The Role of School Leadership in Creating SEL Environments

Principals, district administrators, and school site leaders play a pivotal role in creating an environment where SEL practices thrive. A national report titled “Ready to Lead” surveyed over 800 Pre-K–12 public school principals, including interviews with a number of superintendents and input from district-level research and evaluation experts, to capture the leadership perspective and key insights around four major areas of SEL:

  • Attitudes about SEL: Principals understand, value, and are committed to developing SEL skills.
  • SEL Implementation: Support for SEL is high, but implementation varies greatly.
  • The Path to Increased SEL: Principals want more SEL training for teachers and access to research-based strategies.
  • Assessing SEL: Most principals believe SEL skills can be accurately measured and assessed (p. 3-5).

Nearly all principals (98 percent) believe students from all types of backgrounds—both affluent and poor—benefit from learning social and emotional skills in schools. With such overwhelming support for SEL, why are only about one-third of principals implementing SEL on a school-wide level? (p. 3-4). The report sheds light, from the school principals’ perspective, on identifying circumstances that impact both successful SEL implementation and student outcomes:

  • Principals value SEL but need greater knowledge and support to effectively implement school-wide, evidence-based SEL programming.
  • When superintendents and other district leaders are driving SEL and implementation is high, successful outcomes are much more likely.
  • A lack of time and teacher training—in both pre-service education and in-school professional development—are critical barriers to implementing SEL.
  • School and district leaders are open to having better data on students’ social and emotional competencies to improve schoolwide SEL programming and student outcomes but need better training to do so (p. 41-42).

Most of all, this report shows that the movement to embed social and emotional learning into every classroom and school in America has reached a tipping point. Principals stand ready to bring systemic, school-wide SEL to their schools, but they need greater support from leaders at the state and district levels to ensure every student has access to a high-quality education that nourishes their social and emotional skills along with academic learning. Now is the time for policymakers to heed the calls of educators and provide the necessary supports for a student-centric, whole child education that develops the leaders of tomorrow. Ready to Lead

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