The most comprehensive study of social and emotional learning implementation to date offers early lessons for schools and out-of-school-time programs on how to carry out high-quality social and emotional learning instruction.
The COVID-19 pandemic, along with the national racial justice movement, has highlighted the pressing need to address the social and emotional well-being of young people, many of whom are experiencing anxiety, trauma and loss of connection with peers and caring adults. In recent surveys, public school teachers have indicated that supporting students’ social and emotional well-being would be a higher priority in fall 2020 than it was the previous year and have expressed a need for more professional development on social and emotional learning (SEL).
With interest in SEL outpacing empirical evidence on how to carry out SEL-related programs and practices, a new RAND study helps to narrow the gap. It examines the early years of the Partnerships for Social and Emotional Learning Initiative, a multiyear Wallace-sponsored effort exploring whether and how children can benefit from partnerships between schools and out-of-school-time (OST) programs focused on building social and emotional skills—and what it takes to do the work. Communities involved in the initiative approached SEL implementation in three ways: through skills instruction, integration of SEL into academic instruction and OST activities, and creation of a positive in-school and out-of-school culture and climate.
Early Lessons from Schools and Out-of-School Time Programs Implementing Social and Emotional Learning suggests that districts and out-of-school-time programs implementing SEL consider: focusing on developing a set of social-emotional skills of both students and adults; defining those skills and planning the needed supports from school districts and OST intermediary organizations; developing a common language for SEL that can build shared understanding of the terminology among school and OST staffers; setting aside staff time for clear and frequent communication; and documenting and formalizing SEL routines and practices, such as protected time for SEL in the school/OST schedule, so they can survive staff turnover.
The report covers how, in the first two years of the initiative, six communities (Boston, Dallas, Denver, Palm Beach County in Florida, Tacoma and Tulsa) have gone about incorporating social and emotional learning programs and practices into the school and OST parts of the day. RAND’s findings are based on a trove of data—approximately 5,000 completed surveys of school and OST staff members, 850 interviews, and observations of more than 3,000 instructional and non-instructional activities in schools and OST programs—making this the most comprehensive study of SEL implementation to date.
Among the six communities in the initiative, RAND found:
– A community-wide definition of SEL, shared terminology, and guidance on what skills and practices to focus on were helpful to site leaders carrying out the work.
– PSELI communities viewed adult SEL skills, such as establishing and maintaining healthy relationships, as a foundation for students’ SEL skill building.
– SEL rituals and routines, such as warmly greeting students and closing with an opportunity to reflect on the day’s activities, were a good starting point for promoting positive culture.
– All six communities expressed a need for curriculum materials that would be culturally appropriate for a diverse student body.