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Social and Emotional Learning

Writing Effective Social–Emotional IEP Goals

4 Min Read
Social Emotional IEP Goals Hero

Social-emotional IEP goals, when crafted correctly, can be a game changer for students with disabilities. Imagine students who struggle with effective communication, relationship building, or self-management. A little progress in these skills can have a significant impact on students' success in inclusive environments, school and community participation, and give them an overall sense of competency, belonging, and well-being.

An SEL curriculum is sufficient to meet the needs of most students. But for students with an individualized education program (IEP), general SEL instruction is not enough. These students require targeted instruction to develop the SEL competencies that support their success in school.

A Look at IEPs

After a student is found eligible for special-education services, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is developed. This is a written plan detailing how the student’s unique needs will be addressed in the classroom. As a school and district leader, I sat in on hundreds of IEP meetings. I observed firsthand as teams worked to understand how a student’s disability impacted learning. I saw how the teams established goals and identified the services required to support each student.

A student’s learning profile is considered carefully when crafting the IEP, to ensure that the student’s strengths and weaknesses are addressed. A well-developed IEP that is implemented to the letter of the law is critical if the student is to make meaningful progress.

IEP teams may find that students require primarily academic goals. Other students may require goals to address social and emotional learning skills, such as communication, self-awareness, and self-regulation.

Crafting Effective IEP Goals

IEP goals are critical for students who require direct instruction to address their areas of disability. Students who have difficulty building relationships, managing their emotions and behavior, or communicating effectively, may require social and emotional learning goals as part of their IEP. These goals must be measurable and designed to enable the student to make meaningful progress in the general curriculum.

Writing effective goals for an IEP begins with understanding how skill deficits impact a student’s ability to learn. A student who has difficulty with self-management may need practice with adaptive skills in order to deal with unexpected situations, unfamiliar routines, or stress. That student might also need specially designed instruction for developing communication skills, problem-solving, or relationship building.

The data gathered to determine a student’s eligibility for services inform IEP goals. For these goals to be effective, they should reflect the student’s specific needs, rather than broad SEL goals that are beneficial for all students.

Social-Emotional Learning Goals Examples

IEP goals provide the roadmap for the specially designed instruction that will be delivered with individualized services. Goals must always be measurable, observable, and objective, to allow for clarity in service delivery, progress monitoring, and reporting.

A key step in developing SEL goals for students is identifying the behavior we want a student to demonstrate. Too often, IEP teams write goals that describe what the student will not do: “The student will not interrupt.” Instead, teams should describe the target observable behavior: “The student will raise their hand.”

I can’t overstate the importance of ensuring that the behavior is observable. Goals that lack a specific behavior with criteria and a rate of measurement fail to meet the expected standard for effective IEP writing.

Here Are SEL Goals Examples:

  1. By June 2022, Raul will raise his hand to get the teacher’s attention in 90% of opportunities as measured by a checklist.
  2. By October 2022, when given verbal directions by adults across educational environments, Mari will follow adult directions in 90% of opportunities as measured by task completion.
  3. By December 2022 during academic instruction, Aru will demonstrate on-task behaviors 90% of the observed opportunities as measured by time sampling observations.
Use this checklist for writing effective SEL goals:
  • Does the goal address a specific skill/area of need that results from the disability as supported by data?
  • Is the goal measurable?
  • Can the behavior that the goal targets be observed?
  • Does the goal include objective criteria? How is mastery identified?
  • Is there a timeframe for completion? Is a 12-month period reasonable?
  • Does the goal identify student behavior, not adult behavior?

SEL skills are important for students to have meaningful access to the general curriculum and to experience the “whole child” benefits of instruction. The popularized expression “Maslow before Bloom,” meeting students’ need for safety and belonging before introducing ambitious academic tasks, emphasizes the importance of including SEL competencies in teaching and learning. Use our social-emotional goals examples and checklist as a guide to ensure students who require SEL goals as part of their IEP get the support they need.

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