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Afterschool Alliance Guest Blog: Promising practices for social and emotional learning

Guest blog: Promising practices for social and emotional learning

Written by Haviland Rummel, Executive Director of the Susan Crown Exchange (SCE). October 2016.

How do young people learn to thrive? This is the driving question behind SCE’s Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Challenge, which sheds new light on how afterschool programs can equip teens with valuable social and emotional skills. We know that skills like emotion management and problem-solving are important for life success, but less is known about the strategies and practices around how to build these skills in afterschool organizations.

The SEL Challenge brought together experts in youth programming, developmental science, program evaluation and performance measurement in a two-year learning community to explore how six SEL skill sets—emotion management, empathy, teamwork, responsibility, initiative, and problem solving—are best cultivated in teens.

The programs ranged from the fairly large, such as the Voyageur Outward Bound program in St Paul, MN, where 18 fulltime staff take young people of all ages into wilderness adventures, to the Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory, where six staff engage the city’s youth through hands-on, programming inspired by the heritage of the sea. Although the content of these programs couldn’t be more varied, each in its own way helps students develop motivation, coping skills, agency and self-awareness. The close relationships and self-confidence that result are more important than the content.

Each of these programs is helping to turn kids into well well-rounded adults with skills to navigate life. We found that all children—no matter where they live or what they’ve been through—can deepen their social and emotional growth. Most of all, these young learners taught us that these programs really change the trajectory of their lives, unveiling their abilities to endure and advance.

This work is summarized in a free field guide called Preparing Youth to Thrive: Promising Practices for Social & Emotional Learning and accompanying website, SELpractices.org, which offer youth-serving organizations of all types strategies, case studies, resources and tools to remix and adapt the SEL practices in their own settings. The guide supports expert practitioners and novices alike in improving the intentionality and impact of social and emotional skill building and assessment. We are keenly aware that this is new territory and a first draft, but we’re clear that the programs that we studied hold profound lessons to help kids become responsible and grounded adults, ready to function in the workplace or in college, and certainly as citizens.

Later this month, the SEL Challenge Technical Report highlighting the methodology and findings of the two-year study will be released by the David P. Weikart Center. We invite you to join a Thought Leader Roundtable webinar discussion at 2 pm ET on October 20 to learn more about the findings and their implications for policy and practice. You can also download the SEL field guide for free at SELpractices.org.

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