Unlocking Student Success: A Practical Guide for Educators to Craft the Perfect SEL Curriculum.

Tosca Killoran (EdD)
7 min readJun 26, 2023

In today’s fast-paced and interconnected world, educators face the challenge of preparing students for academic success and well-being. Social-emotional learning (SEL) frameworks must be robust to address this need. Here, I explore the significance of SEL and its three key areas — Digital Citizenship, Comprehensive Sexuality, and Positive Education — to equip educators with practical insights and examples from the SEL programme we designed at ISHCMC 2022/23. Whether starting from scratch or refining your existing curriculum, this guide aims to support you in designing a bespoke curriculum tailored to your school’s unique needs.

Importance of Social-Emotional Learning

Research consistently highlights the profound impact of SEL on students’ academic performance, mental health, and future success. By focusing on self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making, SEL cultivates essential skills that equip students for life beyond the classroom. With this holistic approach, educators empower students to navigate the complexities of the digital age, develop healthy relationships, and embrace positive mindsets.

Digital Citizenship: Preparing Students for the Digital World

Digital Citizenship is a crucial component of SEL, given the pervasive influence of technology on students’ lives. Recent research emphasizes educating students about responsible online behaviour, digital privacy, cyberbullying prevention, and media literacy. Schools aim to cultivate digital citizens who are ethical, informed, and respectful participants in the digital realm.

Comprehensive Sexuality Education: Fostering Healthy Relationships

Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) is integral to SEL, addressing students’ physical, emotional, and social development. Recent research highlights the significance of age-appropriate and inclusive CSE programs that promote healthy relationships, consent, gender equality, and sexual and reproductive health. Schools must offer educators a comprehensive curriculum that nurtures students’ sexual well-being and fosters a safe and respectful environment.

Positive Education: Cultivating Well-being and Resilience

Positive Education (PEEC) integrates positive psychology principles into the curriculum to promote mental health, resilience, and well-being. Educators can create a positive learning environment by incorporating evidence-based practices such as mindfulness, gratitude, character strengths, and a growth mindset.

What does SEL look like at ISHCMC?

The Positive ISHCMC (POSISH) curriculum framework at ISHCMC integrates Positive Education, Comprehensive Sexual Education, and Digital Citizenship into a cohesive and comprehensive approach to social-emotional learning (SEL). This framework emphasizes the importance of creating safe and supportive learning environments that foster a sense of belonging, inclusivity, and respect for diversity, aligning with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The development process

In 2020, ISHCMC derived seven principles from the professional learning of the Positive Education Model and Geelong Grammar School. These principles inspired a draft ISHCMC Wellbeing Framework (2022), which mapped the existing SEL projects and opportunities for students.

ISHCMC Wellbeing Principles Dev. 2020

The Wellbeing Principles led to the development of a strong culture of mindfulness within the Primary school. Standalone projects such as growth mindset lessons, mindfulness mornings, and mindful newsletters supported the beginnings of the SEL programme.

Mindfulness Newsletter Dev. 2021–2022

Although PEEC was being taught in Primary, during the mapping process, significant learning gaps were uncovered in digital citizenship and comprehensive sexuality education K-12. As a result, a whole school digital citizenship curriculum was designed and piloted in 2022/23.

First Iteration of the Digital Citizenship Domains Dev. 2022

To address the identified gaps and integrate the disparate elements into a more cohesive learning program, ISHCMC curriculum coordinators, teachers, the Regional Educational Technology Lead, and EDTech specialists across ISHCMC’s sister schools collaborated on creating the digital citizenship framework.

Unpacking the Digital Citizenship Curriculum to the Wellbeing Council 2022

However, it was soon realized that the digital citizenship curriculum was just part of a more comprehensive SEL program that needed to be developed. This realization led to the collaboration of ISHCMC stakeholders across Sexual Education, Digital Citizenship, and Positive Education focus groups, creating the draft POSISH framework.

POSISH Domains Dev. 2023

These focus groups created a POSISH Steering committee which cross-referenced the existing documentation at ISHCMC to create the objective statements for POSISH, drawing inspiration from the Positive Education Enhancement Curriculum (PEEC), Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), Common Sense Education, and the UNESCO International technical guidance on sexuality education.

POSISH Curriculum Framework Dev. 2023

To gather input from multiple stakeholders and assess the curriculum’s usefulness among its intended audience, the revision process involved an online survey, targeted focus group discussions, and stakeholder meetings. As a result, the document is based on extensive expert inputs, including the voices of teachers and students, and represents an amalgamation of best practices.

