Since January 2011, the Austin Independent School District (Austin ISD), which has 85,000 students and 129 schools, has been planning and leading systemic social and emotional learning (SEL) implementation as one of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning's (CASEL) eight collaborating districts.

During an initial planning year, Austin created an SEL design team of district administrators to conduct a districtwide needs assessment. It also created an SEL advisory team comprised of teachers, principals, representatives from community organizations doing child and youth development work, and other community stakeholders. As part of the design phase, the district created an SEL department to lead the work. The team decided to use the existing vertical teams based on school feeder patterns to manage the SEL rollout, starting with two such teams comprised of 27 schools. Today, nine teams are involved, representing 101 of the district's 128 schools. Each school has a point person (often the counselor) who plays a key role in implementation and serves as a liaison with district's SEL department.

Austin has a three-pronged SEL model: explicit, evidence-based instruction; embedding SEL into classroom climate, culture, and curriculum; and integration across the school day. SEL looks different across grade levels. In high schools, explicit instruction can take the form of an advisory meeting—a regular meeting of a small group of students with a teacher over the course of the year—focused on different SEL behaviors and attitudes, or a semester-long course focused on SEL as well as study skills. And in elementary schools, Second Step provides an evidence-based resource for classroom instruction.

Although still in the early stages of rollout, the SEL department already has identified several lessons:

  • SEL coaches are essential to support each school.
  • The SEL initiative must be accompanied by change management efforts and building buy-in at each school and across the district.
  • Supporting principals in their SEL development is important for success.

Learn more about Austin Independent School District at The Bridgespan Group.