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Not an either/or

Allocating resources in an integrated way to support social emotional learning in schools

Increasingly, educators, administrators and community members alike recognize that teaching must extend well beyond academic content. For children to thrive, they must be supported to develop identities, learn to collaborate and resolve conflict, and practice the social-emotional skills that are so integral to success in college and career.

The traditional approach to meeting students’ social-emotional needs is to add on resources like counselors and social workers. This “adding on” of resources creates a false choice for school and system leaders about whether to invest in academics (teaching positions, professional learning for teachers) or social-emotional/behavior support (more counselors, social workers and hall monitors).

It doesn’t have to be an either/or. The latest research on child development, and what we observe in the most strategic schools around the country, indicates that social-emotional support can and must be integrated throughout the school day. All staff in the building, therefore, are responsible for kids’ social, emotional and academic development – what is now being called “SEAD.”

ERS recently joined forces with the Aspen Institute, the University of Chicago, Student Achievement Partners, Dana Center at UT-Austin and Education First, as well as practitioner-leaders from Minneapolis and Nashville public schools, to release “Integrating Social, Emotional, and Academic Development (SEAD): An Action Guide for School Leadership Teams.”

The guide provides practical advice, curated resources, and action steps for school leaders to improve the student experience, calling out specific equity implications in every section to give these issues priority in planning. In particular, the guide provides advice, resources and action steps to help school and system leaders think about how to allocate resources in support of SEAD.

We know that the deliberate organization of people, time and money is what’s needed to translate a good plan on paper into powerful experiences for students and teachers. While time for advisory and dedicated SEL curriculum may first come to mind when thinking about resources to support SEAD, there are three underrated resources that school and system leaders should prioritize in bringing high-quality SEAD to life in an integrated fashion:

  1. Academic curriculum: The academic curriculum and pedagogical approach should be consistent with the demands of College and Career-Ready Standards and create opportunities through which students can practice social-emotional competencies and reflect on connections to their own lives, identities and communities. Curricula that are rigorous but do not clearly integrate SEAD may require thoughtful adaptation. Free online tools are available to assess the extent to which your curriculum is aligned with CCRS and is culturally responsive.[i]

  2. Time for teacher professional learning: Most schools under-invest in the amount of time teaching teams need with instructional experts to deeply understand the demands of the curriculum, lesson plan and analyze student work together. Strategic schools allocate at least 90 minutes per week to this work, and periodically engage relevant student support staff (social workers, counselors) to identify opportunities to leverage the academic curriculum to meet students social-emotional needs. Teachers also need time together and with student support staff to collaborate on how to meet students’ individual social-emotional needs in the context of Tier 1 instruction.

  3. Teacher load: A teacher’s load is the number of individual students that he or she is responsible for knowing. While teacher load is typically smaller in elementary school when classes are self-contained, it can increase to 150 students or more at the secondary level. High loads can make it challenging for teachers and students to form meaningful relationships. This problem can be addressed through creative staffing assignment and student grouping assignments, which may require redirecting resources to important transition years such as Grade 6 and Grade 9.

When it comes to resource use in schools, we often talk about the need for leaders to make tough choices and trade-offs. The beauty of an integrated approach to using resources in support of social-emotional support for students is that, for once, we don’t have to choose. Social-emotional supports can improve academic progress and academic resources can be used to weave in social and emotional supports. And everyone – especially the kids – win.


[i] Culturally Responsive Curriculum Scorecard: https://steinhardt.nyu.edu/metrocenter/resources/culturally-responsive-scorecard; Ed Reports https://www.edreports.org/


Genevieve Quist Green is the Director of School Design at Education Resource Strategies. She directs ERS’ organizational strategy around school design, which includes supervision of district partnerships, research and curriculum development.

Not an either/or
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