Outside the Classroom

Building a Culture of SEL: Transforming Your School, Students, and Community

As our traditional methods of teaching and learning get further in the rearview mirror, we as educators find ourselves at a pivotal moment. Will things ever go back to “normal”? What even is “normal” anymore, and if we ever go back to it, how drastically will recent events and events yet to come impact our mental, emotional, social, and financial equilibriums?

One area of focus that has continued to gain importance over the past few months and years is social and emotional learning (SEL). Social and emotional learning is becoming more synonymous and integrated with the experience of learning, and research reinforces a compelling story about how building a culture of SEL can transform schools and districts.

SEL continues to provide positive change and skill development, especially during uncertain times, to:

  1. District and school teachers, staff, and leaders
  2. Students and their peers
  3. The greater school community, including caregivers, parents, and families

Let’s focus on how building a culture of SEL can support each of these groups:

1. District and School Teachers, Staff, and Leaders

With so much instability and uncertainty right now, educators are having to make substantial changes to how they deliver instruction. And building a culture of SEL helps educators build skills to manage stress and have greater social and self-awareness that help them make good decisions and balance the new work–life integration happening across the globe.

Integrating SEL into professional development and training supports consistency in the language, response, and cultural values and norms used in schools, while also increasing job satisfaction and career longevity. And when our district leaders have healthy social and emotional skills and strategies, our staff, students, and wider school community have better experiences, which lessens the stress involved in changing environments and offering students academic, social, and emotional support.

The question we can ask ourselves for our districts’ and schools’ sake is: How can we adequately train and prepare staff to weather the storms of their own social and emotional struggles so they can support learners in both face-to-face and virtual settings?

2. Students and Their Peers

For months, we have seen students struggle with the absence of their routines, seeing friends, and being in the positive environment schools can offer, experiencing cherished rituals like graduation and saying goodbye for the summer. Before we ever encountered social distancing and the halt on so many of our traditional methods of learning and educating, we were still facing challenges that drove a wedge in students’ social and emotional growth. Now, the pandemic has shown in great detail the value that caring adults (like those found at a school) and learning bring to our students’ lives.

Students who participate in well-rounded SEL programs have seen incredible improvements in their lives. Here are a few compelling facts that show how building a culture of SEL can support your students:

• Supporting students’ social and emotional development produces an 11-percentage-point gain in grades and test scores. [1] • Eight in ten employers say social and emotional skills are the most important to success and are also the hardest skills to find. [2] • Nine out of ten teachers believe social and emotional skills can be taught and that doing so benefits students. [3] • Strong SEL initiatives can result in greater academic success, less emotional distress, more positive social behavior, improved career readiness and graduation rates, and less bullying, among other things. [4]

Visual designed by Skylar Mowery.

The question we can ask ourselves for our students’ sake is: What SEL programs or supports can I put in place that can be turnkey for teachers and meaningful for students, and lead to a statistical uptick in managing the struggles they are facing in today’s environment?

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3. The Greater School Community, Including Caregivers, Parents, and Families

Great communities are made up of individuals coming together and investing in themselves and others. And like educators, parents, families, and caregivers are also facing unprecedented needs, pain, and problems, and have experienced significant loss while still trying to maintain some sense of normalcy in their lives.

Building a culture of SEL in your school or district empowers families, caregivers, and parents to support their children at home, as well as themselves. Offering a high-quality SEL curriculum and program can give families and caregivers the support, tools, and vocabulary they need to connect with their students, and better deal with their own stressors.

Systemic change happens when we support not only those in the classroom, but also the wider school community. Social and emotional learning is an incredible tool that offers motivation, communication, and connection, and brings life back to our communities to make them whole and growing.

The question we can ask ourselves for our wider school community’s sake is: What can we do to support the community around us and those that have experienced loss or need help supporting the learners within our school and district?

Right now, we could all use extra support and guidance, and focusing on our own social and emotional needs can help us be present for ourselves and those around us. Building a culture of SEL in your school or district can help you offer yourself, your colleagues, and your students and their families this extra support, which can be critical in the weeks and months to come.


1 Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: a meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Dev, 82(1):405-432. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01564.x.

2 Cunningham, W., & Villasenor, P. (2016). Employer voices, employer demands, and implications for public skills development policy connecting the labor and education sectors. Policy Research Working Paper 7582. World Bank Group.

3 Civic Enterprises, Bridgeland, J., Bruce, M., & Hariharan, A. (2013). The missing piece: A national teacher survey on how social and emotional learning can empower children and transform schools. A report for CASEL. Civic Enterprises.

4 PBIS Rewards. (n.d.). Teaching social and emotional learning in the classroom. https://www.pbisrewards.com/blog/sel-in-the-classroom/

About the Author


Daniel Budzinski

Daniel Budzinski is a serial entrepreneur of several innovative tech companies and founder of Purpose Prep, a premier social and emotional learning content and solution provider serving PreK–12 school districts. Purpose Prep provides access to over 1 million students in nearly 1,000 schools. The curriculum has students in over 40 states, and Daniel has spoken at 1,200 events in 30 countries on 6 continents to a diverse set of audiences from PreK–12 schools to top-performing companies. He is the host of The Dreamcast, The Art of Success, and the Emotional Intelligence podcasts, and his personal mission is to motivate, influence, and empower people to discover their purpose, unlock their potential, and live out their most unimaginable dreams.