Mary Zaleski

Director of Communication Services

Sarah Davis

Communications Specialist

OS Blog

Schoolwide SEL provides many benefits

Schoolwide Social Emotional Learning (SEL) engages the entire school community in creating caring, motivating and equitable learning environments that promote social, emotional and academic growth. School teams lead the work by engaging in four areas of focus. This four-part series will explore the dimensions of each area of focus, highlighting resources for schools to consider.

In the wake of Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA), educators are increasingly moving toward more holistic approaches to teaching and learning. Oakland Schools, with support from the Michigan Department of Education,  supports the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child Model or WSCC, a national leading model. 

“The WSCC model provides a broad framework for addressing both academic and non-academic needs of students in an integrated approach. The model helps how children and youth achieve a higher level of academic excellence through greater motivation and engagement in learning derived from meeting their basic needs (to be healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged). This whole child approach applies Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for 21st Century children and youth and provides a practical understanding of the supports and collaboration necessary to promote student success.”

Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child graphic

This model reminds uswe are teaching children, not just literacy or math. It places higher emphasis on the psycho-social and physical environment, highlighting the important role families and communities play in a child’s life.

One component of this model, Social and Emotional Climate, is an area many districts are targeting. Social and Emotional School Climate refers to the psychosocial aspects of students’ educational experience which influence their social and emotional development. The social and emotional climate of a school can impact student engagement in school activities; relationships with other students, staff, family, and community; and academic performance. A positive social and emotional school climate is conducive to effective teaching and learning. Such climates promote health, growth, and development by providing a safe and supportive learning environment. Moving social-emotional learning school-wide can effectively create a school with happy, engaged teachers and students who are ready for teaching and learning.

What is Social Emotional Learning (SEL)?

The Collaborative on Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines SEL as, “the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

CASEL's five core competencies

Most people believe they are “doing SEL” once they have a curriculum that is taught to students. While this is important, especially during preschool and elementary, there is so much more. Transforming the social-emotional climate in a school will require efforts that move past direct instruction, including building the emotional literacy of the adults.  CASEL has responded to this need by providing school teams with a guide to help them infuse social-emotional learning (SEL) into every aspect of the school experience. The indicators of school-wide SEL include:

Schoolwide SEL

How do we implement this?

CASEL has organized the work so that school teams can lead school-wide sel with intention and focus. Many schools are supporting multiple frameworks (Trauma Informed Practices, Restorative Practices, PBIS/MTSS, the RULER Approach, Character Education, etc). CASEL’s framework helps teams delete the “white noise” so they can determine  specific needs,  set goals, implement targeted strategies and monitor effectiveness. This is true, no matter which framework you support.  To do this, there are four areas of focus: 

SEL Implementation Process

The first focus area is:  Build foundational support and plan. This includes forming an SEL team that meets regularly so  they can provide professional learning to the whole staff, creating a shared vision for the work and build commitment from everyone in the school. This work stalls without a solid team who meets regularly, bringing new information to the whole school.  More information is available, including tools to provide foundational learning to staff  around SEL.  

“Commitment doesn’t just happen. The SEL team moves  it forward,  gently, over time, being careful to include everyone’s voice in the overall vision and plan.”

Try a rubric to assess the degree to which your school has critical components of school-wide SEL.

For more information, please contact Mary Perfitt-NelsonProfessional learning, resources, coaching/consultation  are available.  

Mary Perfitt-Nelson is a teacher and school psychologist as well as a mental health consultant for Oakland Schools. 

  • Ascd. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • CASEL. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • The CASEL Guide to Schoolwide Social and Emotional Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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