6 strategies for solidifying SEL partnerships

Study offers ideas for overcoming barriers that can hinder partnerships between districts and after-school programs
By: | October 22, 2020
(GettyImages/Fly View Productions)(GettyImages/Fly View Productions)

Social-emotional learning thrives when adults in schools and after-school programs develop and model SEL skills, such as forming healthy relationships, according to a new report.

Over the last two years, the six communities in the ongoing study followed three common strategies: explicit social-emotional learning instruction, integration of SEL into classroom instruction and other activities, and a focus on creating positive cultures.

“The insights are especially relevant now that COVID-19 has disrupted school and out-of-school time programming on an unprecedented scale,” said Gigi Antoni, director of learning and enrichment at The Wallace Foundation, which partnered with The RAND Foundation on the study. “The pandemic has also amplified the urgency of addressing students’ social and emotional wellbeing along with their academic learning.”

The study also offers ideas for overcoming barriers that can hinder partnerships between districts and out-of-school time (OST) programs.


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These strategies include creating a shared vision for SEL and establishing roles and responsibilities.

The study is following initiatives at 38 schools and after-school sites in Boston, Dallas, Denver, Palm Beach County, Tacoma and Tulsa. Here are six early lessons from the project:

  • 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.
  • A mutual commitment to SEL and making time for in-person meetings were key to establishing school-OST partnerships.
  • The communities taking part in the effort viewed adult SEL skills, such as establishing and maintaining healthy relationships, as a foundation for students’ skill-building.
  • SEL rituals and routines, such as warmly greeting students and closing with reflections on the day’s activities, were a good starting point for promoting a positive culture.
  • Setting a positive climate should cover physical space, culture, norms, goals, values and practices.
  • SEL practices should be mutually reinforced across the school and OST program day.

A separate RAND Corporation survey found that 80% of teachers want more professional development in topics related to social-emotional learning.

“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 Corporation. “Research like this is vital to understanding what works, what doesn’t, and what lessons should inform efforts going forward.”

The project will continue for another two years, and future reports will document the emerging SEL strategies.


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