August 2018

Recharge Your Program with SEL

By Dana Karas
The summer months are an optimal time to not only recharge ourselves by spending time with family and friends, but to also recharge ourselves professionally. This is especially true when looking to the broad range of opportunities that exist to re-energize our comprehensive school counseling programs. As New Jersey school counselors, we are fortunate to have the support and guidance of the Department of Education as it relates to infusing social/emotional learning (SEL) into our daily best practices.
Social/emotional learning is not a new concept, but a reframing of practices that address how students and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy toward others and make responsible decisions. For a clear and concise understanding of SEL competencies and sub-competencies, I encourage you to become familiar with the work approved at the state level in August 2017. View the NJ SEL competencies 
So, what does SEL implementation look like at various grade levels and in school settings? This article does not provide an exhaustive list, but it offers viable and easily implemented strategies that enhance overall school climate and culture. SEL competencies provide all students with the knowledge, attitudes and skills required for personal and academic success.
The majority of elementary school counselors are quite familiar with the tenets of character education. SEL is simply an expansion of the wonderful character programming that may already exist within your school. Those already conducting monthly lessons related to character themes can shift to organizing lessons around the five SEL competencies (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision making, and relationship skills). To ensure consistency in how the message is developed, the DOE also highly recommends setting aside time each day to reinforce the knowledge and skills that we want our students to practice. Then, when faced with challenges, students will be prepared to employ this information is a real-world setting. Although prepared and packaged resources are available, school counselors can work with staff to adapt a wide array of personally prepared materials.
At the middle and high school level, school-wide implementation is most successful when integrated into the regular school curricula. Dr. Maurice Elias, a state and national leader in SEL, has recently created a program entitled STAT (Students Taking Action Together). STAT provides school counselors and teachers with specific classroom strategies framed around increased communication aligned to SEL competencies. Schools opting for classroom implementation should ensure that intentions are communicated and that a system of collaboration is imbedded into the school structure.
As a school counselor, you are well positioned to ensure the successful implementation of SEL. As master’s-level professionals, counselors have the appropriate training and preparation to serve as change agents within their schools. This is inclusive of both the knowledge and application of information as it relates to student developmental needs. Working with students throughout the learning spectrum, school counselors approach their work and appreciate the impact of efforts from a system-wide perspective. Finally, SEL addresses all three counseling domains – social/emotional, academic and career – that can be aligned to national counseling mindsets and behaviors.
School counselors interested in professional experiences and development related to SEL can seek opportunities through the New Jersey Alliance for Social, Emotional and Character Development, an organization that annually recognizes schools and programs that exemplify outstanding practices. And, through a collaborative venture between Rutger’s and the College of Saint Elizabeth, counselors may earn certification in social-emotional learning and character development. Learn about this certification program
Regardless of your approach, remember that all SEL programming must be comprehensive, coordinated and linked to your school’s academic program and to connections made with the larger community. Following this foundation, the benefits will be long-lasting and impactful for overall student development and growth.
Contact Dana Karas, NJSCA past president, at