The adoption of a whole-school approach to developing social and emotional learning (such as the SEAL programme) has major implications for schools and the professional development of the adults who work within them. For the first time, all teachers within a school (not just ‘specialists’) are being expected to deliver some form of SEAL curriculum. We know that if SEAL is to deliver the benefits that the evidence base suggests it can, all adults need to be involved in modelling, encouraging and scaffolding ‘incidental’ learning in this area (for example, encouraging children to use ‘peaceful problem-solving’ to sort out disagreements, to use their calming-down strategies, to keep going when they are frustrated or disappointed, to make wise choices). Yet how many of us working in schools were lucky enough to be offered opportunities to develop our own skills in these areas, or taught to support the development of these skills in the children and young people that we teach through our own education or training? Certainly not this author!

For these reasons effective staff development in the area of SEAL is one of the most crucial factors in successfully implementing and embedding SEAL However, it is often the staff development component that is the most neglected in practice. Of course, there are many reasons for this: so many priorities jostling for attention; too little time available; and, for some, the slightly uncomfortable feel of some of the subject matter itself, focusing as it does, at least partly, on our own skills in this area as well as on the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of teaching.

Given the importance of CPD, how can it be delivered in a way that is manageable, practical and effective? In this article a case study is presented which outlines a model of local authority and within-school CPD in SEAL which schools have evaluated as effective and manageable. It aims to tease out the most useful learning in the hope that this will be useful to other schools and authorities planning a programme of CPD in this area. Sample CPD strategies for primary and secondary schools are also offered.

The case study
The case study described took place in a small local authority in Wales, and involved approximately 40 schools, a mixture of infant, primary and secondary, a special school for children with a range of learning difficulties and a pupil referral unit.

Our starting point was to be clear about what we meant by effective CPD. Through discussion, we agreed upon the following definition:

Effective CPD is that which promotes a positive attitude towards the subject matter, fosters staff confidence in the area and develops the competence appropriate to participants’ roles in order to bring about sustainable changes in practice which have a positive effect on children and young people’s learning and development.

It was agreed that given the difficulty in finding the time and space for professional development (in any area) and the need for schools to allocate time for this if SEAL was to be effectively implemented, we would need to follow a number of principles. A review of the literature in the area offered some starting points, which we formulated in the following way:

CPD in this area should:

  • At the level of the local authority: involve two members of staff from each school and include one senior leader (in order to ensure that a whole-school focus was adopted which located social and emotional learning at the heart of the teaching and learning agenda, rather than as a ‘bolt-on’ or with relevance only to SEN or pastoral staff).
  • At the level of the school:
    • be ongoing and strategically planned (ie not a one-off session but a structured programme over time)
    • be differentiated according to the differing context and roles of the adults in the school
    • have clear aims and practical objectives for each planned session within each stage
    • involve regular reviews with feedback from staff
    • acknowledge that process is as important as content and that all professional development opportunities should model a safe and empowering environment
    • include structured collaborative working within partnerships and networks
    • enable interested staff to access opportunities for pursuing further professional development and accreditation, up to Master’s level.

The process
The local authority agreed to fund three professional development days for two members of staff from each school in the authority, including one member of the senior leadership team (SLT) and one who would be involved in the operational implementation of SEAL. On agreeing to be involved in the initiative the schools committed to including the implementation of SEAL in their school development plans, to ensure that it would have an appropriately high profile and that adequate resources would be allocated.

The training days took place approximately two months apart. This enabled schools to take a staged approach in implementing SEAL, and provided school leaders and coordinators with a range of ‘tools’ – information, activities and PowerPoint presentations – to draw upon when planning and delivering their within-school programme of CPD. The provision of practical support aimed to avoid the ‘reinvention of the wheel’ syndrome, while providing flexibility in recognition that the needs and contexts of schools would be different.

