Back to School Like Never Before

The BELE Network’s guide to centering students, equity, and SEL in the Fall

By The BELE Network

As the fall approaches and educators across the country plan for reentry, one thing is clear: we must center equity and address students’ needs and aspirations so that each student is equipped to pursue their dreams.

Even amidst uncertainty and the dual crises of COVID-19 and racial injustice, we know that educators are inspired to rise to the occasion for their students by creating culturally affirming, anti-racist learning environments — whether they’re remote, in-person, or a hybrid. Over the last few months, we’ve seen a wealth of resources and support created for educators, but the sheer volume of information can be overwhelming.

To help educators prioritize, the BELE Network has curated the best practices and thinking from our members and partners in one place to provide an easy reference guide for anyone interested in building equitable learning environments this fall. We’ve broken this guide up into four key sections:

  • The BELE Framework — a holistic guide with values-centered, evidence-based practices to support people who are inspired to get the future right for young people, at any level of the education system.
  • Incorporating Social and Emotional Learning in Your Schools — a list of resources for educators looking to integrate social and emotional learning into their learning environments, especially in the context of a pandemic.
  • Creating Systemic Change in Your Community — guides for anyone, from superintendents to community advocates, looking to drive change and demand for more inclusive learning environments at the system level.
  • Additional Resources — a collection of specialized guides on topics like setting up equitable remote learning environments, supporting youth experiencing homelessness, and more.

This guide is a living document that will be updated periodically with the most recent guidance and resources available. We recommend bookmarking this page for future reference.

The BELE Framework

Great for: Superintendents or system leaders, District leaders, School leaders, Teachers

The BELE Framework is a guide for transforming student experiences and learning outcomes. We all inherited a public education system that limits possibilities for many young people and reproduces inequities based on race and class. The outdated system ignores current research and science about what students truly need to learn and grow. While none of us created this unequal system, it is ours to redesign.

We know that capacity is limited these days and have pulled out some of the high-priority ideas and takeaways in this previous Medium piece as a starting point for those interested in learning more. You can also view the full BELE Framework on the BELE Network website, or in our Equitable Learning Library.

Incorporating Social and Emotional Learning in Your Schools

According to CASEL, social and emotional learning (SEL) is, “the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” We cannot simply return to “business as usual” as our students grapple with this new normal and expect them to succeed. Being sensitive to and caring for the social and emotional wellbeing of our youth, at a time when both have been tested like never before, is an essential part of reentry.

Find below foundational resources that you can use to learn more about SEL and how you can integrate it into learning environments for the benefit of students.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)

Great for: District leaders, School leaders

To address the pressing need for student-centric resources, CASEL has launched Reunite, Renew, and Thrive: SEL Roadmap for Reopening School — guidance that includes equity-focused SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) strategies and provides school leaders with, anti-racist SEL strategies centered on building relationships designed to support students and adults as they return to school this fall. Check out the full roadmap here and be inspired to transform school systems to ensure all students feel like they belong and are empowered to reach their fullest potential in school. To this end, CASEL has created The CASEL Guide to Schoolwide Social and Emotional Learning, an online platform that offers step-by-step guidance and field-tested tools to help teams implement high-quality SEL in your school or district.

NewSchools Venture Fund & TransformEd

Great for: Teachers

NewSchools Venture Fund and Transforming Education has released “How to Meet Students’ Social-Emotional and Academic Needs When Schools Reopen,” a guide to social-emotional learning, insights on school culture factors, and key questions teachers should consider as they plan for the fall. NewSchools also hosted a webinar about their research that you can view here.

The University of Chicago Consortium on School Research

Great for: School leaders, Teachers

The University of Chicago Consortium on School Research has released “Supporting Social, Emotional, & Academic Development” — research designed to help educators and school leaders create classrooms that advance educational equity and support equitable outcomes for all students.

The Aspen Institute|Education & Society Program

Great for: School leaders

The Aspen Institute, Education & Society Program has released an action guide that provides school leadership teams with resources for integrating the social, emotional and academic needs of young people into the daily student experience.

The Communities for Just Schools Fund

Great for: School leaders, Teachers

The Communities for Just Schools Fund writes about how when applied improperly, SEL can be another form of policing our students. Like any systemic change, we have to be intentional about not allowing SEL to be co-opted for discriminatory purposes. For this reason, the Communities for Just Schools Fund also has a webinar recording that showcases what SEL can look like when applied properly to a learning environment, and best practices for how you can take SEL “beyond the checklist.”

