SEL Videos!

Back in 2015 I produced several SEL videos for to help support SEL professional learning--since I was behind the camera that's why I'm not in the videos :) My husband is a filmmaker and he was the cinematographer, it was a great experience to work together and have him learn more about my work! Here's a link to some videos in our SEL Video Library.


How do you know your SEL work is making a difference? What impact are you having? 

Assessment is a hot topic in the SEL field and it's fair to say it's an area growth. The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has convened a national work group to advance progress on SEL assessments. Several teachers and leaders I've spoken with have stressed the importance of having a high quality performance task assessment to measure SEL. 

In Social-Emotional Assessment, Performance, and Standards (The Future of Children, 2017) Clark McKown, an associate professor in the Department of Behavioral Sciences at Rush University Medical Center states, "The next generation of SEL assessments should follow six principles, he concludes. First, assessments should meet the highest ethical and scientific standards. Second, developers should design SEL assessment systems specifically for educational use. Third, assessments should measure dimensions of SEL that span the three categories of thinking, behavioral, and selfcontrol skills. Fourth, assessment methods should be matched to what’s being measured. Fifth, assessments should be developmentally appropriate—in other words, children of different ages will need different sorts of assessments. Last, to discourage inappropriate uses, developers should clearly specify the intended purpose of any SEL assessment system, beginning from the design stage."

American Institutes for Research has put together a great resource to guide those engaged in SEL through resources out there that support assessment. You can access the toolkit they've created, "Are you ready to assess SEL?" here. 

 Edutopia also has an accessible article on SEL assessment

SEL & Newcomers

Last Friday I was visiting a colleague and friend who runs a continuation school for Newcomers. “Newcomer” is an umbrella term that includes various categories of immigrants who are born outside of the United States. For example, all immigrants are not necessarily English Language Learners. This is a great resource that shares more about newcomers from the US Department of Education. In our school district our newcomer population is growing steadily and a few months back I had the opportunity to take a few newcomer students along with their teachers from Oakland High to an SEL event at Facebook.  InspirED was born out of a partnership between Facebook and the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence with the goal of bringing social and emotional learning (SEL) and greater wellbeing to high school students across the nation. On Friday, September 29th Oakland Unified, in partnership with the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), and My Brother's Keeper, sent a delegation to the Youth Engagement Leadership Lab at Facebook Headquarters. The day consisted of leadership development activities that focused on SEL skill building for both adults and students. As a result of the event, student participants are now working on a project to share and highlight newcomer stories at Oakland High to help build greater empathy and I spoke on a panel for adult attendees around SEL implementation in Oakland.  

Here are some reflections from student and teacher participants: 

"My time with InspirED taught me so much about reflection. One of the most important SEL advice pieces that I learned was "create the conditions for learning" and "you can't teach what you cannot model yourself." SEL is a large piece of my practice, one that I truly pride myself on. These two pieces of advice, which were given to educators at the beginning of the conference, really set the tone of the event to be student-driven and student-focused.  - Valeska, Newcomer Teacher

"I learned a lot at the Facebook InspirEd event. For example, every idea can change the world. What can we do as a student? How can we get our equal rights and education? What can one of our ideas change?  We saw an example from a boy who came up with an idea to stop and reduce campus bullying. And more people joined this idea and stood up to stop bullying. This example inspired me, I started to think about what we can do to change school and community to help our school's newcomers. This event was meaningful to me." -  Shirley, Newcomer Student

Our latest SEL Newsletter includes an interview with Lauren Markham, author of the Far Away Brothers and Community School Manager at Oakland International, about supporting our newcomer and undocumented students and the importance of SEL.  Here is a toolkit chapter on how to specifically address SEL for Newcomers.


I try to remember that one strength of SEL practices is their simplicity and repeatability. A well-placed, clearly framed turn and talk, a just-in-time brain break -- consistently used, these and their kindred moves can sustain a steady music of engagement. - Mike Jones, English Teacher & SEL Lead Teacher, Oakland High School

Frequently, when I lead SEL professional learning I’m asked, “How do I begin integrating SEL into my teaching?” The answer I consistently offer is to start by incorporating the 3 SEL Signature Practices. A few years ago when I was co-facilitating an SEL foundations training with one of my mentors, CASEL Consultant Ann McKay Bryson, she introduced me to these strategies (Welcoming Ritual/Inclusion Activities, Engaging Practices, and Optimistic Closings). These practices can be used to simultaneously develop and sustain community while also promoting academic engagement. The two key components when designing a Welcoming Ritual, incorporating Engaging Pedagogy, or utilizing and Optimistic Closing are individual thinking time and purposeful social interaction. These elements are critical because research has consistently shown that “think time” or “wait time” results in significant benefits to student learning. This includes an increased number of student responses and purposeful social interaction provides structured collaborative learning experiences where several studies have shown result in student achievement gains.

In addition to using these practices in the classroom they can also be used in meeting or adult professional learning. In fact, our previous Superintendent used to model these practices and had the expectation that adults across the system were incorporating these practices into all adult learning spaces. 

This past summer our SEL team created a 3 Signature SEL Practices Playbook that includes several examples of: 

  • WELCOMING ROUTINES & RITUALS (Activities for Inclusion)

  • ENGAGING PEDAGOGY (Academic Integration, Transitions, Brain Breaks)

  • OPTIMISTIC CLOSURE (Reflections and Looking Forward)

Here’s a link to the playbook and a two-pager that described the 3 practices.

Below you'll also find a video that details each of the 3 practices in more depth. 

