• Monica Gupta Mehta

Integrating SEL with Academics

I have been asked by many educators exactly how they can integrate SEL into their core academics. Here is a guide from CASEL that details exactly how to do that. Here are some excerpts:


The integration is happening in several ways:

■ Fostering academic mindsets. Helping students see themselves as learners, and feel like they have something to contribute to the learning.

■ Aligning SEL and academic content. Embedding SEL objectives into the curriculum in reading, writing, social studies, mathematics, the arts, and the other content areas to build and reinforce students’ experience of key SEL skills such as empathy, conflict resolution, and appreciating diversity.

■ Making learning interactive. Using instructional practices and structures that encourage student-led discussions, interactions, and teamwork.

■ Elevating student voice. Providing all students with opportunities to be leaders, problem-solvers, and decision-makers.

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For Naperville 203 School District in DuPage County, Illinois, outside Chicago, SEL is not “one more thing on the plate. It is the plate,” says Director of Student Services Lisa Xagas. To that end, the district has been working on multiple fronts for the past several years to embed SEL into all of its work, including a major effort to infuse SEL into all academic content for its more than 16,000 students. “We saw aligning content and SEL standards not as something additional. Teachers already are responsible for teaching these skills. We’re now giving them common language and tools,” Xagas says. She notes that some high school teachers initially saw SEL as “fluff” but now appreciate how difficult these skills are to master and how necessary they are. “We say a degree might get you a job, but social skills help you keep it.” District leaders have created a detailed presentation, “How to Start a Movement,” which maps how school leaders have methodically rolled out SEL over a number of years.

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Every lesson now has an SEL objective and a content objective.

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...Her advice to other districts. Don’t underestimate how long it will take to fully implement with buy-in—four years in Naperville’s case. Don’t shortchange adult SEL. “Teachers need these skills, too. They need to learn good self-care and build their emotional resilience,” Xagas says. Focus on building relationships with students, especially those who are the hardest to reach—“We didn’t do enough of that early on.” And provide professional learning to all adults in the building—“bus drivers and secretaries, too.”

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Lead SEL coaches, who support multiple schools, and representatives from the Equity and Diversity Department began working with the curriculum and instruction team. From there, the entire SEL Department was brought on board: SEL specialists, trauma directors, behavior analysts, and restorative specialists. From the instructional side, ELL and exceptional education leaders were also engaged to help promote equity.

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Building school leadership is key. Support principals in helping to integrate SEL throughout the school day. Provide practical tools that help teachers and staff see how SEL aligns with the content standards and core frameworks. Communicate constantly and intentionally. “Keep working to make SEL part of the school’s DNA—infused into academics, expanded learning, student supports, parent engagement, and communications.”

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