During the training days schools were asked to commit to (and were supported in developing) a strategic action plan for CPD which included the elements listed in the sample CPD strategies for primary and secondary schools (below). Over a period of two academic years, reflecting the different stages of CPD: the initial ‘sell’ (the innovation stage); developing the skills to try it out (the implementation stage); and embedding SEAL (the institutionalisation stage) – ensuring that if the SEAL coordinator or champions left, SEAL would continue in the same way, just as literacy provision would. They were further supported in this by the local authority SEAL representative (the author), who visited each school to support and monitor progress in staff development as well as with other aspects of the implementation and embedding of SEAL (such as ensuring that it was mapped to the PSE and, in some cases, RE curriculum and linked to initiatives already going on in the school).

In addition, schools were encouraged to work collaboratively, and network days were organised for them to share practice and successes, as well as to provide a school-to-school problem-solving forum, with the intention that such sessions would continue, managed by the schools themselves. More recently, lead schools have been identified to provide informal support to schools within their areas, with plans to formalise these arrangements in the pipeline.

Staff in the lead schools identified were offered the opportunity to further develop their knowledge and skills in the area through attending a five-day Certificate in SEAL course (optional accreditation at 60 Master’s credits by the University of Northampton), as a key strategy for building capacity and ensuring sustainability within the authority and schools, through providing a ‘core’ of expertise and inspiration.

Sample CPD strategy for use within primary schools
There are three stages of CPD that need to be followed:

  • The innovation stage: setting up a working party to meet regularly and plan strategically and operationally, consisting of SLT representative; SEAL coordinator(s); PSE coordinator; Healthy Schools coordinator; and staff emotional health and wellbeing coordinator, with others contributing to work in this area. (This group operates throughout each of the three stages).
  • The initial ‘sell’. Whole-school awareness and introduction session for all staff (including support staff – TAs, lunchtime supervisors, admin and caretaking staff where possible) with the active support of SLT. The aims of this session are to ensure that staff share an understanding of why the school is ‘doing SEAL’, what it is, how it works and what the potential benefits are for pupils, staff and the school.
  • Staff meeting to launch a pilot theme – giving opportunities to voice concerns, look at resources and begin planning within directed time.
  • Staff review meeting after a term’s pilot to agree how to take the programme forward. Revisiting of issues and concerns raised previously, and discussion about ‘what went well’ and ‘what we need to change’.

The implementation stage
Staff meetings planned in for the six remaining themes over a two-year cycle (using the ‘purple set’ materials) with a brief review of each theme. These meetings included an introduction to the ‘whole-school resources’ (posters, processes such as peaceful problem-solving, emotional barometers, group checklists and so on) relevant to the particular theme. They also enabled staff to consider how initiatives and approaches that the school was already using (eg critical skills, values education, thinking skills, playground buddies) fitted into the overall SEAL approach.

  • Training in peaceful problem-solving, calming-down techniques, encouraging the use of social skills and so on for lunch-time supervisors and other support staff.
  • Providing the necessary CPD opportunities for schools to provide a continuum of provision at Waves 1, 2 and 3, and to implement Family SEAL.

The institutionalisation stage

  • Staff inset or meetings focused on making SEAL cross-curricular and developing links to related programmes and initiatives such as Forest School, and out of hours learning.
  • A programme of governor and parent awareness/development sessions.
  • Induction in SEAL opportunities for new staff.
  • An ongoing programme of staff inset focusing on continuous improvement in creating an emotionally secure environment (including staff skills) and to promote staff and pupil EHWB.

Secondary schools
In discussion with secondary colleagues, it was agreed that the stages of the primary model, and many of its elements, were appropriate to the secondary context, but that as a result of their size, staff numbers and more complex structure, some modifications to the model were necessary. In order to ‘get SEAL going’ it was felt that following a whole-school awareness/exploration session on the importance of this area for teaching and learning (which left some maths and science teachers sceptical, but enthused teachers in English, drama, PE and many other departments!), that the most manageable place to start was in implementing the explicit SEAL curriculum in Y7 at the implementation stage. The main changes to the primary model included:

