The Forgotten SEL Tactic: Winning Teacher Support for an SEL Program

When it comes to SEL effectiveness, teacher buy-in matters. Districts must know how to get teachers passionately engaged and ready to apply SEL principles in the classroom.

Without a doubt, getting teachers on board is essential for any district that is looking to implement a social-emotional learning program successfully — but far too many districts overlook this critical stage of SEL implementation! With solid training, teachers can have a profound impact on students’ lives, becoming critical champions of social-emotional learning (SEL) practices and principles.

Without genuine teacher buy-in and understanding, SEL has limited ability to improve academic achievement, attendance rates, and school culture.

The good news for administrators looking to dive into SEL? Research shows that, by and large, teachers are truly interested in leveraging SEL to benefit students. Administrators who are hopeful that SEL will bring about lasting change in their schools would be wise to capitalize on this organic interest.

To ensure that staff get  the most out of any SEL program, here are 4 key tactics for gaining teacher support.

1.)Share the vision and open a dialogue

When implementing a new initiative, it is easy to focus on the “how” and overlook the “why.” As journalist Steve Adubato explains in his book, Lessons in Leadership, too many organizations rely on tools like procedure manuals or step-by-step-guides. Yet, this type of “rules and compliance” model rarely works when it comes to SEL.

Administrators need to remember that, at its core, SEL is all about personal transformation. SEL challenges people to think beyond the status quo by, set goals, and cultivate perseverance.

From day one, it’s essential to share a clear vision of how the school will feel as an SEL program is adopted by students, teachers, and faculty. This vision should be vivid, alive, and inclusive, so that teachers can see themselves as crucial agents in creating a dynamic future.

School leaders should also invite questions and dialogue. After all, administrators are not the ones who will be responsible for directly implementing SEL principles in the classroom every day. Teachers need to feel a sense of ownership of the SEL vision in order to effectively and pass it on to students.

2.) Explain How SEL improves classroom and school dynamics

One important reality to acknowledge is that teachers could be suffering from “change fatigue.” Year after year, teachers must adapt to new programs, technologies, and organizational structures.

To help get folks get on board with SEL, districts can emphasize how teacher support for an SEL program can directly improve classroom dynamics and school culture. There is abundant data on the success of SEL — not to mention, plenty of compelling studies of educators’ direct experiences with SEL. In one Education Week study of teachers and administrators, more than three-fourths agreed that SEL was effective in three crucial dimensions:

  1. 80% agreed that SEL reduces school discipline problems
  2. 77% agreed that SEL leads to improved student achievement
  3. 76% agreed that that SEL fosters improvements in school climate

When discussing real-life SEL outcomes, emphasize that the selected endorsements are coming from teachers, colleagues, and peers who have walked the SEL path before them and remind them that student motivation and morale can improve dramatically with SEL.

3.) Create Meaningful Professional Development Opportunities

Many teachers entered the profession with the dream of making a difference in the lives of young people. Unfortunately, too many teachers may lose sight of this dream and start to experience dissatisfaction and burnout. In fact, research from the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) found that 19 to 30 percent of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years. At current attrition rates, LPI projects a nation-wide shortage of more than 100,000 teachers each year.

SEL is a potent antidote to the teacher attrition problem. Through SEL professional development, teachers can re-ignite their passion for education. Teachers can learn new mindsets, tools, and frameworks that help them become agents of change in the classroom and in their own lives. They can learn how to navigate stress, deepen relationships, set new goals, and envision the next phase of their teaching career.

Often, school districts give teachers access to professional development courses to gain knowledge of foundational SEL practices. And SEL is a natural fit for a professional learning community (PLC) in which teachers collaborate to assess educational strategies and student achievement as a part of a continual improvement approach.

4.) Build a Shared Language of Success

In every district, leaders must be clear about the focus and intent of their SEL initiative, if they want true teacher support for an SEL program. They must provide teachers with a common language that they can use when talking with students, parents, and each other.

With a shared language, schools can define benchmarks that help ensure students develop age-appropriate SEL skills. They can clarify where students should be with regard to specific SEL principles —such as self-awareness and relationship building — at every grade level. When this happens, stakeholders are well-equipped to know when students are successful in applying SEL skills in the school.

Find advocates:  Bring around teacher support for an SEL Program

SEL can be a positive, transformative force in any school district, but only if teachers are fully on board. Every day, teachers are the primary conduit through which students receive messages about how to put SEL into practice.

While frameworks and evidence-based tools are vital, teachers need to have the flexibility to adapt SEL to each unique classroom environment. Teachers need to learn how to integrate SEL into daily classroom instruction through opportunities for students to build positive relationships and increase engagement.

Schools can support teachers by making them feel a part of the district’s SEL vision. They should share success stories and data from educators already working with SEL and support teacher growth through professional development. And they should define clear developmental benchmarks and a common language to communicate successes.

With these approaches, districts can infuse SEL ideas into every classroom and every school. Teachers will feel empowered and aware — and able to connect with students in more meaningful ways.