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Social and Emotional Learning Theory of Action


The Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Framework provides the structure for how to implement SEL and obtain the desired outcomes. If the SEL Competencies, instruction, and integration are the what, and the outcomes are the why, the Theory of Action is the how.

The Theory of Action identifies the areas that require action in order to implement SEL in a way that will result in positive outcomes.

This Theory of Action from the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is structured around four key elements: 1) building the foundation and plan; 2) strengthening adult competencies and capacity; 3) promoting SEL for students; and 4) using data for continuous improvement. Each of these elements contains action steps to move the work forward. There is a role to be played at the district and school levels, and in some cases, that work is very similar.

Build the Foundation and Plan

Building the foundation is how the district or school will create the systems that support SEL instruction and integration. It is the actions teams will take to ensure that the climate is equitable, collaborative, and inclusive. It includes things such as creating a team, creating a vision for SEL, developing a communication plan to include all stakeholders, and developing a plan of implementation for systemic SEL.

Strengthen Adult Competencies and Capacity

Strengthening adult SEL competence and capacity is listed before promoting SEL with students. Adults need to know and understand what SEL is, and they need to recognize their own skills and challenges. There are a number of resources available to intentionally build adult skills and capacity and placing a focus on this area will better ensure students learn and apply SEL skills. In this element, action steps provide opportunities for staff to learn, collaborate with one another, and to model SEL competencies..

Promote SEL For Students

Promoting SEL for students is how we intentionally teach, promote, and reinforce SEL with students. Remember that SEL is both acquisition of skills and application of skills. This element focuses on intentional programs and practices to do both across the district, school, classroom, home, and community.

Use Data for Continuous Improvement

Using data for continuous improvement is both how we use data to inform instruction and how we use data to do short tests of innovative practices.

Using long-term and short-term plan, do study, act cycles allows us to test our practices and respond based upon our data in a timely and effective way. The plan, do, study, act cycles in continuous improvement put the focus on assessing and adjusting adult behavior and response. Rather than looking at how we “fix” students, we use these cycles to determine how to modify and improve our systems and approaches. While student data and outcomes are part of this process, these cycles keep the focus on building adult capacity to implement SEL programs and practices with fidelity.

For questions about this information, contact (608) 266-8960