Diverse group sitting in a circle having a conversation.

Making SEL a Community Priority: Develop a Shared Vision for Schoolwide SEL With These 5 Steps

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.


Schoolwide social and emotional learning (SEL) is a systemic approach to infusing social and emotional learning into every part of students’ educational experience — across all classrooms, during all parts of the school day and out-of-school time, and in partnership with families and communities.

This involves cultivating caring, participatory, and equitable learning environments and using evidence-based practices that actively involve all students in their social, emotional, and academic growth.

The time needed to develop a shared vision will differ from school to school. Plan to dedicate at least one hour to steps 1-3 of the activity below.

STEP 1: Gather Stakeholders

It’s recommended that schools include as many staff, families, students, out-of-school-time providers, and community partners as possible in creating a shared vision. However, it may be unrealistic to engage all these stakeholders at one time. Larger school communities may wish to hold several sessions or convene focus groups to get a wide variety of viewpoints.

Consider the following questions:

  • How will you bring in diverse perspectives?
  • What systems and structures does your school already have in place to hear from students, families, and community?
  • What new strategies might you try?

STEP 2: Ask Individuals to Identify Their “Personal Why”

Before groups can identify their shared vision, it’s helpful for each individual to consider their own beliefs about the purpose of school, and their vision for young people. Ask individuals to use the following prompts to get their thoughts flowing. Participants should respond to the prompts that inspire them. No need to answer them all.

  • What do you believe about students/ youth?
  • Why is it important that you are a part of this community?
  • What is your dream for our students/ youth?
  • What does success for students/ youth look like?
  • What do students/ youth and adults need in order to learn and thrive?

Provide about 10 minutes for participants to write silently. If you’d like, you can ask participants to share some of their big ideas with a partner. Next, participants take about 5 minutes to formulate a personal vision statement (1-2 sentences) based on their free-writes. Alternatively, you may have participants discuss their free writes in small groups and take notes on emerging themes and recurring words or phrases.

STEP 3: Ask Small Groups to Identify Their “Shared Why”

If you had participants engage in discussion instead of creating a personal vision statement, skip the steps in the next two paragraphs and provide each group the opportunity to share out their emerging themes and recurring words or phrases.

If participants wrote personal vision statements, break the stakeholders into small groups. Ask participants to share their personal vision statements. As they share, others in the group write down key words or phrases they hear on separate sticky notes. When each participant has shared their vision statement, the team should have a pile of sticky notes with various important words or phrases.

As a group, stakeholders work together to find connected words and phrases and determine common themes. You may want to have them do this on a piece of chart paper so they can label the themes that arise.

From here, provide each group the opportunity to share out their emerging themes and re-occurring words or phrases.

STEP 4: Incorporate Group Feedback Into a Single Shared Vision

From here, there are multiple ways to build your school’s vision statement. With patience and collaboration, it’s possible to create a shared vision that captures the spirit of the entire school community. Below is one recommendation for how you might proceed:

  • The SEL Leadership team uses each group’s themes to draft a shared vision that represents all stakeholder groups. This might include themes generated during multiple sessions with teachers, families, students, and communities.
  • After creating a draft vision statement, share it with stakeholders for feedback.

STEP 5: Make Your Shared Vision Visible and Actionable

It’s important to make your shared vision visible, prominent, and actionable. This will be key to sustainability. Launch the idea in creative ways that will appeal to the school and create momentum. Some practices include painting it on the entry hall wall or putting it on the school’s website, letterhead, etc. Refer to your shared vision for SEL frequently in:

  • Staff meetings
  • Internal email communications
  • Communications with families and your network about new projects and initiatives
  • Hiring and orienting new staff

What is CASEL?

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is the country’s leading PreK-12 SEL practice, policy and research organization. For 25 years, CASEL has been a trusted source for knowledge about high-quality, evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL) and has made the case for SEL as an integral part of education. Through research, practice, and policy, CASEL collaborates with thought leaders to equip educators and policymakers with the knowledge and resources to advance social and emotional learning in equitable learning environments so all students can thrive. Watch the below short video about CASEL to learn more.

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