Essex Regional School District (MA): Engaging Staff to Launch SEL Program

Q&A with principal Jennifer Roberts and her insight and guidance that others can leverage to launch a successful SEL program in their school.

We sat down for a Q&A with Jennifer Roberts, principal of Essex Elementary, Manchester Essex Regional School District (MA), to talk about the social and emotional learning (SEL) program she began in her school. We were particularly interested in how she was able to engage staff and gain their support for SEL. Robert’s experiences can provide insight and guidance for others looking to launch a successful SEL program.

How did you achieve staff buy-in for your SEL implementation?

Any successful implementation depends on staff who are excited and invested in the program. Find your cheerleaders and get them to drive the bus. If you get the right people involved, they will become resident SEL experts and will really own the program and make it a success.

How did you roll out your SEL implementation with your staff?

We started out with a couple teachers who were willing to try out SEL. These teachers piloted the program the first year, and the following fall, they helped train the rest of the staff when we rolled out our full SEL program. This really helped us increase buy-in while reducing training costs.

What did your SEL staff training process look like?

At our school, two teachers did the webinar on the DESSA with me and then they trained the rest of the teachers in the assessment tool. This made the training process more manageable. This model worked in every aspect and even brought along teachers who may have initially resisted SEL.

Did you encounter any challenges along the way?

Our first year, we integrated SEL into our PBIS framework. We found our first model was too rigid and deficit-focused. The following year, we moved to a strength-based model and that has worked much better for our students and staff.

What words of advice do you have for other schools looking to start an SEL program?

Teachers and counselors have so much on their plates. Respect their time. SEL training and implementation require planning. Be sure to set aside staff development, faculty meetings, or common planning time to give teachers the opportunity to plan SEL lessons and administer SEL assessments.

Any final thoughts or remarks about the success of your SEL program?

I am lucky that I have an amazing staff who is invested in the best interests of our students. Our program is so successful because they are doing the work and are passionate about our students.

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