• Oakland Unified School District’s commitment to social and emotional learning (SEL) is central to both its mission and vision as a Community Schools District: “Build a full-service Community District focused on high academic achievement while serving the whole child, eliminating inequity, and providing each child with excellent teachers, every day. All OUSD students will find joy in their academic experience while graduating with the skills to ensure they are caring, competent, fully informed, critical thinkers who are prepared for college, career, and community success.”

    This commitment to SEL is evident across the system—including the district’s strategic plan, SEL board policy, SEL standards, classroom curricula, restorative justice, professional learning, and performance frameworks for adults, students, and schools.

    SEL in Oakland

    OUSD Theory of Change: Social and Emotional Learning

    In 2009 OUSD identified SEL as a priority for its five-year strategic plan. The district based this plan on three pillars: a high-quality instructional core, social and emotional health and well-being, and equitable opportunities for learning. OUSD’s current five-year plan, “Pathway to Excellence” (2015-2020), continues to prioritize SEL as a key lever for shifting its organizational culture.

    In 2011 OUSD joined CASEL’s Collaborative Districts Initiative and convened a districtwide SEL Design Team. The Design Team expanded quickly and created a number of critical policies and practices that have guided the work in Oakland ever since: SEL Ambassadors, Pre-K through adult SEL standards, and an SEL-informed attendance and discipline system. In 2013 the school board adopted an SEL board policy based on OUSD’s equity-centered definition of SEL.

    In 2014–15 Oakland created performance frameworks for adults and students based on its SEL standards. The OUSD Teacher Growth and Development System is currently used in the evaluation process for all classroom teachers, Pre-K-12. The OUSD Leadership Growth and Development System guides the professional development and evaluation of all principals throughout the district. The Superintendent holds himself accountable to the School Board for specific SEL goals and objectives included in his work plan. Each of the attributes in the OUSD Graduate Profile reflects the SEL Standards. The elementary report card includes OUSD’s SEL Standards.

    Explicit SEL Instruction The district mapped its own SEL Standards to the Common Core State Standards to highlight the connection between academics and social and emotional learning. Explicit SEL instruction with CASEL SELect curricula is taking place in 20 elementary schools and all middle schools. The three supported SELect programs chosen by the district are Caring School Community, Expeditionary Learning, and Engaging Schools. Sites are also using complementary SEL programs such as Toolbox, Roots of Empathy, Welcoming Schools, Not in Our Schools, and Transformative Life Skills.

    High schools are integrating SEL into their linked learning structures and practices that focus on work-based learning and career and technical education. SEL is explicitly taught, modeled, and infused throughout the programs in three linked learning pathways. In addition, all linked learning pathway coaches work in partnership with the Office of Social and Emotional Learning to offer targeted SEL professional learning.

    Integration. SEL is integrated across multiple district priorities. The district’s new performance frameworks for students, teachers, principals, schools, and the superintendent are all based on the district’s SEL Standards, as is professional learning for all principals and assistant principals. Oakland is one of 10 California CORE Waiver districts that use SEL school-quality indicators to help schools align and prioritize resources and goals for student success.

    Oakland has created a network of programs, initiatives, and support systems based on the OUSD SEL standards to provide students and adults with multiple opportunities to learn and practice SEL skills and behaviors. These include an expanding restorative justice approach to discipline, implementing the African American Male Achievement Program in both elementary and secondary schools, and trauma-informed practices throughout the system.


    OUSD’s focus on building the systems and structures to support SEL implementation has continued to improve district outcomes for both students and adults. According to evaluations by the American Institutes for Research (AIR), these include sustaining a systemwide priority of building positive climate and culture, stakeholder commitment to systemwide SEL, and clear roles and responsibilities to support SEL implementation.

    Suspensions have declined significantly in the past three years, from 7.4% in 2011-12 to 3.9% in 2014-15.

    OUSD uses the following assessment tools to measure impact and is beginning to collect data from them:

    • California Healthy Kids Survey, with the help of CASEL, modified with an OUSD module for evaluating climate and culture and social and emotional learning.
    • CDI assessment tool.
    • Third-grade AIR survey.
    • Devereux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA) pilot.
  • Antwan Wilson

    Oakland USD



    48,181 students

    • 73% low-income
    • 31% limited English proficiency
    • 10% with individualized education plans

    118 schools

    Learn More.

    The Greater Good shows how “Oakland Unified is transforming its schools by embedding social-emotional learning into the district culture—one adult at a time.” Learn more.

    Mills Teachers Scholars and OUSD SEL Partnership

    This video highlights how OUSD teacher scholars use collaborative inquiry to better understand what kinds of learning opportunities are necessary to develop the SEL competencies that bolster student academic success.
    This blog highlights the integration of SEL and academics when looking at relationship skills to support mathematical partnerships.

    Jaymie Sacramento’s first-grade class builds relationships along with literacy thanks to partner reading. Morgan Kirschbaum blends community-building into every aspect of his sixth-grade class to help students engage with each other more deeply. Agnes Zapata takes care to craft a positive climate for her eleventh-grade class, finding it beneficial for relationships and student success alike. See how these elementary, middle, and high school teachers are integrating SEL into Oakland’s schools. Videos here.