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How does out-of-school time foster social emotional learning?

By Margo Herman

Recently, the Extension Center for Youth Development launched a three-year initiative to explore social emotional learning (SEL) and its role in positive youth development.

Colleagues of mine have blogged about the importance of SEL, the need to build understanding around common language and measures, and why the time is right to try and make a difference in how we think about, assess, and work to improve policy and practice.

This week, I ask you to think about the following important question: HOW do out-of-school time programs help youth acquire these skills?

A New York Times article on Sept. 11, 2013 "Can Emotional Intelligence Be Taught?" was the second most emailed article for the paper that day. The author states "noncognitive skills -- attributes like self-restraint, persistence and self-awareness -- might actually be better predictors of a person's life trajectory than standard academic measures".

Based on extensive research by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), the model pictured here identifies interrelated competency clusters for social emotional learning that help us understand what skills we are talking about:
  • Self management - assessing one's feelings, interests, values and strengths
  • Self awareness - regulating one's emotions to handle stress and impulses
  • Social awareness - taking the perspective of and empathizing with others
  • Relationship skills - establishing and maintaining healthy and rewarding relationships
  • Responsible decision making - ethical, safe, respectful decision making within social norms
This CASEL research identifies specific stages of development of self concept and relationship skills through elementary, middle school and high school years.

This leads to the question of HOW youth learn and receive support for developing these important skills within families, schools and communities. In an article in this month's Kappan magazine, CASEL proposes two educational strategies:
  • Systematically teaching, modeling and facilitating the application of social and emotional competencies in ways that allow students to apply them as part of their daily behaviors,
  • Establishing safe, caring and highly engaging learning environments involving peer and family initiatives and schoolwide community building activities.
These two strategies have me thinking about how quality out-of-school time programs actually teach, model and support these competencies, particularly by providing safe, supportive, interactive and engaging environments for our youth. I am optimistic these two strategies may provide a springboard for us to consider as we move forward with the SEL initiative.

In a few weeks we have a unique opportunity to interact with Roger Weissberg, President and CEO of CASEL at our Oct. 30 symposium: Social and emotional learning: From research to strategies. He will help our symposium attendees grapple with these concepts and frameworks and spark further insights that may help us define strategies for Minnesota.

In what ways are you supporting this skill development in your current youth development efforts? Is it working? Who do you think is doing this work well that we should learn more about?

Margo Herman, Extension educator, educational design & development

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.
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  1. Margo - Thanks for the focus on HOW! The who, where and when of how we support young people learning social and emotional skills is critical.
    Youth programs and other community learning opportunities offer realistic and exciting opportunities for youth to have experiences where these skills are demonstrated, engaged, and learned. These are outcomes that fit OST and the philosophy, values, and practice approaches that youth work know and use when done well.
    I was talking last evening over dinner with a colleague and he was observing that we so many of these skills as critical but feel like we do not have time to or know how to teach them when in reality most skills are learned through experience and practice not textbooks. Community learning opportunities can be great places for youth to have real experiences that teach important social and emotional skills -- and we should proudly claim and proclaim that fact.

  2. Thanks for your post, Margo. I agree, the HOW, is the right place to focus. These two strategies seem pretty global, and aligned with what we know about quality youth work practice. CASEL has also identified the SAFE acronym for after-school programs that effectively enhance social and emotional competencies. SAFE programs use a coordinated, SEQUENCED set of activities, use ACTIVE learning techniques, are FOCUSED on social and emotional learning for a sufficient amount of time, and are EXPLICIT about what they wish to achieve. I think these SAFE elements help get at the HOW youth programs support social and emotional learning.

  3. Good points, Dale! I imagine now that we have named what the social emotional skills are, youth programs can proudly claim: "We DO that!" or "We CAN do that!.. Sharing examples from youth workers about how their programs intentionally recognize what skills they are teaching and how they are teaching them will be invaluable to the field. The research is compelling, and the resources are rich for understanding SEL. Now we look forward to the conversations to share tangible ideas for creating strategies to increase the benefits for all youth! Judging from the great numbers of registrations for the October 30 Symposium on Social Emotional Learning, folks are ready to engage in this exciting work.

  4. Yes, the SAFE model is a great example! It provides a deliberate way of looking at programming with SEL skills as the focus. Thanks for sharing a concrete way to begin enhancing programs with these competencies and skills. Is anyone in our conversation circle using this kind of model and willing to describe the benefits or challenges of implementing it in practice? Other approaches you are using?

  5. Check out our website at the Extension Center for Youth Development for Social Emotional Learning resources: