Two girls sitting at a table sharing a book

Schools interested in improving social-emotional learning might consider implementing educator evaluation processes that ensure teachers and leaders receive regular feedback to become more effective on indicators related to SEL. A previous blog discussed the necessary steps to prepare before evaluating social-emotional learning. The next step is to select the indicators that will be used in your school’s evaluation processes.

The Network for Educator Effectiveness recommends schools evaluate only three to five indicators per school year in their teacher evaluations. This level of focus allows educators to engage in more focused feedback conversations that lead to professional growth and improvement. Schools focused on SEL might incorporate one or more of the following indicators in their educator evaluation processes. The indicator(s) selected should align with specific SEL practices that the school has prioritized and wishes to improve.

To learn more about specific strategies that demonstrate highly effective teaching and leadership for each of the following indicators, download our guide to Evaluating Teacher & Principal Effectiveness on Indicators of Social-Emotional Learning. The guide includes practical guidance for implementing evaluation processes and measures to improve SEL in your school.

Teacher Evaluation: Primary Indicators for Social-Emotional Learning

There are four primary NEE indicators related to SEL. They can be measured in classroom observations and on the NEE Student Survey.

NEE Indicator 2.4: The teacher promotes the emotional competence of students.

This indicator is the one most closely tied to SEL. With Indicator 2.4, the evaluator looks for evidence that the teacher uses research-based strategies to promote the emotional well-being of all students and displays sensitivity to student emotions. The teacher and students are observed to be upbeat most of the time.

A highly effective teacher uses several of the identified strategies to promote the emotional competence of their students and seizes every opportunity to support students in developing their skills. Emotional explosions are dealt with constructively when they occur.

NEE Indicator 5.2b: The teacher uses effective discipline that promotes self-control.

An integral component of SEL involves supporting students in developing the skills of self-control and managing emotions. When teachers integrate forms of discipline that encourage these skills, they can improve classroom behavior while providing practice for students in using social-emotional skills. Indicator 5.2b requires the teacher to use forms of discipline that promote self-control. Some of the research-based discipline strategies include using inductive reasoning, using praise, describing how misbehavior affects others, coaching respectful negotiations between students, and teaching correct behavior. In early childhood classrooms, positive reinforcement may include positive words, hugs, high-fives, and tokens with words.

NEE Indicator 5.3: The teacher uses strategies that promote kindness and social competence among students in the classroom community. 

This indicator has strong connections to SEL. The teacher must be highly sensitive to the social needs of students and frequently apply research-based strategies to promote positive social interactions among students. An observer would see strong positive relationships among students. The teacher who is highly effective in this indicator uses several research-based strategies with great success and uses opportunities that arise to promote the social competence of students. Students almost always interact in positive ways and demonstrate kindness to one another. The teacher continually provides opportunities for a variety of peer interactions and engages all students with their peers. All learners are included, integrated seamlessly, and treated kindly. The teacher fully implements the districts’ social skills program, teaches social and emotional regulation skills, and allows time for social problem-solving.

NEE Indicator 5.3b: The teacher establishes secure teacher-student relationships.

This indicator addresses the quality of the relationships developed by the teacher with their students, and it is shown to promote teacher performance in other non-SEL indicators, such as cognitive engagement, critical thinking, and instruction monitoring.29 An evaluator will observe students demonstrating positive emotions toward the teacher. Ideally, the teacher interacts with all students in positive ways and conveys a strong, positive relationship with them. The students appear to enjoy interacting with the teacher and are eager to participate in activities with the teacher. In early childhood classrooms, teachers have a personal relationship with all learners and create an exceptionally warm and caring environment.

Teacher Evaluation: Related Indicators for Social-Emotional Learning

Five additional NEE indicators contribute to SEL.

NEE Indicator 1.5: The teacher incorporates diverse social and cultural perspectives on content.

When students see themselves in the curriculum, content, materials, and environment of the classroom, they are more likely to feel they belong. Students who identify with the class are more vested in their success and that of their peers. A teacher who is highly effective in this area frequently and strongly examines national, regional, and ethnic contributions to the discipline, social and cultural diversity within the discipline, potential for bias in the discipline, and global perspectives of the discipline.

NEE Indicator 2.2: The teacher sets and monitors student goals.

A common strategy among effective SEL programs involves reasonable goal setting so that students can achieve a specific self-regulated, behavioral target. The goal might pertain to effort management, personal goals, or academic goals. This indicator requires the teacher to set clear goals for students and encourage students to set personal goals. Highly effective teachers have a systematic approach to student goal setting and reflection.

NEE Indicator 2.6: The teacher incorporates students’ language, culture, family, and community. 

