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Building a Framework for Social-Emotional Learning and a COVID-19 SEL Recovery Plan

Building a Framework for Social-Emotional Learning and a COVID-19 SEL Recovery Plan

As I’ve consulted districts and schools across the United States during these last few months, it has become increasingly clear that educators expect that the “COVID-19 slide” will likely refer to more than just academic learning loss—it will also mean a great stress on mental health for all education stakeholders.

In order to help students address the feelings caused by the trauma of this pandemic, social-emotional learning, or SEL, is quickly entering curriculum planning conversations as a necessary initiative. I recently spent time with one district that has been integrating SEL into its school experience for over a decade. Westminster Public Schools (WPS) in Colorado institutes a comprehensive SEL framework to support not only students and their families but also educator staff. And, in response to COVID-19, the district has developed a COVID-19 SEL recovery plan to guide schools on where to focus their attention in the fall in order to promote healthy living and academic performance. Melisa Sandoval, the director of social emotional learning and student agency at Westminster Public Schools, was kind enough to create a webinar with me to outline its SEL program.

SEL Mission and Vision

In order to mold student thoughts and emotions into healthy behavior and skills, WPS first distinguished SEL from academic content. SEL is not simply a subject to be taught by educators and learned by students. Instead, it is an ongoing, transformative experience shared by them. With this vision in mind, the district decided to build its mission based on school interviews and consultations with clinical professionals. This allowed WPS to develop research-based focus areas, expectations, and resources that are in direct alignment with what its entire community needs—education staff, students, and families. The video below is an introduction to Westminster Public School’s SEL vision and mission.


SEL Framework

This understanding that, fundamentally, the participants of the program must inform the resources, processes, and policies carried over into the district’s documented SEL framework. The framework is essentially a correlation document that aligns five core competencies—School-Wide Systems (Adult SEL), SEL Teaching Practices, Trauma-Responsive Schools, Student Agency, and Family/Community—with guidance on the sorts of activities that directly relate. Schools in the district are then given the freedom to translate that guidance into activities. Watch the video below for an overview of the WPS SEL framework.


Stakeholder Resources

An abundance of resources is available to education staff, students, and families on the WPS website. In addition to typical SEL resources, such as information on where to get assistance and topics in mental health, the district offers direct support through monthly SEL newsletters and tools like a virtual calming room where staff can listen to music or watch a live feed of burrowing owls. Teachers and students also have access to a full research-based online curriculum called BASE Education. Developed by clinicians and grounded in motivational interviewing, students can work through their feelings on various topics, including Vaping and JUULing, Anxiety, Anger Management, Aggression, Self-Esteem, and they can seek help from school staff anywhere they have an Internet connection. The video below outlines the WPS resources.


COVID-19 SEL Recovery Plan

WPS built its SEL program to be agile and to grow according to input from its participants. This vision of transformation that WPS adopted is truly manifested through the district’s COVID-19 SEL recovery plan. Seeking to understand the role of trauma, the effects it has on the brain, and the impact it can have on behavior, WPS built its COVID-19 recovery plan based on The PersonBrain Model™, where essential positive behavior stems from students feeling safe, significant, respected, and related. Watch the video below to learn more about the WPS SEL recovery plan and how it is providing guidance to its schools.


In years to come, more schools will include a closer look at SEL than has been seen in most classrooms before. As we work toward creating a better normal following the disruption caused by COVID-19, embracing SEL and the opportunities it provides to take learning to a whole new level is just one way that educators can continue making the classroom a better place for the whole student, everywhere learning occurs. Check out our other posts on social-emotional learning on the Edmentum blog!

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David Cicero

David has worked in education for 14 years. He has spent the last 6 years in the education technology industry and is currently working as an Educational Programs Consultant. As a trusted advisor and education technology advocate he has helped countless districts and schools successfully integrate technology. David holds a B.A. in Mathematics from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas and a M.A. in Teaching from Northern Arizona University.