SEL in Secondary

I've had the privilege of leading SEL implementation in Oakland's middle and high schools. A key learning I've had is that while there are a number of research-based strategies and evidence-based programs for implementing SEL in elementary classrooms, there are much fewer  resources and less guidance around how to implement SEL in middle and high school settings. Being a former middle and high school teacher I know that prioritizing SEL can be challenging. Structurally speaking, I had far less interaction and contact time with students compared to my elementary school colleagues. This combined with the pressures of getting through content and preparing students for college and career didn't leave a whole lot of room for SEL instruction. Given the very different context for SEL in middle and high schools it became clear to me that our approach had to really focus on how to support teachers with integrating SEL across academic content and ensure it’s part of their teaching practice. In the past few years there are some key articles and papers that lift up how we can more effectively bring SEL into secondary schools. I'm also including a video I produced with one of Oakland's beloved HS Principals around SEL in Secondary.

Learning by Heart: The Power of SEL in Secondary Schools

Embedding SEL in HS Classrooms

SEL in High Schools: How Three Urban High Schools Engage, Educate and Empower Youth


I was pleased to receive a message from an Assistant Principal I work with that included a report on Bringing Mindfulness into Schools that has my book as one of the readings for a 5 Day Intensive Mindfulness Course for Teachers. The report was from the Talk About Wellness Initiative and it reminded me of the great wellness focused work Oakland is engaged in. I had the privilege of sitting on our district's wellness council last year and learned more about our wellness policy and the many resources from our wellness department

Recently New Teacher Center Co-Founder and Chief SEL Officer, Wendy Baron, led a wonderful webinar on cultivating wellbeing in stressful times. Check in out!

Where should we focus our SEL efforts?

Earlier today a colleague shared with me this SMART Brief pie chart that highlights what could be most effective in increasing SEL implementation. I thought it was interesting that three of the categories were very closely matched (improvement to pre-service teacher training and PD, more research and communication about the effects of SEL on student learning, and state level standards that spell out the SEL skills needed at every grade level). 

A few years ago I was introduced to the amazing work happening in at San Jose State to integrate SEL into teacher training. The Collaborative for Reaching and Teaching the Whole Child developed Social Emotional Dimensions of Teaching and Learning as part of their teacher preparation work and I hope that several other teacher education programs follow in their footsteps. Wouldn't it be amazing if teachers started their careers already having deep knowledge of SEL?

In my previous blog post I shared about the work coming out of the National Commission which focuses on how SEL is interconnected to learning. Research also shows that SEL not only improves achievement by an average of 11 percentile points, but it also increases prosocial behaviors (such as kindness, sharing, and empathy), improves student attitudes toward school, and reduces depression and stress among students (Durlak et al., 2011).

Several states are working in partnership with CASEL to develop state-wide SEL standards. Here's a brief that discusses state efforts in promoting SEL

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SEL Frameworks

There are a number of frameworks to help us understand the skills and competencies that comprise SEL. One of the most popular frameworks is from the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) that we use in Oakland (see below). When adopting a framework to support SEL implementation and engagement it may be helpful to review this brief from the University of Minnesota comparing SEL frameworks.  In addition to the CASEL framework I find the Foundations for Young Adult Success: A Developmental Framework an important resource to review as well.


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Resources for Discussing & Disrupting Racism

Given our current political climate and the many race related tragedies that have occurred, our Office of Equity recently compiled a great resource list for discussing and disrupting racism

Also, I was honored to contribute to a recent EdWeek Blog post on "Using SEL to Challenge Systems of Oppression." In Oakland we believe the SEL work is ultimately about equity and if we teach SEL but we don't address systems of oppression then we aren't doing justice to the ultimate goal of SEL--creating a more compassionate and equitable world. In fact our definition of SEL includes an equity lens and there is a fundamental belief that through strengthening our own SEL skills we are better able to connect across race, class, gender, learning needs, and age.  Amy Eva at the Greater Good Science Center recently published a beautiful article highlighting Three SEL Skills You Need to Discuss Race in Your Classroom.

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SEL & Academics

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is often viewed as being separate from academics and instruction. As a result, leaders and teachers state that they don’t have time to implement SEL.  SEL is in fact not separate from academics or instruction but rather integral and interdependent to teaching and learning.  The week before last I got to attend a Professional Learning series sponsored by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) that focused on SEL and Academic Integration. This experience reinforced how integral SEL is to academics and powerful instruction. 

There are several great resources that highlight the relationship between SEL and Academics:

10 Teaching Practices to Promote SEL: This is a great resource from Nick Yoder at American Institutes for Research that outlines instructional practices that promote SEL.

Integrating Social and Emotional Development in College and Career Readiness Standards: This publication from the Aspen Institute lifts up how Social Emotional Development connects to College & Career Readiness Standards and it name checks the work we are doing in Oakland! 

Embedding SEL in High School Classrooms is an important white paper I had the chance to review that illustrates how to incorporate SEL into instruction at the secondary level. 

When the Common Core State Standards were first rolled out there was a lot of discussion and conversation around how SEL is integral to several Common Core instructional shifts and standards. For example, SEL is deeply embedded in the Common Core Speaking and Listening Standards. The Greater Good published a great article on how to integrate SEL into Common Core. Professor Maurice Elias has also written about SEL & Common Core. Here's a link to an article ASCD published on SEL & Common Core. 

If you'd like to see the integration of SEL into academics in action, in 2015 I produced with an amazing Oakland teacher that illustrates Academic SEL in Practice.