SEL in Action Awards

Thank you for your interest in the SEL in Action Awards. The application window is closed, and all lead applicants have been notified of their status via email. If you haven’t received your status or have additional questions, please email


NoVo Foundation is committed to supporting the spread of social and emotional learning (SEL) practices in schools and districts nationwide. We know practitioners have some of the most inspiring, effective and innovative ideas in the field. NoVo Foundation, in partnership with Education First and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, aims to seed projects that foster social and emotional competencies in students in grades PK-12. Whether you have an idea for a new initiative or want to expand or continue an existing project, we want to hear from you.

For the 2020-21 school year, we invited applications for the SEL in Action Awards from two applicant pools:

  1. School-based educators (including teachers, counselors, administrators and other school staff) seeking to implement SEL initiatives in classrooms or schools in the 2020-2021 school year, and
  2. District-level applicants seeking to implement SEL initiatives district-wide and/or across multiple schools within one district (including a charter network).

Grant awards for educator-led projects will be a maximum of $7,000 each. District-level grant awards will be a maximum of $25,000 each. We will also award a small, select number of two-year grants. Find more details in the RFP document below.

What Was New in 2020

Key changes to the SEL in Action Awards program from previous rounds of the SEL Innovation Awards are summarized below:

  • Program Name: The SEL in Action Awards are the newest iteration of the former SEL Innovation Awards. We have always believed that educator-led SEL work is inherently innovative, as it puts the tools to build solutions in the hands of the people closest to the problem. This year, we are renaming the program to the SEL in Action awards to signify that this work is alive, dynamic and ongoing.
  • Educator-led Award eligibility: With the former Teacher awards, the lead applicant was required to be an in-service classroom teacher. With the new Educator-led Awards, the lead applicant can be any school-based educator, including but not limited to: teachers, counselors, social workers and administrators.
  • Educator-led Award maximum grant: The former Teacher awards had a maximum award of $5,000. The new Educator-led awards have a maximum award of $7,000.

Applications were accepted February 10 through May 29.

We sought applications that aimed to create places, environments and practices that value belonging, well-being, tolerance, compassion, listening, non-violence, inclusiveness, working productively together, and restoring relationships and repairing harm. NoVo seeks a change from a world based on domination toward collaboration and partnership, and understands that this has to be valued, taught and modeled to and with children in order to make this shift a possibility.

Though all proposals were welcome, we also sought proposals that specifically support one or more of the following student populations:

  • Students from Indigenous communities
  • New arrivals (such as refugees) or immigrants
  • English learners
  • LGBTQIA+ students
  • Girls and young women of color
  • Students disproportionately affected by suspensions or the juvenile justice system
  • Students with learning disabilities
  • Students impacted by housing inequities or homelessness


We also gave priority to projects that:

  • Are focused primarily on student outcomes (as opposed to only adult outcomes)
  • Are original and innovative, and build off of existing evidence-based practices or the science of learning
  • Bring an orientation and analysis of racial and/or social justice
  • Serve students within a high-needs school
  • Are able to be implemented during the 2020-21 school year
  • Have the potential to carry on beyond the grant period
  • Demonstrate principal, school/district leader and peer educator support
  • Consider trauma-informed practices, implicit bias and culturally responsive approaches to teaching
  • Are creating alternative and restorative practices of accountability
  • Foster a deeper connection to nature

A complete list of eligibility requirements and selection criteria are available on the RFP and FAQ documents at the bottom of this page.

Please send any additional questions about the RFP or application process to

SEL in Action 2020 RFP can be found here.
SEL in Action Awards 2020 FAQ can be found here.

Awardee Testimonials:
Previous awardees have told us how important this grant has been to their work. Hear their stories through these two-minute testimonials:

  • S. Renee Mitchell, Portland Public Schools: “I cannot separate SEL from trauma-informed practices from equity, because I work with youth of color.” Watch her full testimonial here.
  • Mickey Diamond and Gregory Simon, Hudson County Schools of Technology: “It’s been there all along, but having a language for it and having a program has been really helpful for me.” Watch their full testimonial here.
  • Krystal Morris, Broward County Public Schools: “When you feel cared about, you act like you’re cared about.” Watch her full testimonial here.

2020 Summary: In our fifth year, we received nearly 800 applications from all 50 US States and the District of Columbia. Through a competitive process, 19% of applicants were selected: 105 educators and 40 districts. Read more about award-winning projects here. You can also view these project descriptions using an interactive search at this site:

2019 Summary: In our fourth year, we received over 1,300 applications from all 50 US States, the District of Columbia and one US territory. Through a competitive process, 11% of applicants were selected, 101 teachers and 40 districts. Read more about the award-winning projects here. You can also view these project descriptions using an interactive search at this site:

2018 Summary: In our third year, we received over 1,000 applications from more than 45 states. Through a competitive process, 12% of applicants were selected, 90 teachers and 34 districts. Read more about the teacher award-winning projects here. Read more about the district award-winning projects here. You can also view these project descriptions using an interactive search at this site:

2017 Summary: In our second year, we received over 800 applications from more than 40 states. 2017 was the first year we awarded district-level grants. Through a competitive process, 12% of applicants were selected, 67 teachers and 30 districts, with the complete list of selected awardees available here. We created a book to celebrate the achievements of these grantees, which can be found here:

2016 Summary: In our first year, we received a total of 430 teacher applications from 164 districts in 34 states. In August 2016, Education First announced 25 innovation awards to individual teachers and teams of teachers in 14 states. Find the list of 2016 recipients and descriptions of their projects here.

For more information about our support of SEL, see our SEL Teacher Practice website and publications Social and Emotional Learning: Looking Back, Aiming Forward and Social and Emotional Learning: Why Students Need It. What Districts are Doing About It.