Assessing Social-Emotional Learning and Character Development through a School Walk-Through

When you step into a school, have you ever immediately felt a positive atmosphere where social-emotional and character development (SECD) is valued by students and educators? Conversely, have you encountered a school where this sense is notably absent? It’s likely that everyone in the education field has had experiences with both scenarios.

What led to these impressions? By pinpointing the factors that shape our perspectives, we can identify the strengths and weaknesses, enhance what works well, whether within our own school or in others.

Some educators utilize walk-throughs to assess the presence and depth of SECD within a school building. They examine artifacts and behaviors that demonstrate a focus on social-emotional and character development and its impact on the school climate. Information is primarily gathered through on-site observations. In addition to observation, it’s essential to review newsletters, meeting minutes, and other relevant documentation that may not be immediately visible. Furthermore, engaging in conversations with staff members and students is crucial for a comprehensive evaluation.

Following the guidelines from the Developing Safe and Civil Schools project and insights from Larry Leverett, Janet Patti, and Marcia Knoll, I have assembled over 50 observation points for school/SECD leaders to consider during walk-throughs, encompassing nine key areas:

  • Physical appearance 
  • Building tone   
  • Schoolwide SECD 
  • Classroom management and instruction   
  • Adult relationships   
  • Adult-student relationships    
  • Student-to-student relationships  
  • Lunchroom/recess 
  • Justice, equity, diversity, inclusion (JEDI)   

Essential Points to Observe During Walk-Throughs

The building (physical appearance and tone): To begin, consider the overall appearance of the building. Is it well-maintained and clean? Do you notice any noticeable signs of disrepair? These aspects contribute to the tone of the building—what is the prevailing atmosphere as you move through it? Are individuals content, anxious, or actively engaged in their tasks? How are you welcomed as you navigate the premises?

Schoolwide and classroom SECD: Assess the visibility of SECD instruction in both schoolwide and classroom settings. Are you able to witness SECD practices in action? Is there evidence of SECD-related lessons being implemented? Is the terminology associated with SECD usage apparent during interactions?

Engage with students about their understanding of SECD and the core values of their class/school. A recommended strategy, as advised by Larry Leverett, involves sitting in the back of classrooms and inquiring about recent SECD-related lessons received by students.