Written by WestEd’s Jennifer Folsom, this post first appeared on the Making Sense of SCIENCE (MSS) Science Corner blog and is posted here with permission. Jennifer is Lead Learning Architect and Associate Director of WestEd’s Making Sense of SCIENCE project.

As teachers and leaders prepare for a major relaunch of schooling in the fall of 2021, there is a great need for thinking about how we make that relaunch well-matched to the current needs of students, families, and school staff. Academic, social, and emotional needs have shifted and diversified as a result of the pandemic and persistent racial and social injustices. Heading back to the classroom isn’t going to be a return to normal, but a reinvention of normal, a new normal. We are offered an opportunity to create the education we know our students deserve. We need to lean in and leverage the tools we have to make excellence for all our learners a reality.

Adding a few social-emotional learning activities to the regular school day and remediating “learning loss” with some review activities isn’t enough. This tumultuous time can be the inspiration to reimagine our approach to schooling. It’s a time to align everything from how we teach to how we allocate resources so that we can better meet the needs of our learners, and especially the needs of learners who have historically been underserved. 

Completing this task is complex and multidimensional and involves many stakeholders — and tasks like these benefit from being anchored in clear, research-based goals. To support districts along this path, WestEd staff in the Region 13 Comprehensive Center, the Center to Improve Social and Emotional Learning and School Safety, and the National Center for Systemic Improvement have helped develop a blueprint for schools undertaking this critical work — Reimagining Excellence: A Blueprint for Integrating Social and Emotional Well-Being and Academic Excellence in Schools.

The blueprint assembles research-based guidance in seven different dimensions for school teams that want to take a comprehensive approach to meeting the needs of all their students and ensuring all their students achieve excellence. The dimensions build upon each other, beginning with equity, and are interconnected with common themes and practices throughout. The blueprint ends with related resources for each dimension that school leadership teams have found useful.


  1. Equity
  2. Responsive Relationships
  3. Culture & Climate
  4. Instruction
  5. Instructional Materials
  6. Professional Learning
  7. Leadership ​​

Schools that undertake this comprehensive approach to reimagining excellence won’t experience success overnight. We’ll need to keep modeling a growth mindset in the face of failures and extending each other grace, but with the right goals and the right resources, and a whole lot of commitment from educators, leaders, and communities, we can get to a place where our learning programs deliver on the promise of excellence for all.