Methods. Data come from the CalHope Initiative. This sample includes educational leaders serving in county offices (40.5%), district offices (12.9%), and school sites (46.6%). Like the teaching workforce of the state of California (CDC, 2021), 62% of participants identified as White. Participants were asked: “Without consulting any resources, how would YOU currently describe what SEL is?”. Data were analyzed along several dimensions, including the goals of SEL, the extent to which SEL was student or system oriented, the presence of the five CASEL competencies, T-SEL elaborations, and the use of other lenses/frames. The primary rater coded deductively and added emergent codes iteratively. A second-rater coded a random sample of the data (O’Connor & Joffe, 2020) achieving “good” agreement (Pooled Cohen’s Kappa=0.71; Landis & Koch, 1977).
Results. Goals for SEL include academic achievement, well-being, resilience, and success, with less emphasis on societal impacts. SEL was described as equally student-facing and systemic. SEL was defined using CASEL’s competencies, emphasizing self-awareness, self-management, and relationship skills. Social awareness and responsible decision-making were mentioned less frequently. Elements of T-SEL were limited, and focused on positive identity development and diversity, equity, and cultural competency rather than power and anti-racism. Consistent with prior studies (Loeb, 2016), the most common alternative lenses were whole child development and emotional intelligence. SEL was additionally defined as a tool for managing trauma, mental health issues, and self-care.
Conclusions/Implications. Educator definitions of SEL, emphasizing mental health needs, may reflect the COVID-19 pandemic. However, definitions are less reflective of the racial reckoning. Fewer themes focused on social awareness, societal impacts, T-SEL, and anti-racism. The latter elements should be further embedded in conceptualizations of SEL to advance equity and alleviate systemic oppression. Although Transformative SEL was highlighted by a few respondents, we conclude it has not yet taken hold. More dissemination of T-SEL is required to achieve ambitious equity goals.