David Adams on International SEL Day and How You Can Get Involved


At Inside SEL, our mission is to act megaphone, amplifying the great work being done by leaders in education and social-emotional learning across the country. On a regular basis, our team speaks with administrators, educators, entrepreneurs, researchers, and policymakers who are innovating within the field of SEL and works to help share their stories.

Earlier this month, we connected with David Adams, who serves as the Director of Social-Emotional Learning at The Urban Assembly and sits on the Board of Directors at CASEL. David and his team at The Urban Assembly — in conjunction with SEL4US — are planning the inaugural International SEL Day on March 27, 2020. Continue reading to learn more about David’s background and career path, the origin story of International SEL Day, and how you can get involved.


Nick Woolf: Can you describe the mission of The Urban Assembly and your role there?

David Adams: Our mission at The Urban Assmebly is to support the social and ecomonic mobility of our young people by improving public education. I am the Director of Social-Emotional Learning, which means I’m responsible for providing purposeful instruction and relevant experiences for staff and students to develop the skills they need to succeed in work, school and life.

What that actually looks like is dedicated development of social and emotional skills, an emphasis on school climate and culture, and an emphasis on behavioral supports so that all students can succeed. I’ve been at The Urban Assembly for five years now.

David Adams, Director of Social-Emotional Learning at The Urban Assembly

Nick Woolf: What initially brought you into the field of education and social-emotional learning, and — ultimately — down the path of pursuing a career in SEL?

David Adams: When I was an undergraduate student at Rutgers University, I was always interested in the cognitive underpinnings to academic achievement. I was first introduced to the topic of social and emotional learning by Dr. Maurice Elias; he helped me to recognize that there was a field that brought together some of the work around prevention and academic achievement into a set of underlying skills that not only allowed students to better enhance their academic achievement, but also promoted their ability to make good decisions. When I was exposed to that notion of this field that looked at the underlying skillset and had permeated so much of the work going on within the prevention space, I was very interested in getting involved.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work at Center for Social and Emotional Education in New York City, the Health and Emotional Behavior Lab at Yale, and now here at The Urban Assmebly. I also serve on the Board of Directors at CASEL.

“[I realized] there was a field that brought together some of the work around prevention and academic achievement into a set of underlying skills that not only allowed students to better enhance their academic achievement, but also promoted their ability to make good decisions.”

Nick Woolf: Shifting to International SEL Day (which is coming up next month!), can you walk me through the origin story behind it, the genesis of the event and what the goals are overall?

David Adams: What we realized is that there are a ton of people who have been doing a lot of great work around social-emotional learning, but there has not been an opportunity to showcase that work. There have been events such as Kindness Week or Anti-Bullying Week, but there as not been a dedicated opportunity for those who care about the social and emotional development of our young people to highlight the great work they’re doing and advocate for more of it to continue.

I had the opportunity to meet with the leadership team at SEL4US (including Dr. Elias, Nova Biro and Jim Vetter), and they were really excited about using their stakeholder approach and grassroots network to engage people at the state-level (and at the individual community-level) to advocate for the importance of social-emotional development.

Our three goals for International SEL Day are:

  1. To increase awareness of social-emotional learing and its importance in schools and communities;

  2. To ensure that we create cohesive language around social and emotional learning. This means that if you’re focusing on kindness or mentorship or mindfulness, we want you to know that there is a place for you to incorporate social-emotional learning into your work, and;

  3. To honor the experiences of those who have dedicated themselves to empowering young people through social and emotional skills. Organizations such as CASEL, SEL4US, but also schools that might have that one person who is super passionate about SEL — this is a day for them to showcase their work. We want to honor the people who have fought the good fight for SEL across the world.

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Nick Woolf: What types of initial plans for involvement have you seen so far from supporters of SEL Day, educators, or partner organizations? What are you hearing leading up to the event in March?

David Adams: I know that the New York City Department of Education is planning to highlight the work that they are doing around social-emotional learning through their supportive learning environment initiative. Chicago Public Schools is looking to do something similar and use the day to celebrate all of the work happening with SEL in their schools. We are seeing a lot of schools around the world holding assemblies and pep rallies around International SEL Day, individuals and organizations hosting SEL Day activities at their local libraries, and even advocacy groups putting together campaigns to talk to their state representatives about the importance of social and emotional learning. We even have a book being released by Nancy Markowitz on SEL and culturally repsonsive education. 

Here at The Urban Assembly, our young people are going to be contributing blogs and short videos about how they develop their own SEL skills and how those skills help them to solve problems and build community. We are also hosting a congressional briefing around the importance of SEL and building community on March 27 on Capitol Hill with Congresswoman Yvette Clarke and Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman.

Nick Woolf: If you are an individual, organization or school hoping to get involved in International SEL Day, what are some ways that you would recommend in terms of getting started?

David Adams: Everyone and anyone can get involved. It doesn’t matter how big or small your organization or efforts are; there is something that every single person that every single person can do to support social-emotional learning in their communities and in their networks.

If you are interested in being part of International SEL Day, there are a number of ways to get involved:

  • You can showcase SEL — for example: write an article about how social and emotional learning has helped you to solve a problem in your life, or send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Engaging stakeholders or media on the local level is a great way to help spread the word. You can create a short video, blog post or podcast episode about the work that your school, organization or community is doing around SEL.
  • You can promote SEL through social media — on our website, you can signup as an individual (or as an organization) and talk about your commitment to SEL. Use the hashtag #SELDay, especially on the week leading up to March 27, we would love individuals to share posts about what SEL means to them and the commitment that you’ve made to social and emotional learning.
  • You can support SEL by organizing or hosting an SEL Day activity in your home, local library, school, organization, or community, or by donating to an SEL organization. 
  • You can advocate for SEL by contacting your local policymakers, holding an educational event for them, or asking them to write a proclamation to support SEL. If your local school district has not already started to adopt policies and practices that support SEL, you can also call your superintendent or school principal and encourage them to get started.

You can also sign up to become a partner organization for International SEL Day and commit to helping to showcase, support, promote and advocate for social-emotional learning on (and leading up to) International SEL Day. We have a growing list of partners that include several school districts, higher education institutions, non-profits and corporations.

We are so excited to invite individuals, organizations and communities across the globe to celebrate the importance of social and emotional learning on the first annual International SEL Day on March 27!

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