There is a strong core of multiculturalism running through the five components of SEL. Self-awareness relies on an understanding of how one’s culture affects an individual. Self-management requires the student to understand how differences affect emotions, motivation, and self-control. Social awareness requires the student to empathize with others, understand social norms of behavior, and respect diversity. Relationship skills are a cornerstone of SEL specifically because students must learn to communicate, work cooperatively, and successfully resolve differences with diverse individuals and groups. Responsible decision making relies on the student’s ability to consider personal well-being and the perspectives of others, evaluate realistic consequences, and make safe, constructive, ethical choices.

NEE Indicator 4.3: The teacher employs cooperative learning.

SEL is strongly focused on the skills related to cooperative learning. Students must be self-aware, be able to self-manage, make responsible decisions, establish positive relationships, and operate with social awareness to cooperate with others during learning. For this reason, teachers are encouraged to utilize cooperative learning with SEL.

NEE Indicator 6.2: The teacher’s communications with students are sensitive to cultural, gender, intellectual, and physical differences. 

It is difficult, if not impossible, to build positive relationships with students if the teacher’s communications are insensitive to student differences. When the teacher’s communications are sensitive to differences, the students are likely to demonstrate sensitivity in their communications. Good communication skills are essential to building relationships and working with others. Sensitivity is one requirement for developing SEL skills involving face-to-face interactions, meaningful discussions, and reflection. Sensitivity also involves knowing when and how to express yourself, recognizing nonverbal cues, and being able to discern what’s important when someone speaks. In addition, students are more likely to communicate willingly with teachers who express themselves with sensitivity. By practicing communication skills, students will get better at asking for help and expressing what they need. Over time, they will develop the skills and confidence to communicate more clearly what they have learned in class.

Principal Evaluation: NEE Leadership Indicators for Social-Emotional Learning

Unlike NEE’s teacher evaluation system, schools do not select indicators that will be used in principal evaluation. However, two indicators in the NEE principal evaluation system will be of particular interest for SEL. They can be observed in building walkthroughs and measured on the NEE Teacher Survey.

NEE Leadership Indicator 3.1: The principal promotes a positive, caring, inclusive, and supportive school climate for students.

Highly effective principals can be observed:

  • Consistently taking proactive actions to promote a positive, caring, inclusive, and supportive school climate for students by involving the adult stakeholders within the school community.
  • Modeling a positive, caring, and supportive school climate for students and establishing opportunities for staff to practice these behaviors to maintain a positive school climate and contribute to overall teacher effectiveness/student learning. 
  • Hosting events that allow students and staff to recognize successes and accomplishments of others.
  • Fostering a school environment that contributes to positive teacher-student and student-student relationships and meets student social-emotional needs.
  • Promoting a collective sense of safety and care for the physical environment of the school.
  • Taking consistent corrective action when positive school climate norms are violated by students and/or staff to ensure the involved understand the cause and preventive steps of the situation.

NEE Leadership Indicator 3.3: The principal promotes equity and cultural inclusiveness.

Principals who are highly effective in this area will have no instances of biased or culturally insensitive behaviors that have been reported to their supervisor or observed in person. Staff and students will comment that the principal takes quick, firm corrective action when equity and cultural responsiveness norms are violated.

In addition, the principal will be observed:

  • Creating and leading events to promote positive equity and cultural responsiveness to staff and students.
  • Developing and enacting a vision of schooling that truly addresses the needs of all students.
  • Interacting effectively in a variety of cultural environments.
  • Leading/modeling others in various forms of equity audits of teaching and assessment practices, grading practices, curricular bias, or discipline enforcement practices.
  • Recognizing groups have unique culturally defined needs and taking appropriate actions to address those needs.
  • Modeling action to reduce deficit-based thinking and promote strength-based thinking among staff and students.
  • Consistently modeling observable actions to lead staff in performing their duties in an unbiased and culturally responsive manner.
  • Inspiring teachers to develop cultural proficiency and regularly using culturally responsive practices in their classrooms.
  • Using culturally competent and equitable language during their interactions with stakeholders.

The indicators mentioned above could each contribute to evaluation of teachers and principals in schools where SEL is a focus area. In total, schools should evaluate three to five indicators in their teacher evaluation processes. Schools may choose to incorporate one SEL indicator or multiple SEL indicators depending on their local goals and priorities.

For more on this topic, download our guide to Evaluating Teacher & Principal Effectiveness on Indicators of Social-Emotional Learning.


The Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE) is a simple yet powerful comprehensive system for educator evaluation that helps educators grow, students learn, and schools improve. Developed by preK-12 practitioners and experts at the University of Missouri, NEE brings together classroom observation, student feedback, teacher curriculum planning, and professional development as measures of effectiveness in a secure online portal designed to promote educator growth and development.