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A map through the jungle of social and emotional learning

elizabeth-hagen.jpgHow do we navigate through the SEL jungle? Having agreed that now is the time to make this journey I can recommend these valuable resources from Strive Together and its Minnesota network partner, Generation Next.

Strive Together

Strive is fostering a network of communities building the civic infrastructure necessary to support the success of every child from cradle to career. It has developed a Student Roadmap to Success -- a framework to guide communities in supporting the development of young people from cradle to career to improve youth outcomes and eliminate the achievement gap.

The upper half of the visual representation of this roadmap is focused on academic benchmarks, and the lower half on student and family support benchmarks - including the development of social and emotional competence.

The problem for many communities using the road map, however, was getting a better sense of how to more explicitly name social and emotional competencies and effectively move them to the level of the other goals that focus on academic proficiency.

clear-path.jpgRecognizing the need for greater clarity on how social emotional competencies affect achievement and how these competencies can be measured and improved, Strive recently released a three-volume report, Beyond Content: Incorporating Social and Emotional Learning into the Strive Framework. It is a good entry point for anyone taking on social and emotional learning. It focuses on five competencies:
  1. Academic self-efficacy
  2. Growth mindset/mastery orientation
  3. Grit/perseverance
  4. Emotional competence
  5. Self-regulated learning/study skills.

The first volume describes these competencies and summarizes the evidence of their malleability and their relationship to academic achievement. The second volume provides a summary of different measures of social and emotional skills across the Cradle to Career continuum, and the third volume includes the actual surveys used to measure these skills.

Together these reports serve as resources for cross-sector education partners as they select which competencies to focus on and how to measure the effects of their efforts. This focus on measurement acknowledges the reality that the development of social and emotional competencies is much more likely to be prioritized if data show both the need for such focus and that such focus leads to measurable improvement.

Generation Next

Here in the Twin Cities, Generation Next, our local member of the nationwide Strive Network, recognizes the importance of developing social and emotional competencies. Their Noncognitive Task Force has recommended a sixth goal be added: "All seventh graders are socially and emotionally equipped to learn". This proposed goal refers to learning in and out of the classroom, and to persistence in learning. Like the others, this goal names a skill and names a grade for assessment.
While ambitious, this level of clarity gives our schools, out-of-school programs, community leaders, and families a clear goal for bridging the achievement gap. Reaching it may lead to better understanding of which skills to focus on and how to improve these critical outcomes for youth.

What is your reaction to this proposed goal? If it were accepted, would it help your work? How could you make it a visible part of your community's commitment to young people?

How would measuring social and emotional development enhance your work with youth? Is this a path through the jungle that makes sense to you?

-- Elizabeth Hagen, Graduate research assistant for the Howland Social and Emotional Learning Initiative, doctoral candidate in school psychology

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. Great resource Liz for those entering the jungle. I found the quick summaries of the research in each of the five areas especially helpful along with the charts and actual copies of measures in the second and third volumes. Two of Minnesota's own were part of the Task Force - Paul Mattessich from Wilder Foundation and Kent Pekel, the President of Search Institute.
    One question I am working on is way does CASEL's list of social and emotional learning components include responsible decision making and this one does not? Similarly, why does CASEl's list leave off explicit reference to mindset and grit (though they might be argued to be under some of their components). Any thoughts on this?

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
    Dale, I also noted the different lists of SEL skills listed by Strive and CASEL. For the most part, the two lists overlap, but you highlighted some key differences. In my opinion, one of the big challenges were faced with in trying to increase awareness and evidenced programming related to social and emotional competencies is getting on the same page about what exactly it is we're talking about! In the mean time, our best approach might be to "agree to disagree" and work together in emphasizing the many non-academic, non-cognitive skills that are critical for success in school and career.
    Kate, I'm also excited to see Generation Next move forward under Rybak's leadership. He has mentioned in many interviews that one of his favorite parts of being mayor was his involvement with the Step-Up internship program, which each year enables hundreds of youth to gain valuable job experience and mentoring while in high school. This program clearly has an emphasis on helping young people develop social and emotional competencies to prepare them for success in the workplace!