The Step-by-Step How-to Guide For Your School

The process at ISHCMC was several years long and took many moments of backtracking and reflection to readjust and move forward. I have created a checklist to help you reduce some of the time-consuming realignment meetings as you develop your school’s SEL programme.

Step 1: School Climate and Ethos (1–2 Months)

  • Conduct focus groups with diverse stakeholders to gather qualitative data on their comfort levels, beliefs, and expectations around SEL.
  • Use an audit tool like this or explore additional resources specific to the SEL program evaluation.
  • Ensure there is a shared understanding of the purpose of SEL at the school among all stakeholders, including school leadership, teachers, students, parents, and community members.
  • Confirm if all stakeholders share these beliefs and are committed to implementing an SEL program.
  • Assess the availability of data sources within the school to measure SEL’s effectiveness, such as surveys, assessments, or existing evaluation tools.
  • Identify advocates who consistently promote and integrate SEL principles, such as those teaching digital citizenship, PEEC, or comprehensive sexuality education.
  • Create a steering committee of diverse stakeholders to complete the project.

Step 2: School-Wide Systems and Structures (2–6 Months)

  • Compile all existing lessons, programs, or curricula currently taught in the three critical areas of SEL: digital citizenship, Positive Education and Comprehensive Sexuality Education.
  • Gather stakeholders’ changing beliefs and feelings regarding SEL using formal methods (surveys, interviews, questionnaires) and informal methods (open forums, suggestion boxes, individual conversations).
  • Review existing policies and procedures regarding digital citizenship, Comprehensive Sexuality Education, and Positive Education within the school and consider the requirements of accrediting institutions and the host government’s laws.
  • Research literature and resources regarding current best practices for SEL in education, including reputable organizations, academic studies, and evidence-based approaches.
  • Create a comprehensive matrix that visually represents all existing SEL components, highlighting areas of overlap, gaps, and potential redundancies.
  • Categorize each existing SEL lesson under specific domains and identify any potential connections or synergies between them.
  • Develop clear and measurable objectives for each domain that align with the school’s mission, vision, and desired outcomes of the SEL program.
  • Encourage teachers to continue teaching SEL as they have been doing while emphasizing the importance of a cohesive and intentional program.

Step 3: SEL Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning (6–12 Months)

  • Map all existing lessons onto the matrix under the respective domains, ensuring comprehensive coverage of all necessary skills and topics.
  • Seek input and feedback from stakeholders such as students, parents, teachers, and even external experts or consultants with experience in SEL implementation.
  • Conduct surveys, focus groups, or workshops to solicit feedback on the created domains, objectives, and overall program structure.
  • Develop explicit expectations for all stakeholders, including teachers, students, parents, and administrators, emphasizing their roles and responsibilities in supporting SEL implementation.
  • Create detailed lesson plans for each objective under each domain, including teaching strategies, assessment methods, and resources needed.
  • Establish an agreed-upon vocabulary list tailored to specific age groups, ensuring the language is developmentally appropriate and culturally sensitive.
  • Develop an SEL teaching and learning policy that addresses sensitive content, provides guidelines for handling difficult conversations, and supports teachers in creating a safe and inclusive learning environment.
  • Pilot the program with identified advocates.

Step 4: Partnership with Families and Communities (12–18 Months)

  • To introduce and explain the SEL program, engage parents through regular communication channels, such as coffee mornings, workshops, newsletters, or parent-teacher association meetings. Highlight the benefits and address any potential concerns or questions they may have.
  • Provide ongoing professional development training for teachers to enhance their understanding of SEL principles, teaching strategies, and assessment methods. Offer workshops, seminars, and coaching sessions tailored to their specific needs.
  • Engage the wider community, including local organizations, policymakers, and other schools, in challenging conversations about the importance of SEL and its impact on student’s well-being and academic success. Share collected data and success stories to demonstrate the effectiveness of the program.
  • Establish a system for ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the SEL program’s implementation and impact.
  • Continuously collect data to assess students’ social-emotional growth, classroom climate, and overall school culture.
  • Regularly review and refine the program based on feedback, data analysis, and emerging research in the field of SEL.

As educators, we have a profound responsibility to prepare students for the challenges and opportunities they will face. By incorporating Social-Emotional Learning into the curriculum, we can empower students with the skills and knowledge they need to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. By focusing on the three key areas of Digital Citizenship, Comprehensive Sexuality, and Positive Education, educators can design a bespoke curriculum that caters to their school’s specific needs and cultivates well-rounded individuals ready to navigate the world’s complexities.

To learn more about the ISHCMC POSISH Curriculum Framework, please reach out to me at Tosca.Killoran@ishcmc.edu.vn



Tosca Killoran (EdD)

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