SEL Case Study

Located just 30 miles north of downtown Dallas, McKinney is a picturesque city with a small town feel. However, McKinney has a population of nearly 132,000 and is one of the fastest growing cities in the US. Graduating its first class in 1889, McKinney High School is the original of 3 public high schools in McKinney and serves diverse student population of approximately 2,700 students in grades 9-12.

McKinney High School – McKinney ISD – McKinney, Texas


Many students struggled in the last year due to the pandemic, particularly when it comes to equity gaps and virtual learning.


After providing intensive equity training for its teachers and staff, McKinney High School has implemented 7 Mindsets in its everyday curriculum to ensure students get the resources they need and that they’re able to express their feelings.


Both teachers and students are having important conversations around mental health, equity, and diversity to create an empowered community.

Coming into the 2020-21 school year, the teachers and staff at McKinney High School knew that they’d be facing a litany of existing and emerging roadblocks. With the pandemic still in full effect and remote learning seen as the safest educational delivery method, Justin James, Assistant Principal, said the school set its sights on aligning teachers and students with campus relationships, culture, and communication.

“As part of this mission, we began training staff members on cultural competence and culturally responsive teaching (CRT) practices,” said James, who felt that this would help bridge the gap between students’ home and school cultures, primarily as it relates to belonging, diversity, equity, inclusion, and helping students to feel like they are valued.

The school also wanted to more fully leverage the 7 Mindsets’ social emotional learning (SEL) curriculum that had been put in place three years earlier. The school tapped into the curriculum’s equity resources and began offering related professional development to its entire staff. This helped McKinney High School leverage the SEL curriculum across its teacher population, with the goal of helping them better manage the pandemic-related issues they were grappling with.

“As a result of these efforts, we’ve been able to develop a more culturally-responsive approach, which is exactly what we were aiming for,” said James, who met personally with teachers, students, and members of the community throughout this process, knowing that all three play critical roles in improving equity in education.

“We don’t work in silos here, we all work together to figure things out,” said James, whose school has 200 teachers and 3,000 students, 20% of whom are African-American, 30% Hispanic, and 50% white. For many of these students, learning remotely has meant a loss of connection with their teachers and fellow students.

“We wanted to ensure that there were no barriers, hindrances, or obstacles present so we could truly meet the needs of all learners,” said James, “and that our teachers and our staff were empowering students and encouraging them to communicate their different perspectives.”

Steps to Success

The school’s entire staff completed 90 minutes of equity training with trainers from 7 Mindsets, which currently conducts ongoing equity professional development with staff members via the SEL portal. In August, the high school’s administrative team spent a full day with teachers, who were trained on a model for CRT practices.

It followed up on that experience by forming a diversity team, starting a “CRT Champions” program for teachers, and then embedding that program into their professional learning communities (PLCs). As part of this effort, the high school also needed a social and emotional learning (SEL) solution that could support its increased focus on CRT.

“We explored the options and selected 7 Mindsets’ web-based SEL curriculum,” said James, who especially liked the platform’s video resources, which perfectly complement the curriculum. “I’ve personally used both for staff training and for classroom teaching (he’s been teaching this semester due to a sub shortage).”

Using the Platform

Today, McKinney High School’s teachers embed 7 Mindsets as a part of their warmups and/or bell ringers. For example, they may show a video and have students pair-share about the mindset that was featured in the video, or even do a quick write up about it. James said this is just one way that the platform has helped the school wade through the uncertainty of the pandemic and remote learning.

“Our students are dealing with a lot of stress right now, and they may not always know how to self-monitor or self-regulate their own emotions,” James explained. “Our SEL platform educates students on how to have mindful moments and regulate their own emotions, both of which are particularly crucial at a time when incidences of suicidal ideation and self-harm are high.”

A High-Quality SEL Resource

James said that the curriculum housed in the 7 Mindsets portal has more than proven its worth during this disruptive time. “Being able to access and share that knowledge with the school community—be it our teachers, staff, students, or families,” he said, “has been the greatest thing that we’ve seen this year.”

Speaking to colleagues or other school districts, James said he would “absolutely promote 7 Mindsets” based on the benefits that his school has experienced so far. “It’s an on-the-go resource that we didn’t have to create or put together,” said James. “Not only is it a time-saver, but it’s also a high-quality resource that we can depend on.”