Michigan: Connecting SEL to School Improvement and Academic Standards

In 2015, the Michigan Department of Education’s (MDE’s) Office of School Health and Safety reached out to the GTL Center and Great Lakes Comprehensive Center (GLCC) to support their social and emotional learning (SEL) efforts as part of the sustainability plan in their Safe, Supportive Schools (S3) grant. Through their S3 grant, MDE measured school climate in districts throughout the state and learned that schools needed resources to support student social and emotional development.

Working Across Offices

As a first step in the process, staff from the Office of School Health and Safety, with GTL Center and GLCC staff support, convened a cross-office meeting to identify the goals and priorities for their SEL effort and to learn how each office understands the connection points between their work and SEL. The cross-office meeting included staff from special education, educator effectiveness, early childhood, field services, college and career readiness, teacher preparation, and school improvement. During these meetings, MDE staff identified the general lack of clarity on what social and emotional competencies are and what they look like developmentally from birth to Grade 12 as a key challenge to address.

Collaborating on Competencies

To address this issue, MDE staff decided to first develop Michigan SEL Competencies. The competencies include developmental indicators, which showcase the developmental progressions of social and emotional competencies (similar to academic standards), as well as strategies to support teachers as they develop student social and personal competencies. GTL Center and GLCC staff provided collaborative support to MDE staff while they led the development of the Michigan SEL Competencies. GTL Center staff offered a national perspective by providing resources and guidance from other states and districts who have previously engaged in this work, as well as connecting MDE to the Great Lakes Equity Center to provide a cultural competence review of the draft SEL competencies. In addition, GTL Center and GLCC staff cofacilitated meetings with the SEL writing team as they developed the Michigan SEL Competencies, providing thought partnership and content expertise during the meetings.

Using Stakeholder Feedback to Strengthen Implementation

After completing the Michigan SEL Competencies, MDE staff developed implementation resources to share the work with educators in the state. GTL Center and GLCC staff connected MDE with a variety of tools and resources that other states and districts developed to support their own SEL efforts and provided writing and feedback support in developing the first draft of the Michigan SEL implementation guide. To ensure this tool met the needs of the field, MDE engaged stakeholders through focus groups to obtain their feedback on the Michigan SEL Competencies and implementation guide. Feedback from educators helped MDE step back, take a second look at the structure of the guide, and consider additional information gathering needed to better tailor the guide to meet educators’ needs.

Aligning SEL With School Improvement and Academic Standards

Specifically, MDE and GTL Center staff visited select Michigan districts already engaged in SEL efforts. District and school-level staff found that it was helpful to connect SEL to other efforts, such as Michigan’s School Improvement Framework, and to academic standards. Given this feedback, MDE staff worked with the GTL Center and GLCC staff, as well as connected with multiple offices within MDE, to develop a new implementation guide structured specifically to connect SEL to Michigan’s School Improvement Framework. In addition, MDE, GTL Center, and GLCC staff engaged a group of educators to help align the Michigan SEL Competencies to academic standards. Combined, these documents support educators in:

  • Understanding what SEL is and why it is important;
  • Identifying how social and emotional competencies develop over time;
  • Implementing strategies to create a schoolwide SEL effort; and
  • Embedding classroom practices that support the social, emotional, and academic development of students.

State Feedback

According to Lauren Kazee, consultant at MDE, the GTL Center and GLCC’s support was crucial for the development of Michigan’s SEL guidance: “We wouldn’t have it if it wasn’t for the centers’ support.… [T]hey did so much of the legwork on the implementation guidance.”

In addition, the early cross-office collaboration that the centers supported paid important dividends later in the work. Kazee cited the cross-office partnerships that grew out of these early meetings as crucial for buy-in: “To me, one of the biggest successes has been having a collaborative reach at the department…to be able to say that this project has been a collaborative effort, that school improvement and special education, and early childhood, all these different offices have had a part in the development of this work and so they all have ownership in it.… There has been buy-in from every single office.”

After the competencies and guidance were launched online, Kazee saw the fruits of this buy-in during the rollout and dissemination phase. Staff from across offices ensured Kazee had opportunities to present about the SEL competencies at multiple conferences across the state with a range of education audiences—from school leaders to social workers.

Future Work

In 2018, GTL Center staff will support MDE staff as they develop five online modules (with GLCC staff support) for educators as they begin to implement their SEL efforts. In addition, GTL Center staff will help MDE identify communication strategies to share about the SEL work and disseminate the online modules. Finally, the GTL Center may potentially work with MDE to support pilot testing some of the online modules, tools and resources.

Michigan Partners

Lauren Kazee
Mental Health Consultant
Michigan Department of Community Health

Key Resources

Michigan SEL Resources

GTL SEL Resources