Creating Systemic Change in Your Community

Alongside supporting the social and emotional learning of our students, we have to make sure that the education system we’re working within can implement the policies and practices that are proven to best support our students. COVID-19 has exacerbated inequities that have long been present in our system — this is an opportunity to address these inequities head on and build more equitable and inclusive learning environments for our students.

Find below foundational resources that outline the importance of systemic change, including actionable steps towards creating equitable change in your community.

Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)

Great for: Superintendents or systems leaders, District leaders, School leaders

CCSSO has recently released Restart and Recovery: Considerations for Teaching and Learning, a full suite of vetted, customizable resources that education leaders everywhere can leverage to meet the needs of the educators and students they support. CCSSO’s resource details how well-being and connection, academics, systemic conditions, and state policies and actions each play important and distinct roles in shaping the student experience. At a time when student experiences have the chance to be more inequitable than ever before, omitting these considerations risks leaving students behind. CCSSO offers an invaluable resource at a critical time — learn more at

The Alliance for Resource Equity

Great for: District leaders, School leaders, Community members & advocates

Transforming a system as long-standing and established as our current education system is no small task, and change at any one level cannot create the holistic, systemic transformation that is desperately needed. The Alliance for Resource Equity recognizes the need for equity and student centric practices and policies at all levels of the system, and so they have released their 2020–2021 Equity Guides. These guides target three levels of our current education system: school leadership teams, district leadership teams, and community members and advocates.

Transcend Education

Great for: School leaders

Acknowledging the heavy burden placed on school leaders and educators, Transcend Education has released the Recovery to Reinvention Playbook — a set of tools and guidance designed to lighten the load and allow schools to prepare for the fall and beyond. This playbook walks step by step from how you can lay the foundation for reinvention in your own community to how you can build out a comprehensive plan for reentry, including examples for elementary school, and middle/high school.

Additional Resources

In addition to these foundational resources, there is a plethora of content from BELE Network partners and friends that can support districts, schools, and individuals towards creating equitable learning environments when we reenter school. Below is an ongoing repository of resources released by our friends and partners that we will be updating on an ongoing basis. Be sure to check back periodically to see what’s new!

Summit Public Schools: COVID-19, Recounting, Reflecting, and Lessons for the Fall

  • When the COVID-19 pandemic began to shut down various functions of our society, the Summit community designed and launched a Virtual School that enabled students and teachers to continuously engage in learning aligned with our project-based, self-directed, mentor-supported learning model. The following white-paper, COVID-19 Spring 2020: Recounting, Reflecting & Lessons for the Fall, describes Summit’s response to COVID-19 and the resulting school building closures, highlights conditions that enabled success, and articulates lessons learned and implications for SY21 and beyond.

SchoolHouse Connection: Preparing for School Reopening and Recovery: Considerations in Serving Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness

  • State and local educational agencies across the country are beginning to prepare for reentry in the fall. Regardless of their learning environment, students experiencing homelessness will have new and dire needs. With public schools identifying over 1.5 million students experiencing homelessness, and the expectation of increased homelessness over the coming school year, even robust homeless education (McKinney-Vento Act) programs are likely to need increased capacity and funds. In addition, as school leaders consider hybrid models, it is essential to recognize the fundamental challenges and inequities of online learning for vulnerable students, including those experiencing homelessness, and to explore opportunities to prioritize them for in-person learning. This checklist offers important considerations to help state and local educational agencies ensure equitable access to education for students experiencing homelessness as they prepare for the new school year.

America Forward: Whole-Learner Education:A Policy Roadmap to Student Success

  • Today, there is a persistent disconnect between the holistic set of skills and experiences that every child needs, and what our education system prioritizes. This Policy Roadmap recommends strategies that can help close the gap between what we know students need, and what our current education system provides, so that every learner can grow into a capable, caring, and engaged member of society.

Science of Learning and Development (SoLD) Alliance: COVID-19 Resources for Field Leaders

  • The SoLD Alliance is dedicated to elevating resources, backed by the science of learning and development, that advance equity at all levels of the education system. For even more resources, comb through this compilation of guidance, tools, and proven tactics.

Turnaround for Children: Resources For The Three Rs: Relationships, Routines and Resilience

  • Turnaround for Children offers guidance and practices for how families and educators can manage student relationships, routines, and overall resilience during the COVID-19 crisis.

EL Education: Reopening: Moving Toward More Equitable Schools

  • EL Education has compiled a suite of guidance that educators can use to lead with equity and adopt trauma-responsive practices as we reenter this fall. They’ve recently updated their compilation with tools that students and staff can use to measure inputs and outcomes. These tools build on their other recommendations and offer guidance on how to turn those recommendations into concrete practices.

