Educator SEL and Well-Being: 
Is it Part of Your School’s Planning for Systemic SEL?

By Mark T. Greenberg Ph.D.
Emeritus Bennett Chair of Prevention Science, Penn State University,

Chair of CREATE (www.createforeducation.org)

Classroom teaching . . . is perhaps the most complex, most challenging, and most demanding, subtle, nuanced, and frightening activity that our species has ever invented. In fact, when I compared the complexity of teaching with that much more highly rewarded profession, ‘doing medicine,’ I concluded that the only time medicine even approaches the complexity of an average day of classroom teaching is in an emergency room during a natural disaster.”          
 Lee Shulman, 2004 

While the esteemed educational leader, Lee Shulman, did not even anticipate the effects of Covid or the high rates of teacher burnout and attrition that we current face in 2021, he captured the complexity and skills necessary to be a great teacher.

If we are to improve outcomes for students, we must recruit the very best teachers and we must support them.  Our students will only be as successful as our teachers.  Further, if teachers are well and creative, they will better support all children to succeed.  Even to the most casual observer, it is now clear that we must focus on supporting teachers in order to reduce their burnout and attrition and increase instructional equality and child well-being.

However, while many schools have begun to talk about the importance adult/educator SEL, they often don’t know what the goals should be or even where to begin to nurture and support the well-being of teachers.  To truly support teachers one would not simply arrange a two-hour workshop or a one-day of professional development, as this is likely to have little or no long-term impact.

Effectively supporting teacher well-being is a muti-year and multi-stage process that involves teachers, administrators, and union leaders collaboratively engaging in systematic planning that includes surveying the needs of teachers, assessing current practices, setting yearly goals, adjusting PD to meet these goals, and utilizing evidence-based adult SEL programming.  There are many resources for team planning including the excellent CASEL District Resource Guide, the CASEL School Guide, or the Washington State SEL Implementation Guide.

As I and colleagues have detailed elsewhere, strengthening adult SEL capacity needs to be done thoughtfully at the state, district, and school building levels.  In the US, we are fortunate that ARP funds can be used for this purpose. 

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. -Richard Buckminster Fuller


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