Social and Emotional Learning

SEL: Pause, Celebrate, Imagine

This year on International Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Day, we wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate how far this field has come and to envision what the future of this field could be. Our mission at SCE is to prepare youth to thrive in a rapidly changing world and we’ve seen high quality SEL as a critical lever in that mission. SEL supports young people’s sense of empathy, curiosity and resilience among many other critical life skills. We are proud to have seen the field grow and are encouraged by many efforts to sustain and bring the field into the future. 

A moment of celebration

It’s been eight years since SCE launched our SEL program which was, at the time, a burgeoning field. SEL has grown exponentially in that time. In the past few years alone, the field has grown in adoption – with more funders, practitioners, a multitude of implementation strategies in place and over $765 million spent per year on SEL.

We would be remiss not to celebrate several of our SEL partners in the past 8 years, who have been on the ground carrying this movement forward. The truth is, the movement has grown in adoption because…it supports young people’s ability to thrive and be resilient during times of hardship. 

SCE’s SEL Challenge PartnersSCE launched our SEL program with the Social and Emotional Learning Challenge. This was a collaboration between SCE, exemplary youth workers selected through an open national competition, and a team of expert researchers setting out to explore how youth are best supported in cultivating teamwork, resilience, agency and empathy skills in informal learning environments. This work culminated into resources for implementing SEL through the Preparing Youth to Thrive guide

Partners included: AHA! (Attitude, Harmony, Achievement), Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, The Possibility Project, Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory, Voyageur Outward Bound School, Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, Wyman, Youth on Board and YWCA Boston. 

SCE’s SEL Challenge Partners (Round 2)This phase of the SEL Challenge focused on demonstrating how the Preparing Youth to Thrive content, training, performance measures and practices can be integrated into youth serving organizations across the country to improve SEL practice. Learn more about the findings and case studies here

The partners included: David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, School’s Out Washington (Seattle), Sprockets (St. Paul), After-school All Stars (Los Angeles), Beyond the Bell (Milwaukee) and Wyman.

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) – One critical force that has spurred growth of SEL is the work of CASEL. More and more communities are seeking resources on SEL, particularly as the pandemic wears on, and SCE has worked closely with this expert organization to meet that demand by launching new communications initiatives, such as this webinar series.

OST System Partners – In 2019, SCE provided grants to five OST organizations to build capacity and implement high quality SEL in a variety of ways. These initiatives included developing virtual programming during the pandemic, adding staff specifically focused on enhancing adult learning experiences and expanding to new segments such as behavioral health networks and parents. 

Partners included: After-School All-Stars, Wings for Kids, BellXcel, Wyman and Y-USA

Envisioning the future of SEL

The pandemic has further accelerated the recognition that SEL is foundational to life preparation, satisfaction and success. The pandemic and racial justice movements have also highlighted many opportunities for SEL to adapt, grow and learn. A few key opportunities SCE sees for lifting SEL up in the future:

Cohesiveness of SEL practices across young people’s day

When schools shut down, young people looked to coaches and out-of-school providers for these skills and even before the pandemic, young people saw these adults as mentors. The expansion of SEL as a field has also infiltrated many out-of-school time programs but has yet to take a stronghold in youth sports. It’s critical that the future of SEL includes the training of youth sports coaches which is why we’ve partnered with ten organizations for the Million Coaches Challenge – to close the training gap and make SEL practices a part of every aspect in a young person’s life. 

Implementing equity in a more tangible way

From the start, SEL was focused on creating equitable outcomes for all students. While equity has been top of mind for years, it would be diminishing to say that the racial justice movement across the country didn’t spur a sense of urgency to review SEL implementation strategies with an equity lens.

Recently, there has been a movement among educators, practitioners, researchers and the funder community to explore ways that SEL implementation could be more equitable. It has been brought to light that SEL curriculum is not immune to the same inequities that abound in other aspects of education systems such as not being culturally responsive and not including BIPOC voices or lived experiences. In some cases, SEL is focused on personal “resilience” without taking into consideration the historical inequities and collective trauma of BIPOC students and adults.

The future of SEL needs to be culturally relevant and include trauma-informed practices. Success has been shown when partnering with families and communities to develop culturally responsive approaches. When SEL is taught absent of cultural relevance and as a means solely of self-regulation, it can unintentionally reaffirm oppressive systems.

Encouraging youth voice

Integrating youth voices, when done correctly, can empower young people with a stronger sense of agency, identity and belonging. There are many resources on adult practice and youth skills but there is a gap in information about how to create environments and experiences that focus on shared power and youth agency. There is a need to widen the set of voices that contribute to SEL and in particular, include the lived experiences of young people. 

Relationships at the core of SEL teachings

As an element of high quality SEL implementation, we’ve known there is great value in adult and peer relationships for young people. A consistent, caring adult being present in a young person’s life is linked to greater SEL and general life outcomes including resilience. We also see a strong link between relationships and connection and belonging. This pandemic has highlighted relationships as an important piece in young people developing strong social and emotional skills. This is why we’re currently supporting Making Caring Common in its relationship mapping efforts so every child has access to a consistent, caring adult and Search Institute to research the value of peer-to-peer relationships.

It’s been a long road to get to where the field is today and there’s a long road ahead but we are feeling optimistic and hopeful that young people will thrive if we continue to support the development of their social and emotional skills.