Education Trust: How to Create Better, Safer Learning Environments for Girls of Color

  • The National Women’s Law Center and The Education Trust have created a guide to help school districts implement intentional and specific policy and financial decisions that can address the legacy of 400 years of systemic anti-Blackness and rectify disparate discipline practices that Black and brown girls are experiencing. The guide features stories from Oakland, Chicago, and Massachusetts told through the voices of Latina and Black girls, as well as a checklist for policymakers, advocates, and school leaders interested in pushing these conversations in their own districts and states. For more information, read the full report here. For just the actionable checklist, visit this link.


  • The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is a trusted source for knowledge about high-quality, evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL). CASEL supports educators and policy leaders and enhances the experiences and outcomes for all PreK-12 students. Learn more about CASEL on their website.
  • NewSchools Venture Fund accelerates and strengthens the efforts of teams of educators and innovators who are making a positive difference in public education. NewSchools believe every young person should finish high school prepared and inspired to reach their most ambitious dreams and plans. It’s time to reimagine learning to help all students — especially those in underserved communities — succeed now and in the future. NewSchools meet this challenge with a rigorous investment strategy focused on impact, equity and innovation. You can learn more about NewSchools on their website.
  • TransformEd partners with school systems to support educators in fostering the development of the whole child so that all students, particularly those from underserved populations, can thrive. You can learn more about TransformEd on their website.
  • The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is a nonpartisan, nationwide, nonprofit organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education in the states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, the Bureau of Indian Education and the five U.S. extra-state jurisdictions. They are committed to ensuring that all students participating in our public education system — regardless of background — graduate prepared for college, careers, and life.
  • The Alliance for Resource Equity is a coordinated effort, working to bring many combinations of stakeholders together around a framework for shared understanding, and a plan for collaborative action. Alliance partners include Education Resource Strategies and The Education Trust.
  • At Summit Public Schools, students unlock the power within themselves to gain the knowledge, habits, and skills to successfully navigate college and careers. Summit’s research-based instructional approach informs everything we do and helped us create an educational experience unlike any other — one that supports the whole student throughout the school day.
  • Transcend Education’s work with school communities and the larger ecosystem is guided by five fundamental beliefs: all children have infinite potential; to realize this potential, we must reimagine “schooling” as we know it; the work is most successful when pursued through a rigorous, community-driven R&D process grounded in equity; while never easy, innovation is absolutely possible, accelerating progress requires strong local leadership, surrounded by a conducive ecosystem.
  • With the goal of supporting stronger and more equitable educational outcomes for students, the UChicago Consortium conducts research of high technical quality that informs and assesses policy and practice in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). The UChicago Consortium encourages the use of research in policy action and practice but does not advocate for particular policies or programs. Rather, we help to build capacity for systemic school improvement by identifying what matters most for student success, creating critical indicators to chart progress, and conducting theory-driven evaluation to identify how programs and policies are working.
  • The Aspen Institute Education & Society Program (Aspen Education) improves public education by inspiring, informing, and influencing education leaders to take action across policy and practice, with an emphasis on achieving equity for students of color and children from low-income backgrounds. Aspen Education supports leaders at all levels — from urban superintendents and their teams, to state chiefs and their cabinets, to elected officials and their staffers, to education support organizations, associations, nonprofits, and philanthropy.
  • The SoLD Alliance aims to make the science of learning and development a deeply understood, widely held, and actionable key driver of equity and excellence in education systems — to ensure that all young people, no matter who or where they are, benefit from effective, high-quality, continuously improving learning environments that are designed to unleash and realize everyone’s potential for success in school and in life. Using insights from the science of learning and development, the SoLD Alliance intends to serve as a resource to connect and support leaders in research, practice, and policy to transform America’s education systems and achieve equity and excellence.
  • The Communities for Just Schools Fund provides resources in support of community led organizations that are working to ensure positive and supportive school climates that affirm and foster the success of all students.
  • EL Education’s mission is to create classrooms where teachers can fulfill their highest aspirations, and students achieve more than they think possible, becoming active contributors to building a better world.
  • The Education Trust is a national nonprofit that works to close opportunity gaps that disproportionately affect students of color and students from low-income families. Through our research and advocacy, Ed Trust supports efforts that expand excellence and equity in education from preschool through college, increase college access and completion particularly for historically underserved students, engage diverse communities dedicated to education equity, and increase political and public will to act on equity issues.

We are committed to creating learning environments that equitably support every student — especially students of color and low-income students.

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