Dive Brief:

  • Social-emotional learning programs can benefit from adults’ knowledge of their own SEL skills, according to a report released Tuesday by the RAND Corp. and the Wallace Foundation.
  • The report, based on 5,000 surveys of school and after-school program staff, as well as 850 additional interviews and thousands of observations, also found effective SEL supports benefited from a shared vision of SEL skill development.
  • However, effective out-of-school-time (OST) partnerships, which the report says “have a lot of potential” to help students’ SEL development, face structural and logistical barriers like high staff turnover in OST programs and different times of operation that prevent points of connection.

Dive Insight:

With many students returning to in-person instruction and others choosing to remain home for part of the 2020-21 school year, districts continue to prioritize the social-emotional needs of students. Many districts aren’t implementing informal benchmark assessments until a few weeks into the school year, making sure to get students re-acclimated to learning first and avoid overwhelming them right off the bat. 

Many districts that had already put in place SEL strategies throughout closures will be continuing efforts as closures extend or are putting recovery plans in place for the fall as students return to brick-and-mortar. Efforts include home visits, regular phone calls, advisory groups, one-on-one time between students and school counselors, and online student media monitoring through platforms like Gaggle. 

“For many schools and OST programs, efforts to implement social and emotional learning are still relatively new,” said Heather Schwartz, director of the Pre-K to 12 educational systems program and a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corp., in a statement.

The report suggests that for out-of-school time programs to work as part of those efforts, school and program staff need to develop shared norms, language, practices, and trust and respect for one another.

The report follows a separate RAND survey showing 80% of teachers wanted professional development in SEL. In that survey, elementary-level teachers were more likely to express that their schools put in place SEL supports compared to their secondary-level counterparts.

It also showed three out of four teachers received some professional development that addressed SEL during the 2018-19 school year. However, that PD was least likely to show teachers how to adapt SEL to different cultures or backgrounds, or how to use student SEL data  both of which being challenges during closures and important in the return to the classroom when students are given SEL screenings.

“As districts work to engage students during the pandemic, the need for a sense of belonging is greater than ever,” said Sherrie Raven, director of Partnerships for Social Emotional Learning Initiative Implementation at the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). “During a time when students may feel isolated and like there is so much that is out of their control, it is critical to help adults and students build strong ties and create opportunities for young people to develop healthy identities and strengthen their sense of agency.”

Raven added districts and OST providers are using virtual and in-person means to connect with students, help them feel connected, and use their problem-solving and resilience to make the most out of the 2020-21 school year.

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