When discussing SEL with educators, CASEL alignment almost always gets brought up. Because so many districts, schools, programs, and assessments have aligned themselves with CASEL’s framework for SEL, educators should have a thorough understanding of what CASEL is and what an alignment with the CASEL five core competencies looks like in practice. Below, we highlight key CASEL resources, components of their SEL framework, what it really means to be “CASEL aligned”, and how that alignment fits into an MTSS model.
What is CASEL?
CASEL stands for the Collaborative for Academic and Social-Emotional Learning. They are “a trusted source for knowledge about high-quality, evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL).” In summary, CASEL provides SEL-based resources for educators, researchers, and policy-makers. The organization has a number of initiatives all focused on improving student and teacher social-emotional learning and development. Some of their most popular resources include their program guide, which helps educators identify their SEL goals and priorities and find evidence-based programs aligned to those goals, as well as their assessment guide which provides filterable lists of assessments that measure different social-emotional competencies across all grade levels and their corresponding research/evidence. These resources are why many districts turn to CASEL when looking for support in promoting SEL in their schools, classrooms, and communities.
What are the five core competencies and CASEL’s framework for SEL?
CASEL’s framework for SEL is often used to help define and describe what exactly social-emotional learning is and how to implement it effectively. The five core social-emotional competencies included in their framework are: 1) self-awareness, 2) self-management, 3) social awareness, 4) relationship skills, and 5) responsible decision-making. You can find the complete definition of each competency here, but in summary, these are the five areas that have been identified by researchers and practitioners as critical for student's overall development and long-term success, in school, relationships, the workplace, and beyond. It is critical for educators to understand the definitions and examples of these competencies so they are not interpreted and applied incorrectly. For example, educators may initially interpret self-management as students’ ability to sit quietly and maintain focus for long periods of time. This can lead to the use of more controlling and disciplinary practices in order to achieve this form of “self-management” among students. However, the competency is really focused on student’s ability to use self-management strategies in an effective way to help with their planning, organization, and expression of emotions. Although the five competencies have distinct definitions, the skills themselves are related to each other. For example, when students are unable to effectively manage their emotional responses it can impact their relationships with peers and teachers. This is why it is common for students to need support in multiple social-emotional skill areas. Also, supporting students in one competency can lead to improvements in other competencies.
In addition to the five core competencies, the framework includes key settings and contexts where SEL takes place as well as how SEL can be used as a lever for promoting educational equity. CASEL recently updated their framework to explicitly address the ways in which SEL supports equitable learning environments and how the five core competencies contribute to students’ sense of identity, understanding of biases, and awareness of diversity and the different demands and opportunities that individuals and communities face. It is also important to keep in mind that this is just one example of an SEL framework. There are many others that include additional competencies, which might be a better fit for your school or district. This website is a great resource for understanding and comparing popular SEL frameworks.
What does it mean to be “CASEL aligned”
The notion of CASEL alignment is often seen in reference to intervention programs and assessments. When programs are CASEL aligned it means that their content explicitly focuses on teaching and promoting these five core competencies. CASEL aligned curricula are usually structured around the core competencies where each skill is addressed through a specific unit that includes hands-on lessons and activities. When assessments are CASEL aligned it means they are measuring these specific competencies or ones that are closely linked to the CASEL five. Research-based assessments have studied students’ responses in a way that supports the validity and reliability of the questions on the assessment in their ability to measure each specific competency. So when an assessment’s results show that a student is low in their self-awareness skills, teachers can be confident that the student is actually low in this area, compared to another area.
Districts and schools wishing to align their SEL initiatives with the CASEL framework should also consider the important role of settings and contexts in social-emotional development. The framework highlights how efforts to support students’ SEL should be coordinated across contexts, such as classrooms, schools, homes, families, and communities. This means that classroom-based programs should be consistent with schoolwide policies and practices and be inclusive of the social-emotional needs of families and community members. CASEL aligned efforts address SEL across these different developmental contexts to ensure that SEL is not something that is only occurring within an isolated environment.
What role should the CASEL competencies play in your MTSS practice?
Central to any MTSS framework is the ability to understand specific skill areas where students require additional support and the implementation of interventions that are aligned with those needs. When supporting students in academic content areas, like Reading and Math, it is important to understand the underlying skill or set of skills that students are struggling with in order to develop an effective plan that will drive growth. The same goes for SEL. First, educators should be aware of the discrete skills that contribute to students’ overall social-emotional development and well being. Stating that a student has “behavioral issues” or “poor social skills” is the same as saying a student is “bad at Math” and doesn’t help inform the problem-solving process required to develop a targeted intervention plan. This deeper understanding of SEL can often be provided through professional development. Teachers may need to also gain a better understanding and awareness of their own social-emotional skills in order to be able to effectively recognize the underlying social-emotional needs of their students.
Educators should also have access to SEL programs and practices that are explicit in the social-emotional skills and competencies that they address. Broad social-emotional programs can work well as a Tier 1 support, but when it comes to providing Tier 2 and 3 levels of SEL support, more targeted interventions and approaches should be implemented. Using assessments and screeners that are also CASEL aligned takes away some of that guessing work and helps identify the areas where students need the most instruction. In other words, the results from tools used to assess students’ social-emotional competencies should help educators answer the question “why is this student struggling?”.
Finally, a CASEL aligned MTSS practice should include social-emotional expectations for students that are aligned with their development. Not all states and districts have set grade-based standards for SEL, which means that districts might need to develop their own. CASEL provides guidance on which social-emotional tasks students should be competent in across different stages of development. When it comes to social-emotional skills, educators should have realistic expectations for students. Any type of program or intervention being used to promote students’ social-emotional well-being should also be developmentally appropriate; teaching students about perspective-taking will look a lot different in a kindergarten classroom compared to a middle school classroom. Finally, SEL programs and interventions should be coordinated across grade levels so that the skills students are learning build on each other, in the same way that skills learned in 3rd grade Math and Reading become foundational for what is taught in 4th grade. Developing this kind of systemic approach to SEL might seem like an overwhelming task, but once these components are put into place it becomes a lot easier and more efficient to implement a streamlined approach to promoting SEL within an MTSS model.
Best Practices for Assessing Students' Social-Emotional Competencies within an MTSS Framework
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