During an Aug. 9 webinar, “When SEL curriculum is not enough: Integrating social-emotional behavior supports in MTSS,” hosted by Education Week and Illuminate Education, presenters offered tips for advocating for investments in social-emotional and behavioral (SEB) supports, strategies for implementation, how data can guide implementation and the importance of professional development.
“The importance of social-emotional and behavioral functioning plays a key role in supporting strong academic achievement,” said Livy Traczyk, Illuminate Education’s senior marketing manager. “More districts have implemented or are in the process of implementing SEL [social-emotional learning] programs, but as with any new programs or initiatives, it takes a systemwide framework, plan and support for implementation to be successful.”
A successful SEL program involves systematic implementation, has SEB supports embedded within a Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS), and uses data to improve student outcomes.
The negative impact that the pandemic has had on young people has sparked increased interest in SEL, but a need for more supports has long been there, according to Laura Rutherford, consulting and research psychologist at Devereux Center for Effective Schools.
“Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of our children and adolescents were really requiring additional SEB support,” Rutherford said. “In fact, it was considered a public health crisis.”
Increases in psychological symptoms among youth have been observed since the onset of the public health crisis, yet “few [young people] will receive the care they need” because of limited and inequitable access to services, she added.
Schools can offer a prime service setting, Rutherford noted, as students are required to attend in some format and most young people spend the majority of their day on K-12 school campuses. School staff and teachers can also detect and intervene early if a student is displaying need.
“Not only do we have the target population of students right with us, but schools also employ professionals who have potential to serve in instructors, interventions and change agents,” Rutherford said. “Schools can adopt a multi-tiered system of support of SEB supports that focus on prevention and also match the intensity of the interventions to student needs.”
SEB supports can be a cost-effective way for schools to advance student performance.
“Research has shown that for every dollar we spend on SEL programming, the return on investment is actually $11 in long-term health, safety and societal benefits,” Rutherford explained. “When we look at Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports implementation, the return on investment is even greater at $105 for long-term health, safety and societal benefits for every dollar spent.”
The three MTSS tiers include universal instruction (tier one); targeted, small group instruction (tier two); and intensive, individual interventions (tier three). Making sure the MTSS is evidence-based involves grounding it in research and making it appropriate for a local educational agency’s own population and needs.
Developing committees, which include school-based personnel, to help support implementation and maintenance of a MTSS is key. Committees should outline and adhere to a mission, activities and priorities to move the work forward.
Committees should have communications and meeting plans (a shared agenda, defined roles, action planning and task completion, etc.) to be most effective. SMART [specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound] goals can be used for action planning.
Leaders can use guiding questions to identify if there are clearly defined outcomes in alignment with implementation of programming, if data is being used to inform decision making, if there is access to tier one data available, and if there are markers identified to inform when to modify programming.
Tools like the Social, Academic, & Emotional Behavior Risk Screener (SAEBRS) can be used as a reference point for social, academic and emotional behaviors and how they coincide into one’s “total” behavior.
Decisions about screenings, like what grades to start with, and when and how frequently they should take place need to be made and equity should be considered in the screening process.
The path between data from screenings and providing intervention also needs to be charted.
Professional development must be part of the implementation process and ongoing to make sure SEL supports are meaningful and long-lasting, according to presenter Nathaniel P. von der Embse, associate professor of school psychology at University of South Florida.
He offered the School Mental Health Collaborative’s Best Practices in Universal Screening for Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Outcomes: An Implementation Guide as an implementation resource for school leaders. Illuminate Education also has a Building Systemwide Capacity for SEL Initiatives workbook available.
SEL can be embedded into campus life via including SEL-focused conversations into normal instruction, having SEL-related resources on display and aligning the school’s mission to state that SEL and academic success are both priorities.