CASEL President & CEO Dr. Aaliyah A. Samuel on the State of SEL

This past December, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) announced that it had appointed Dr. Aaliyah A. Samuel to succeed Karen Niemi as the organization’s next president and CEO.

A former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Local, State, and National Engagement at the Department of Education with decades of experience as a teacher, principal, and education policy leader, Dr. Samuel assumed her new role at CASEL at the beginning of the new year.

On January 28, Dr. Samuel addressed over 1,500 individuals during a webinar moderated by Timothy Shriver, CASEL co-founder and board chair, to share her views on the state of the field. Continue reading to review our key takeaways from Dr. Samuel’s discussion about her vision for the future of social-emotional learning.


We need to clarify what SEL is to help navigate political resistance.

“A big risk in our field lies in how politicized social-emotional learning has become. SEL is being talked about in so many different ways. This is, in part, because there is a lack of understanding of what SEL is; how it plays out in the classroom and with adults. We need to use this opportunity to really clarify what SEL is. I view that as a critical step that will help to remove some of the political debates that SEL is getting caught up in. We need to amplify the stories and tangible examples that we know are so critical.”

“We also need to recognize that social and emotional learning is very different from mental health and mental well-being. We need all three, collectively, but we also need to clarify specifically what SEL is.”

Intentional and genuine collaboration can help us move away from solely “checking the box” when it comes to the co-creation of SEL.

“We need to be really intentional with making sure that parents are at the table and truly have a voice at that table. SEL is parent engagement. SEL is grounded in partnering with our parents. We need to recognize that parents are children’s first teachers. They need to be at the forefront of this work.”

“Collaboration is not a box that’s checked; it’s a needle that’s threaded. It’s going to take genuine collaboration to bring together all the individuals and systems that impact a child over their lifespan and integrate SEL throughout everything.”

“An important phrase that I try to embody when it comes to collaboration is: ‘Don’t do anything for us without us.’ It’s important for us to remember who we are doing service for so that we can be truly inclusive. This means working with others to bring people along, without an agenda.”

Do not be silent in the spaces that you occupy.

“Now more than ever, we need to be intentional about how we use our voices. Do not be silent in the spaces that you occupy. How can we, collectively, share and amplify the same stories about social-emotional learning? This will create the reverberations that we need–from the local level to the state level to the federal level, and right back down the line.”

“Equity can be a tool to open the lines of communication.”

We must continue to take a both/and approach to SEL and academics.

“The bifurcation of SEL and academics is counterproductive. You can do both; they should go hand-in-hand. As we talk about addressing learning loss, we should be doing both. As we have conversations about academic recovery or the learning opportunities that were missed, we can’t lose sight of relationships. Our students need to know that they are cared for and that they are in a safe environment.”

“We also need to underscore that students are resilient. They will bounce back academically if they are placed in the right environments with holistic supports.”

“SEL is not a quick fix [for the challenges brought up by the COVID-19 pandemic]. But it will put us on the pathway to recovery, which we know is going to be a long-term process.”

Supporting the social-emotional well-being of adults in schools is absolutely critical.

“Educators are leaving the field due to stress, a lack of support, and a lack of connection. They have more piled on them than ever before. We cannot leave our teachers behind in this conversation. Better supporting their social-emotional needs can be a huge lever for retention.”

“We also have to think about our teacher preparation programs. How can we better design these programs to adequately prepare our teachers to meet the needs of every student, both from an equity perspective as well as from a social-emotional perspective?”

Policymakers must broaden the aperture.

“Policymakers need to broaden the aperture of the voices that we are hearing. It should not be a singular voice or vision that is influencing their agenda.”


Looking for more insights on the future of SEL? Subscribe to SEL in 5, our monthly newsletter that delivers the most wisdom per word of any social-emotional learning publication on the web.

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