  • An initial Y7 team meeting for staff who would be ‘delivering’ the Y7 explicit curriculum (generally tutors, PSE staff and the MOS in charge of transition arrangements) to introduce the first themes, with plans to introduce and review the remaining themes termly.
  • A rolling programme of discussion between the SEAL team and department heads focusing on how they could reinforce and help to embed the skills being taught within subject lessons, agreeing mechanisms for learning to be cascaded within departmental meetings to all subject teachers.
  • The planned involvement of other ‘key players’ (eg pastoral leads, the SEN department, learning mentors and outreach workers) to ensure that the explicit curriculum was built upon and dovetailed with similar work going on for groups and individuals.

The model outlined within this article has been found to be manageable and effective by the schools involved, with over 90% of schools within the authority having accessed the local authority training and in the process of implementing their CPD SEAL strategy in school.

The impact of the model is currently being evaluated in an (interim) report by the author for the authority. Perhaps more usefully, schools have been generous in sharing their own learning from the process and their tips are listed in the box below.

Tips for planning and delivering CPD in SEAL

  • In the initial ‘sell’, aim to get a critical mass on board – you won’t convince everyone!
  • Draw on local expertise – get an enthusiatic head or coordinator from a neighbouring SEAL school to come and talk.
  • At the initial stages, expect and plan for resistance – sometimes it’s best not to counter resistence with facts and figures, but to note the points made, ask the person to ‘suspend their disbelief and give it a
  • go’ and promise to discuss them again if they are still a problem after a trial period.
  • Making hard copies of the resources available to staff at the theme introduction meetings (at least for the first couple of themes) makes a real difference – when people are asked to ‘look on the disk’, a sizeable proportion just won’t get round to it!
  • Give time within inset or staff meetings for staff to familiarise themselves with the materials and plan together.
  • Model valuing staff and making the process emotionally safe. Think Maslow’s hierarchy and make SEAL training different! Provide good quality sustenance, a comfortable atmosphere, maybe some music and a ‘check-in’ at the beginning. Check if people are feeling OK at the end of the session, and offer an opportunity to debrief Eastenders-style: ‘if you have been affected by the issues raised…’
  • Encourage the development of openness and trust by using warm-ups and fun activities – many are provided in the materials themselves.
  • Use experiential activities – the purple sets and secondary training materials provide a wide choice.
  • Consider the emotional risk involved in activities to individuals – prepare people in advance if you know that a particular area might be difficult for them (eg a session on grief or bullying).
  • Remember that SEAL PD is professional development – be careful not to allow it to cross over into group therapy (do not start a session, as one coordinator did, with the words, ‘We obviously can’t teach children to be emotionally literate until we have sorted out our own emotional baggage’!)

Using the Seconday SEAL materials
Secondary SEAL proposes a four-step process to staff development that incorporates it with curriculum planning – saving time and making the whole process more meaningful.

Step 1
Exploration and development of understanding for each theme through staff development.

Step 2
This involves considering how the skills might be learned most effectively both in terms of where in the curriculum and pedagogical approach.

Step 3
Involves the collaborative development of learning opportunities, possibly involving example learning opportunities from SEAL as a starting point or published material.

Step 4
This is seen as an essential part of the process. It involves trying out the opportunities and reflecting upon the effectiveness of the learning that took place.

Read the introductory booklet. Remember to download any information you need from the National Strategies website as resources may be archived when the Strategies’ contract ends in 2011.

Julie Casey is senior director of the SEAL Consultancy

Useful resources

  • Primary purple sets
  • Secondary SEAL staff development
  • Antidote, 2003, The Emotional Literacy Handbook – Promoting Whole School Strategies, David Fulton Publishers, London
  • Devaney et al, 2005, Sustainable Schoolwide Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), Chicago
  • Morris E and Casey J, 2006 Developing Emotionally Literate Staff – a Practical Guide, Paul Chapman Publishing, London
  • Weare K, 2004, Developing the Emotionally Literate School, Paul Chapman Publishing, London (second edition now available)