Niles Community Schools Curriculum

Frequently Asked Questions

What is SEL, exactly?

SEL stands for Social Emotional Learning. SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.

Things like self-awareness and good communication can be considered SEL skills, but they also fall under the category of soft skills. The importance of these “soft skills” in future success can be seen in the U.S. Department of Education Employability Skills Framework. Additionally, a recent Forbes Article highlights five traits for successful leaders. Four of these can be tied directly to the SEL competencies outlined by CASEL, the key organization behind driving standards for academic and social-emotional learning. 

What is CASEL?

CASEL stands for the Collaborative for Academic and Social Emotional Learning. They are a large network of educators, parents, child advocates, and researchers. In 1994, they first introduced the term Social Emotional Learning, and since then, have done extensive research on the positive effects of SEL skill building with young people.  Many schools throughout the country utilize their resources to determine what steps to take when implementing SEL programs.

Can’t parents just teach these skills at home?

Although it’s commonly thought that some students simply know how to behave when they enter the school doors, it’s important to make sure expectations and social skills are directly taught to every student. These skills can be taught both at home and in the classroom.  We want to partner with parents in teaching these skills so all students are equipped to manage themselves and their relationships with others in the school setting and beyond.

Despite the fact that it is sometimes treated this way, a Social Emotional Learning program isn’t an antidote for the side effects of youth, academic achievement, or behavioral gaps. It’s the means by which we can open all students up to the possibility that they could learn more about knowing themselves, relating to others, and making responsible decisions.

As is the case with traditional academics, families are a key component to the social emotional success of every child. One of our programs, Second Step, builds on the research that demonstrates how a strong home and school partnership can enhance the effectiveness of SEL for children. In fact, Second Step even has a home component. Further, the most effective programs partner with community organizations to provide opportunities for students to practice SEL skills. These partnerships could include summer programming, before/after school providers like daycares and YMCA programming, businesses, and non-profits.


Does the State of Michigan require SEL for all students just like math, reading, science, and social studies?

SEL is an area of focus for the Michigan Department of Education (MDE). MDE has an 8 goal strategic plan, and goal 3 explicitly discusses SEL. That strategic plan can be found here. Just like in traditional academic subjects like math and reading, the MDE has adopted standards for SEL in Michigan’s schools. These standards are for PreK through 12th grade and can be found here. Additionally, MDE cites building SEL skills as a strategy for accelerated learning (details here). As mentioned later, the Board of Education has adopted SEL programs to meet these standards and meet the SEL needs of our students.


Why is NCS focusing on this instead of focusing on improving test scores?

According to a 2011 study involving over 275,000 students, students who participate in SEL programs score 11 percentile points higher than students who do not participate in SEL programs. This means if a student is as good or better than 75% of their peers in math standardized tests, they will become as good or better than 86% of their peers in math by engaging in schoolwide SEL. In other words, SEL provides skills students can utilize to be more present and successful in the traditional academic setting.


Why is NCS spending money on these programs? Is it smart to put money into these programs when money can be put in so many other places?

According to a 2015 review from Columbia University, SEL programs produce a return on investment of 11 to 1. This means for every dollar spent on schoolwide SEL, we can expect to save 11 dollars that would otherwise need to go to other programs that aren’t as effective in helping our students succeed.

Will teaching kids SEL prevent them from learning how to do it on their own and form relationships on their own?

According to CASEL, the research is clear that the most effective way to teach SEL skills that has long-lasting effects on young people is through explicit, direct instruction with opportunities to practice. Second Step provides a coordinated and connected curriculum to teach these skills. 

Why didn’t I have SEL when I was in school?

In the grand scheme of education, SEL as a concept is in its infancy. The first state to adopt SEL standards did so in 2004. Much of the research that shows the positive effects of SEL instruction has been published in the last 15 years. Michigan first adopted SEL standards in 2017 (mentioned above).

Why do today’s students need SEL?

Long Term Benefits: The long-term benefits of SEL instruction are clear: research has measured a link between SEL instruction and higher levels of well-being up to 18 years later.

Employment Benefits: According to the World Economic Forum Report, Six of the identified top ten skills for the future involve social and emotional competence, including complex problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity, all skills that are addressed in our SEL programming. 92% of executives say skills such as problem-solving and communicating clearly are equal to or more important than technical skills, yet 89% said they have a very or somewhat difficult time finding employees with those skills that SEL programs promote.

Societal Benefits: Research shows that SEL programs have helped to reduce societal costs required for public assistance, public housing, police involvement, and detention.

Benefits to our district: In addition to the benefits already mentioned, all-district surveys of Niles staff, students, and families strongly indicate that mental health, positive behavior, and student safety are priorities. Supporting social emotional learning increases student outcomes in all of these areas. 

Does NCS teach Critical Race Theory?

Critical Race Theory is not a part of our core, related arts, or SEL curriculum and it is not being considered for addition to the curriculum. Niles Community Schools has always been guided by our commitment to the academic, social and emotional growth of our students. Our goal as educators, and as a part of the Niles community, is to ensure all our students feel welcome, seen, and supported to the fullest extent. In alignment with our guiding principles, we believe it is important to facilitate fact-based conversations in appropriate academic settings with our students regarding both current and historical events, helping support their interest in learning and understanding of the world.

Where can I learn more about NCS Curriculum?

If you still have questions, please reach out to your child’s principal and ask your child’s teacher about the program or curriculum material they are using. While the SEL competency links can be found above or below, the required academic standards can be found here: Michigan Academic Standards If you do not have a child in the district, please contact Brooke Brawley, Director of Curriculum, at 269-683-0736 or [email protected] for more information.

References and Further Reading


What Is the CASEL Framework?

What Does the Research Say? - CASEL

Second Step

Class Catalyst

Michigan Department of Education Early Childhood to Grade 12 Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Competencies

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