caring, inclusive, and collaborative, where resources are equitably distributed and shared and staff use T-SEL skills to critically engage and support one another in job-related challenges.
  • Reflect on the status of student belonging and plan strategies to increase opportunities for all students to have a sense of belonging and importance to the school community.
  • Offer student leadership and training opportunities to build student agency and capacity in relationship development, inclusion, and restorative practice.
  • Have time and flexibility to access peers as needed to engage support for problems of practice.
  • Work with classroom educators and parents to achieve shared leadership for maintaining a positive climate and addressing relational issues that arise with restorative practice.

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.

Schools provide ongoing professional learning opportunities for staff and partner with local educator preparation programs through fieldwork and ongoing professional development opportunities to share best practices in systemic T-SEL.

  • Provide professional learning aligned to the Quality Professional Learning Standards for all staff schoolwide focused on the infusion of T-SEL throughout all school programs.
  • Engage in reciprocal practice with educator preparation programs regarding T-SEL practices and evidence-based instructional approaches.
  • Collaborate with educator preparation programs to implement and research effective programs in developing anti-racist leaders, educators, and students.
  • Provide opportunities for candidates to see outstanding models of T-SEL, practice T-SEL instruction in their fieldwork classroom, 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.

School staff develop relationships with families as valuable and equal partners in learning, and provide multiple pathways for meaningful engagement to connect cultural assets and co-construct the school program to enhance T-SEL and student well-being.

  • Communicate the importance of T-SEL competencies to families and community partners and provide resources for promoting T-SEL in home and community settings.
  • Seek input from families in the design and continuous improvement of T-SEL to promote culturally sustaining T-SEL skill development.
  • Using culturally appropriate strategies, assess the quality of family engagement and the level of safety, satisfaction, and trust perceived by families to engage them as advocates for children’s learning and development.
  • Provide both direct and indirect ways for families to contribute to the development of the school community, i.e., volunteering during the school day, volunteering from home or community, participating in leadership or events, donating goods and services, or others.

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.

Schools collaborate with expanded learning programs to create a seamless learning experience between the instructional day and the expanded learning program with shared conditions/climate elements that promote social-emotional development, and shared SEL outcomes.

  • Provide and support intentional opportunities for students to play a meaningful role in program design and implementation, and provide ongoing access to authentic leadership roles in the context of caring and supportive adult and student relationships.
  • Regularly engage students to share their perspectives on the quality of their learning experiences, including the design of their expanded learning program, and act on the data provided by students to improve learning experiences across contexts.
  • Recognize the leadership potential in all young people, regardless of their age, and work collaboratively to engage students in authentic and meaningful leadership roles that are supported by staff and celebrated by the school and the program.
  • Engage in multi-sector collaborations with expanded learning programs and services in the extended community, including food security, health, mental health, and other resources for families as needs are identified.

Subprinciple 4C. Early Learning

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

Schools collaborate with early childhood programs to increase connections between programs, enhance relationships across the community, and strengthen T-SEL competencies in children and adults.

  • Invite educators supporting early learning programs to participate in professional learning opportunities, and partner in professional learning planning.
  • Partner with educators supporting early learning programs to develop relationships with families ahead of the kindergarten year.
  • Partner with community agencies to foster an integration of T-SEL principles and practices in the breadth of environments where young children and their families interact within the community.
  • Ensure that educators across the preschool through grade three continuum are offered T-SEL professional learning targeted towards developmentally appropriate T-SEL practices and follow-up support grounded in transfer of learning research.

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.

School staff approach families through caring, connected relationships and are attentive to indications that students and families may need assistance with basic needs or well-being; develop collaborative working relationships with a wide range of community partners; and seamlessly connect families to programs, services, and supports.

  • Address student and family needs and well-being through global communications to students and families regarding available resources and supports.
  • Provide community resource information in multiple languages and offer or facilitate translation services as appropriate to remove access barriers.
  • Use the “warm connection” approach to personally introduce students or families to resource or service providers to facilitate the new relationship and follow up to ascertain if (a) needs were met; (b) if a relationship with the provider was established; (c) the perceived quality of interactions and services; and d) overall satisfaction of students or families.
  • Regularly collaborate with and host community partners on campus to increase access to referral systems and available, timely services for families.

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.

School staff collaborate with students, families, and community partners to plan for and monitor the systemic implementation of T-SEL and adjust leadership strategies, allocation of resources, school practices, and policies based on the collaborative analysis of multiple data sources.

  • Include stakeholders in collaborative review of schoolwide policies and practices for alignment to T-SEL.
  • Allocate time for the collaborative development of tools and protocol for teachers to monitor growth of the T-SEL skills in students.
  • Organize professional learning teams to facilitate rigorous ongoing examination and reflection on T-SEL and equity in the school environment using techniques such as classroom walk-throughs, equity scans, weekly discipline data review, family engagement, resource allocation, and communications to facilitate continuous improvement throughout the school year.
  • Collaboratively develop tools to collect data on the quality and quantity of opportunities for students to learn and practice T-SEL during the school day.
  • Engage with district T-SEL and equity support staff to offer professional learning on how to use adult T-SEL to examine the role of equity and unconscious bias in analyzing evidence.

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.

School leaders facilitate disaggregated data analysis to determine the status of T-SEL competencies across the school program and where and how opportunities to learn and practice T-SEL could be increased and improved.

  • Employ measurement tools across programs to capture the status of adult T-SEL competency and conditions in the school environment that support T-SEL skill development.
  • Routinely assess conditions across the school program for the purpose of planning, professional learning, and support to improve and increase opportunities for students to learn and practice T-SEL.
  • Examine assessment practices and policies for racism and bias regarding content, methodology, and implementation with collaborative school leadership teams, inclusive of parents, students (where applicable), and community partners.
  • Monitor assessment data and data-based decisions with collaborative school leadership teams, inclusive of parents, students (where applicable), and community partners to determine whether outcomes are biased and access to programs and opportunities are equitably distributed.
Questions:   Social Emotional Learning Office |
Last Reviewed: Tuesday, April 16, 2024