Transformative Social-Emotional Learning

Transformative SEL (T-SEL) Professional Development at Urban Teachers

Observing a need for additional training for teachers in the cities we serve, Urban Teachers developed five online, self-paced professional development learning modules corresponding to the Collaborative for Academic (CASEL), Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) framework, emphasizing the transformative SEL equity elaborations described in the chart below. Additional scholarly resources used to develop our T-SEL program can be found here.

Launched in 2021, the five online, self-paced modules are full of interactive, reflective exercises and resources including sample activities and lesson plans. Each module comes with two hours of one-on-one clinical support with an Urban Teachers T-SEL specialist. During the 2021-2022 school year, we piloted the modules with 80 Urban Teachers Fellows in Baltimore, Dallas and Washington, DC.

Urban Teachers is also conducting a randomized controlled trial of our T-SEL endeavor with our research partner, the American Institutes for Research. The study will determine how the T-SEL modules can support: 

— Teachers’ perceptions, knowledge and use of T-SEL in the classroom. 

— Students’ perceptions of self, others, school, classroom safety and inclusion. 

— Improvement of standardized test scores in math and English language arts. 

— Decreased absences and disciplinary incidents. 

Starting in Fall 2022, more Urban Teachers participants will have the opportunity to partake in this exciting and important professional development opportunity and our modules will be available to district, charter school and community partners. Anyone interested in taking the professional development or acquiring it for their school(s) can reach out to [email protected] for more information.   

What is T-SEL?

Transformative SEL refers to a set of competencies necessary to ensure a relationship-based partnership between students and teachers. Closely connected to the concept of social emotional development and its importance in the learning process, T-SEL is used to examine root causes of inequity and work toward solutions that emphasize personal, community and societal well-being.

Components of T-SEL based instruction include:

— Partnerships between students and adults that focus on power sharing and decision making.

— Integrating issues of race, culture, and class into academic content.

— Honoring students’ individual cultures and lived experiences.

— Opportunities to reflect on personal and social identities, examine prejudices and biases, disrupting and resisting inequities, and co-constructing equitable and just solutions.

— Emphasizing students’ ability to work toward more just schools and communities.

— Creating belonging and engagement for all.

T-SEL is an outgrowth of the Social Emotional Learning (SEL) framework first popularized in the 1990s by researchers and educators working to prevent violence and drug use, and emphasize good choices, school-community connections, and responsibility. Since then, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has become a leader in the SEL movement, bringing together educators and policy makers to prioritize evidence-based SEL in support of student learning and development.

The CASEL SEL framework, which Urban Teachers embraces in its new transformative approach to build equity in urban classrooms, emphasizes a set of five competencies — self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making. By developing such competencies in each student and teacher, we intend to create learning environments where academic success as well as school and civic engagement are both essential and possible. The T-SEL framework elaborates on this by adding additional focus on equity-based concepts of identity, agency, belonging, collaborative problem solving and curiosity.


“Explicitly teaching students to recognize a feeling and then select a positive self-management strategy is necessary for creating a classroom culture that feels safe. Positive self-management strategies will be important skills for students to have outside the classroom and later in life.”

Bryan LaRosa (Urban Teachers Cohort 2019), Language Acquisition Teacher, McFarland Middle School, Washington, DC

“If we were able to openly express ourselves and talk about the subjects that are normally touchy, scholars will be more informed not only about themselves, but also about other races. This will lead to us having less personal biases and becoming more open-minded.”

Ja’Mecha McKinney, Kindergarten Teacher, Friendship PCS (SY20-21), Washington, DC

"When we provide a variety of ways to motivate students, classrooms can become a place where all learners are more motivated and engaged. I have been trying to be more intentional about incorporating different types of motivational opportunities to help engage all the learners in my class."

Alexa Rizzuto (Urban Teachers Cohort 2019), 4th Grade Math and Science Teacher, Highlandtown Elementary Middle School, Baltimore

Why T-SEL?

SEL has been shown to have myriad positive impacts on students’ lives and academic performance. Quality SEL instruction and skills can promote positive development, improve academic performance and mental health, predict positive long-term outcomes such as high school graduation and stable employment, as well as improve teacher wellbeing while reducing exhaustion and burnout. 

Through addressing the missing equity links in the original SEL framework, we believe T-SEL will have a similar or better effect, especially for children in the cities we serve, where students are impacted daily by persistent inequity and injustice. In line with Urban Teachers’ mission to prepare culturally competent teachers who disrupt systems of socioeconomic and racial inequity, as well as our commitment to anti-racism, we are concerned about the criticism that SEL has faced over failing to meet the needs of students of color. We are also greatly concerned by the disproportionate negative psychosocial impact of COVID-19 on children of color and its corresponding mental health crisis. As such, Urban Teachers deliberately committed to T-SEL as the focus of its professional development program.