Applying Social-Emotional Learning at Scale: It’s More than Just Cookie Cutter Curriculum

SMART Center & Richland School District
August 2022
illustration of four people working on a puzzle

Academic Success Starts with a Social-Emotional Framework of Learning

There is a growing body of work, crystallized in need for educational settings in a peri-pandemic era, to recognize and embody evidence-based practices on transformational social emotional learning (SEL) as a way to foster a more positive and fruitful learning environment for students.

Richland School District in Washington, comprising grades K-12, wanted to expand on their SEL knowledge—not just of available curriculums, but also surrounding practices, strategies and resources in order to implement a cohesive, district-wide approach. They also wanted this approach to align with Washington’s essential SEL elements of equity, universal design, cultural responsiveness, and trauma-informed practices.

How We Helped Richland Lay the Foundation for a District-wide SEL Plan

Our task, in partnership with SMART, was to support Richland’s SEL goals by 1) providing it with an up-to-date and evidence-based body of knowledge; 2) facilitating discussions and trainings; and 3) providing insights and recommendations on practices, resources, strategies, and curriculum.

In collaboration with our partners, we worked to expand the district’s current training efforts by organizing and facilitating a series of in-person meetings for district educators, families and community leaders in order to help educate and guide them. In this series of meetings we:

  • Shared our research on transformational, evidence-based SEL practices and resources
  • Discussed the basics of social emotional learning and the skills, attributes, and supports needed and associated with SEL
  • Educated participants on the potential impact of SCL on student outcomes – and on the state’s unique approach to, and guidelines on, SEL

We also met with district leadership regularly to keep on track where we:

  • Helped define the district’s priorities around skills and supports needed to implement a cohesive, scalable SEL plan
  • Provided recommendations on available curriculums and how to adapt them to the district’s needs while still meeting fidelity
  • Applied identified priorities to create a plan of action
  • Introduced and applied a tool that condensed the review process of hundreds of evidence-based curriculum programs into one that included only a few subsets, all of which met the priorities, parameters, and goals of the district

A Deeper Understanding Leads to Shift in Perspective

While there was some anticipation from educators that the term SCL would not be accepted by all, participants reacted favorably in response to learning about how identified skills go beyond relationships and curriculum, and how SEL is critical to student academic success. The district is also looking at rethinking its SEL team structure so that more people would have a voice and help communicate more broadly and thoroughly the approach Richland will be implementing, in part to help reduce any lingering concerns about SEL as an effective strategy and investment.

Richland’s SEL Plan is Now Underway

Now, with the resources, tools and insights they need to understand SEL more holistically, the district is in the process of reaching out to SEL curriculum publishers, requesting crosswalks of the skills outlined in each offering and Washington’s unique standards. The district plans to present their recommendations and rationale for curriculum and training requests and budgeted expenses in 2023.

Project Team