A Schoolwide Approach to Promoting Well-Being, Social-Emotional Learning, and Positive Mental Health
Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them.
I Peter 5:2 (NIV)
by Jenny Williams, SCSBC Director of Educational Support Services ◊
There is a high importance during the worldwide pandemic to focus on the social and emotional well-being of all our children and youth. The pandemic brings with it an increased concern about mental health and other factors that affect the well-being of children, including levels of heightened stress and anxiety. We know that one in five children suffer from mental health disorders1 and yet we also know that many of the problems associated with these disorders can be prevented.2 Social and emotional learning is foundational to the promotion of positive mental health, success in school, physical health and overall well-being. The long-term effect of social-emotional learning in schools is reduced mental health disorders and better educational and economic achievement.3 Research demonstrates that well-implemented social-emotional programs promote positive development, reduce problem behaviours, and also improve students’ academic performance, citizenship, and health-related behaviours.4 We also know that social and emotional skills are malleable and can be taught.5
These skills underly all aspects of human functioning and help us to be more successful in school and in life.6 The development of strong social and emotional skills leads to well-being.
Social-emotional skills include being able to:
control your behaviour
have empathy for others
put yourself in someone else’s shoes
make and keep friends
manage conflicts with others
build relationship skills
be aware of your strengths and weaknesses
make responsible and ethical decisions
Outcomes of Strong Social-Emotional Skills
Social and emotional factors have long range implications. Children with strong social and emotional skills not only do better in school; they get along better with others and have more happiness and well-being. They also predict several long-term life outcomes. Children with stronger social and emotional skills are more likely to have stable employment, graduate from high school, finish post-secondary education, and have better social and emotional mental health in adulthood.
Developing a Schoolwide Systematic Approach to SEL
Any social and emotional learning approach needs to have more than just a one-time focus. It requires a schoolwide approach where everyone has an opportunity to give their input for developing systematic ways to approach the social and emotional learning and well-being of students. What we need to do is have a schoolwide approach and not just one program, but everyone together thinking about systemic ways to approach social and emotional learning and well-being of students. This includes a focus on schoolwide processes and policies such as discipline approaches and embedding social and emotional learning in the doors and the floors, and the pores, in every aspect of the school. We need to pay attention to creating a supportive school and classroom environment so children and adults feel safe, that they feel that they can participate and have their voices heard.
Systemic Social-Emotional Learning
Systemic SEL is an approach to create equitable learning conditions that actively involve all Pre-K to Grade 12 students in learning and practicing social, emotional, and academic competencies. These conditions require aligned policies, resources, and actions at state and district levels that encourage local schools and communities to enhance the personal and professional capacities of adults to: implement and continuously improve evidence-based programs and practices; create an inclusive culture that fosters caring relationships and youth voice, agency, and character; and support coordinated school-family-community partnerships to enhance student development.⁸
Assessment and Growth Plan for Well-being and SEL
The Assessment and Growth Plan Toolkit for Well-being and Social-Emotional Learning was developed by Dr. Kimberly Schonert-Reichl and Jenny Williams and published in 2020. It provides an easy-to-use and flexible assessment and growth plan for schools that took a systematic approach. This will allow schools to move forward a social and emotional learning plan with intention. They wanted to include resources to draw from research and experts in the field. The goal was for the Toolkit to help schools to develop healthy behaviours, relationships, and choices in children and youth and adult educators that will continue throughout their lifetime. The Toolkit facilitates a systematic rather than piecemeal approach to schoolwide well-being and social-emotional learning improvement. The diagram (page 13) shows the four pillars of schoolwide well-being and SEL in the Toolkit.
Process for Schoolwide Change and Growth
The process for schoolwide change and growth involves change management and the conditions that we know we need to have in place before a school brings about change. It is important to be intentional about taking a system-wide approach to social and emotional learning and well-being. For people to work together there needs to be a high degree of relational trust and an ability to listen to one another in the whole school community, including the students, staff, families, and community partners.
It is essential to begin this process by hearing from everyone, developing an awareness of the process, and going through the Toolkit to let parents, teachers, and students know that this process is going to take place. It involves developing a school leadership team and establishing how progress is going to be communicated, as well as creating the space for everyone to contribute. Everyone will be affected by the change so everyone should have a stake in it. This graphic illustrates the seven phases of the continuous schoolwide improvement process. Begin with building a leaderships team and progress through each of the phases.
When schools make a commitment to developing the well-being and social and emotional learning of their students, it is prudent to check on how much buy-in there is in this process. Develop a plan to involve the whole school community, including parents and community members, in the process that is collaborative and allows opportunities for feedback. It is helpful to build in time in this process to allow for reflection and gaining feedback from staff, students, and parents/guardians on how things are going. Consider ways to sustain the growth and celebrate successes along the way. The Toolkit will allow schools an easy way to start and sustain growth that will have ongoing impact.
The Assessment and Growth Plan Toolkit for Well-being and Social-Emotional Learning, can be accessed at the following link on the
Well-Being BC website: www.wellbeingbc.ca/school-toolkit
1. Mental Health Commission of Canada (2016). Making the Case for investing in Mental Health in Canada. Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/sites/default/files/2016-06/Investing_in_Mental_Health_FINAL_Version_ENG.pdf
2. World Health Organization (2004). Prevention of Mental Disorders: Effective Interventions and Policy Options. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/en/prevention_of_mental_disorders_sr.pdf
3. Schonert-Reichl, K. & Hymel, S. (2017). Social and Emotional Learning: Recent Research and Practical Strategies for Educators, in Holbrook, C, McCarthy, T. & Kamei-Hannan, C. (ed.). Foundations of Education: Volume 1: History and Theory of Teaching Children and Youths with Visual Impairments. New York: AFB Press, pp. 471-487.
4. Schonert-Reichl, K., & Weissberg, R. (2014). Social and Emotional Learning During Childhood, in Gullotta, T. & Bloom, M. (eds.), in Encyclopedia of Primary Prevention and Health Promotion, 2nd edition (pp. 936-949). New York: Springer Press.
5. Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor & Schellinger (2011). The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis Of School-Based Universal Interventions.
6. (K. Schonert-Reichl. Personal Interview. July 15, 2020).
7. Adapted from World Health Organization (2005). Promoting Mental Health; Concepts, Emerging Evidence, Practice.
8. Mohoney, J., Weissberg, R., Greenberg, M., Dusenbury, l., Jagers, R., Niemi, K., Schlinger, M., Schlund, J., Shriver, T., VanAusdal, K. & Yoder, N. (2020). Systemic Social and Emotional Learning: Promoting Educational Success for All Preschool to High School Students.
9. Bryk, T. & Schneider, B. (2003). Trust in Schools: A Core Resource for School Reform. Educational Leadership, Volume 60, Number 6.
10. Sarason, S. (1982). The Culture of School and the Problem of Change (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.