Study Offers Insight

Study at 38 School Sites Offers Insight Into the Effects of Social Emotional Learning
Posted on 10/13/2020
Three students in front of classroom door.

The Partnerships for Social Emotional Learning Initiative (PSELI) is a comprehensive, multiyear project exploring how children can benefit from intentional collaborations between schools and out-of-school time (OST) programs that are focused on building social-emotional skills.

PSELI communities are working to help 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.

Research has found that those competencies promote success in school, career, and life. The study works across the system and site level in six communities (Boston, Dallas, Denver, Palm Beach County, Fla., Tacoma, Wash., and Tulsa, Okla.). It offers important insights from the first two years of the initiative, at a time when interest in SEL is growing.

Early lessons from a six-community, 38-site study provide valuable information for schools and OST programs, to assist with implementing social and emotional learning support for students:

The experience of PSELI communities suggests benefits in developing adult understanding of SEL and skills, that then encourages students to follow suit.

“We learned that social emotional learning [SEL] needs to start with the adult and is an ongoing journey of reflection,” said Kristen Rulison, the SEL Manager in the School District’s Division of Teaching and Learning. “We provide SEL professional development to continue to develop adult understanding of SEL skills in order to foster those skills in students.”

As such, strengthening adults’ abilities to regulate their emotions and foster healthy relationships served as a foundation for delivering SEL instruction to students. School staff and OST providers benefited from clear guidance about which SEL practices should be implemented and at what frequency.

Some professional development sessions that addressed student SEL skill-building also included content relevant to building adults’ SEL skills. Having designated SEL coaches helped schools and OST programs adopt SEL instruction, demonstrate best practices, and give feedback on how to improve.

SEL-focused partnerships (between schools and OST programs and/or districts and OST coordinating entities, or intermediaries) face barriers, but there are strategies to help overcome them.

A commitment to SEL and taking time to meet were important starting points for the partnership. Partnerships benefited from new structures to support collaboration and new staff roles that bridged both settings.

Communities approached SEL implementation in three ways: through explicit skills instruction, integrating SEL into academic instruction and OST activities, and creating a positive in-school and out-of-school culture and climate.

Both in-school SEL curricula and OST practices needed to be adapted. OST Intermediaries drew inspiration from existing school versions or created their own programs from scratch.

Modifications were necessary to make materials culturally responsive and/or relevant to certain groups of students, such as those with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). Some existing instructional practices already contained strategies that promote SEL.

Many educators referred to these as “good teaching.” SEL rituals and routines were good starting points for promoting a positive climate. Efforts to improve school climate should consider both students’, and adults’ social and emotional well-being.

Creating a shared vision of SEL, determining roles and responsibilities, and identifying which SEL skills to develop, were helpful early steps in implementing SEL.

This was done by focusing on certain observable skills and behaviors for both adults and students at the site level, and then working backward to plan the needed system-level supports. Additionally, working to develop a common language for SEL, which can aid in a shared understanding between system and site-level staff.

What also proved valuable was dedicating staff time to ensure clear and frequent communication through written material, email, phone, in-person coaching, professional development sessions, role-alike professional learning communities, and system staff attendance at site-level SEL team meetings.

“We have also learned the importance of SEL implementation through explicit skills instruction,” Rulison said. “This year, we created a District-wide SEL Guide to support teachers with weekly SEL skills that they can focus on. We have provided explicit instruction lessons and videos to support each weekly SEL theme/skill.”

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