This year, educators in Connecticut will receive new guidance about how to integrate safe and supportive school environments within the delivery of academic teaching. Grounded in research, best practices, and interest holder input, new social and emotional learning (SEL) benchmark tools now exist following multiyear state education agency efforts in partnership with the Region 2 Comprehensive Center.

Research shows that safe, healthy, and equitable school climates, in which adults integrate strategies for cultivating student well-being with academic teaching and learning, correlate with higher student attendance and engagement. The more student well-being is developed, the greater the chances of higher academic achievement.

“A whole child focus,” reports Natalie Walrond, former director of the Center to Improve Social and Emotional Learning and School Safety at WestEd and new associate director of the Region 15 Comprehensive Center, “is key to promoting student well-being, strengthening their academic success, and preparing them for college, career, and life.”

However, to achieve these ends, educators need practical strategies, tools, and skills to support their practice.

To ensure that teachers and principals have the support to appropriately promote student social and emotional well-being over time, the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) developed indicators of student wellness and behavior with the help of the Region 2 Comprehensive Center (R2CC), a federally funded technical assistance and capacity-building provider.

Connecticut’s new resource shows educators how to integrate social and emotional habits into academic content areas. Last year, the CSDE released Components of Social, Emotional, and Intellectual Habits: Grades 4–12, a model for teachers of children in late elementary school through high school. The guidance builds upon indicators already created for grades K–3.

“The new model,” says Sarah Barzee, director of R2CC, “provides a practical blueprint for how to seamlessly blend social–emotional support and key intellectual habits into everyday classroom and school experiences.

“For example, the document indicates that a middle school student has demonstrated the ability to “Identify and Understand Emotions of Self and Others” when, among other things, they “apply self-monitoring strategies to reframe behaviors, emotions, and thoughts and adjust depending on the situation and environment.”

The resource also provides professional learning guidance, including how to use data to monitor student needs and progress.

To ensure the model was rooted in broad interest holder input and deep field expertise, the CSDE and R2CC took the following measures:

  • Conducted a landscape scan to collect a snapshot of great work already taking place and to ascertain emerging concerns and trends in the field regarding student and adult social and emotional development due to Covid-19
  • Drew eight recommendations from the survey results, including strategies that district and school personnel can incorporate into their strategic planning and school improvement plans to address the need for SEL supports
  • Identified current research and best practices showing what student prosocial development looks like: The Habits are informed by extensive evidence-based research on social and emotional development.
  • Invited and integrated input from 124 school districts statewide on the proposed indicators and conducted focus groups with superintendents, principals, counselors, and teachers on opportunities and challenges
  • Actively engaged key interest holders, including national experts such as the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) during the development process: A synthesis of feedback from Connecticut administrators; teachers; parents; students; and leaders from student support services, education-related organizations, and institutions of higher education revealed widespread support for the Habits.

The CSDE and R2CC report that during the field analysis, several findings emerged:

  1. The landscape analysis found widespread support for state guidance from Connecticut administrators; teachers; parents; students; and leaders from student support services, education-related organizations, and institutions of higher education.
  2. The recommendations offer a coherent, systematic approach to plan for and communicate to school- and district-based practitioners, leaders, and professionals the importance of SEL and ensure that SEL becomes and remains fundamental in kindergarten through grade 12 (K–12) public education.

Up next: The department is currently working to disseminate the guide to districts, coordinate the effort with other resources and initiatives, and develop additional professional learning opportunities and ongoing coaching to support implementation.

Learn more about how Connecticut developed this new model in Building Capacity: Region 2 Comprehensive Center Partners with Connecticut on New Social and Emotional Learning Guidelines.

The contents of this post were developed by the Region 2 Comprehensive Center. The Region 2 Comprehensive Center is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. However, the contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal government.