  3. Thanks for this summary and related helpful resources. I found the five competencies in Beyond Content: Incorporating Social and Emotional Learning into the StriveTogether Framework: Volume I a helpful illustration of how children with a variety of social-emotional needs can experience success in learning. Given my focus on children’s mental health, I think that perhaps most specifically the research supporting “emotional competence” reflects a common starting point for working with children both with and without mental health diagnoses. It’s common for many to think that the needs of children with diagnoses are significantly different from other children, but there is overlap -- both in need and in effective interventions. A Public Health Approach to Children’s Mental Health: A Conceptual Framework created by the National Technical Assistance Center for Children’s Mental Health states:
    “From a population perspective, optimizing children’s mental health can
    improve society’s potential for academic success, economic well-being, productivity and
    competitiveness in the global market, ability to protect the nation’s security, and overall
    quality of life. Furthermore, efforts to promote optimal social and emotional growth benefit all children, even those who are not likely to develop mental health problems, and society can in turn reap the rewards when these children have added capacity to function.”
    This framework as well as the research and interventions suggested in these five competency descriptions give us a strong starting point.

  4. Cari--I really like your point about the overlap between what children with and without mental health diagnoses need in order to succeed. I think this definition from the Surgeon General, speaks to a similar point: mental health is “a state of successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with other people, and the ability to adapt to change and cope with adversity.”
    This definition reminds me that mental health is much more than a lack of mental illness--it's a full range of skills that lead to a safe and fulfilling life. Pairing universal social and emotional learning interventions with more targeted services for students in need of additional supports seems like a very promising means of working to increase mental health for all young people.

  5. I am happy to see people discussing on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). I wish all parents including immigrants are well equipped to take this matter into their hands and initiate Social and Emotional Learning at home to prepare their children be exposed to outside world such as, school and After-school programs. Then it would be easier to share experiences with peers in school and be prepared to face life ahead of them. I don’t mean that all parents are not aware of Social and Emotional Learning of their children but I mainly focused on my own observation of Immigrant parents who let their children go and face the agony of street life. I am not blaming anybody but I strongly suggest that collaboration between parents and educational institutions can enhance the development of children throughout the stages of life towards adulthood. I don’t think that there is a magic solution for Social and Emotional learning shortages here or anywhere but I strongly believe that the cooperation between parents, communities, and all educators will help our youth to thrive.
    Check this website:

  6. Silvia Alvarez de DavilaNovember 18, 2013 at 5:14 AM

    Working in the field of family relations, I think there is a great need to include the family perspective related to social emotional learning, particularly when we are looking at immigrant families. However it is not only the family where children learn the social emotional skills, it is also the school and community settings Despite the fact that in most of the cases Latino immigrants are inspired by their family and find in their children source of strength, they find new challenges as they cope with a new environment shaping their parenting practices. They have to deal with many loses as a result of their migration. They gave up their culture, traditions and community ties, leading to a sense of emptiness; to overcome this emptiness at their arrival they have to construct different concepts. They have to provide meaning to their lives by developing strong ties within their enclave joining those similar to them in their new community. First they have to learn how to function in their community of destination and then they have to find mechanisms to overcome adversity and face the new challenges. Therefore it is an urgent need to engage these families in learning processes, intercultural exchanges and mentoring programs to gain the skills to raise healthy families and provide their children the skills they need to become active members in the community they are growing.

  7. Silvia and Getachew-
    Your comments about immigrant families and their children so clearly describe many of the struggles these families face. You might be interested in reading an issue of the Children's Mental Health eReview that we produce here in the Children, Youth & Family Consortium (CYFC) called The Impact of Trauma on Infants. Mary Jo Avendano serves as one of the authors of this issue and she addresses many of the traumatic experiences immigrant families face. These are issues to consider as we look at the social-emotional learning needs of these young people. You can find the issue on our website at here.


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