Highlighting Innovative SEL Integration in Five Districts

Studies show that supporting the development of students’ social and emotional skills leads to an 11-percentage point gain in grades and test scores. A focus on key competencies such as empathy, resiliency, emotional regulation, self awareness, and collaboration not only prepares individuals for the rigors of their academic careers, but improves outcomes beyond school as well.

These five districts understand the importance of both academic success and the social and emotional skills that lead students to become healthy adults, and are working to foster SEL growth through daily practice in their classrooms:


(1) Tacoma (WA) Public Schools

  • 30,000+ students
  • 57 schools

Although a relatively small district, Tacoma Public Schools’ mission to support the whole child has led to very impressive results. The district operates under a “students first” philosophy, and their “Whole Child Initiative” seeks to help children develop the skills they will need to be resilient, strong, and self-determined.

The Tacoma Whole Child Initiative is a 4 shift approach that aligns the efforts of school staff, community partners, families and neighborhoods to ensure every child is safe, healthy, engaged, supported and challenged. Across our city, we have come together to support the social-emotional and academic development of every child, everyday.”

— Joshua Garcia, Deputy Superintendent

The inclusion of parents and community partners in TPS’ strategy reflects a more advanced and nuanced approach, and it is no surprise that the district has seen substantial decreases in suspension, expulsion, and graduation gaps. Social and emotional initiatives have transformed the student experience in TPS’ schools, and the district has been featured in case studies by the Washington Post as well as The Apsen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development.

Learnmore about Tacoma Public Schools’ social emotional learning initiatives here.


(2) Boston Public Schools

  • 56,000+ students
  • 125 schools

Once a failing school district, BPS has transformed itself over the past 20 years. The district is now noe of the most celebrated public school systems in the country, with SEL at the foundation of its success. Two offices were specifically introduced to address social and emotional learning needs: SEL Instruction & Support Services, and SEL-Well Operations. BPS’ vision is to create “healthy and supportive schools [that] will prepare all students to learn and thrive.” With the hiring of an Assistant Superintendent of Social Emotional Learning and Wellness, considered to be the first cabinet-level post in a public school district in the country related to SEL, BPS is one of six communities in the country to be awarded the Wallace Foundation Grant for efforts surrounding social and emotional learning.

Learn more about BPS’ social emotional learning initiatives here.


(3) Denver Public Schools

  • 92,300+ students
  • 207 schools

With an emphasis on educating the whole child, Denver Public Schools has a team comprised of school psychologists, nurses, SEL experts, and social workers that is dedicated to providing services to schools through a variety of programs. Several ambitious schools within the district are also paving the way in terms of funding; in 2017, seven schools were awarded funding to support the social and emotional development of their students.

Learn more about Denver Public School’s social emotional learning initiatives here.


(4) Metro Nashville Public Schools

  • 86,000+ students
  • 168 schools

A partnership with CASEL in 2011 kicked off MNPS’ efforts to prioritize social emotional learning. Since then, every schools in the district has adopted evidence-based trauma-informed programs to address student discipline and stress. The district’s leadership has also looked to tackle the daunting challenge of teacher buy-in, using a “walkthrough rubric” to better support the implementatino of social emotional learning practices school-wide. Furthermore, MNPS invests in the wellness of its staff, acknowledging that teachers and administrators need support and SEL training in order to teach students skills to self-regulate and build self-awareness.

Learn more about Metro Nashville’s social emotional learning iniatitives here.


(5) Chicago Public Schools

  • 371,000+ students
  • 646 schools

The Chicago Public School’s Office of Social Emotional Learning (OSEL) is comprised of an impressive staff of thirty four members. Their mission is to create safe (physically and emotionally) learning environments to best support students. OSEL’s multi-tiered systems of support is specifically tailored to meet the needs of all students, and every school in the district was tasked with creating a plan to integrate SEL skills across all subject areas. A collaboration with CASEL has led to 269 schools implementing evidence-based SEL programs. Early results indicate that scores and graduation rates are increasing while suspensions are significantly declining.

Learn more about CPS’s social emotional learning initatives here.

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