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What if...

Dale-Blyth.jpgWhat if ... communities sought to educate the heart as well as the mind?

This is the idea behind the work of Kimberly Schonert-Reichl at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Kimberly will be one of the keynote presenters at the upcoming Social and Emotional Learning Summit May 5-6 at TCF Stadium. The two day summit presented by the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Youth Development and Youthprise initiative is designed to move from understanding to action. Check out Dr. Schonert-Reichl's brief video on why we should educate the heart. At the May summit she will discuss how schools, neighborhoods and others have used data in Vancouver to change the way community leaders and citizens work together to educate the heart.

What if ... our communities did holistic assessments of children that included their sense of belonging, reflection, engagement, and assertiveness?

This is the theme of another keynote speaker at the May summit. Gil Noam is the Executive Director of PEAR (Programs in Education, Afterschool, and Resilience) at Harvard University. Learn how teachers, youth workers and others use holistic data on young people to inform and improve their practices.

what-if.jpgWhat if ... Minnesota wanted to ensure all our youth are socially and emotionally equipped to learn and persist in that learning toward goals they set?

This question is being explored in Minneapolis and Saint Paul by a Generation Next Task Force I chair. What does socially and emotionally equipped mean and how would we know if they were? The task force is working to refine a high level goal in this area as well as explore existing data and ways of measuring key dimensions of social and emotional learning.

What if ... learning opportunities beyond the classroom - opportunities in 4-H, sports, and the wide variety of community youth programs - became more intentional about developing and measuring key dimensions of social and emotional learning?

A small group of out of school time leaders and funders are asking this very question. How might our field focus on some social and emotional learning attitudes and skills. How would this relate to quality improvement efforts underway? How would assessing it help us become more intentional? How might it help us better report on outcomes that are valued by our families, communities and schools? How might it unintentionally negatively affect our programs? These questions are also the focus of the second day of the SEL Summit in the Extension Center for Youth Development's symposium Assess It to Address It.

What if ... your community leaders wanted to support social and emotional learning? How would you help them?

Dale Blyth, Extension professor, School of Social Work, College of Education and Human Development*

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  1. I've recently had a conversation with the local Youth Development agency and was talking about their Youth Development programs. They said their priority is SEL learning, but is having a hard time measuring success...largely because this appears to be harder to measure - say than teaching reading, mathematics, capitals, etc. In a world of high accountability, what recommendations would you add to this conversation? Personally, I think SEL is extremely important and am looking at ways to infuse this in our programming. I look forward to all new information that comes out of your research. Thank you Dale.

  2. Joshua,

    One of the advantages of using a more explicitly SEL approach to youth development work is that there are measures of SEL competencies and concepts that are well-developed and quite usable.  I am encouraging use of these types of attitude and skill competency approaches as nearer term and quite important outputs or outcomes of youth programs. 

    Personally, I believe the accountability focus in this area should be on improving impact rather than just proving whether a specific approach has impact.  I say this because 1) engaging youth workers and youth in an improvement process is part of what a healthy social and emotional learning approach is, 2) because, like quality, improvement is more motivating than judgement, and 3) the very nature of social and emotional competencies are that they are learned within and across settings, not just in a shingle program.  That is why checking to see if the youth in your program are developing and using these competencies in your your setting (an output of the program if you will) as well as whether they are building skills in your and other settings that they are using across settings (a valued outcome).

    From the assessment perspective, there are a number of different factors to consider. That is one reason we are bringing in both Kimberly Schonert-Reichl and Gil Noam to talk about what broad-based assessment of youth can do to change both the conversation and practice.  I encourage you and your colleagues to tune in online or join the SEL SUMMIT conversations on either May 5th or May 6th.
    Beyond that and more to the question of what specific SEL measures to consider, I would encourage you to check out (in addition to Gil's Holistic Student Assessment andKim’s Middle Years Developmental Index), a recent three volume report by the national Strive Network entitled Beyond Content.  It provides a nice review of literature, concepts and different approaches and specific measures across different age ranges.  A similar various compendium of assessments is available from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).  Also, theDESSA is a specific tool for K-8 youth that is aligned well with CASEL's five dimensions.

    An approach that is less about accountability but has great potential for increasing a program's intentionality in how they build such skills is the more 21st Century skill-oriented MHA Labs work.  Their dimensions and ratings are designed to help practitioners be more explicit in what they are doing and the direct feedback they provide youth in each dimension.

    Our initiative is currently working on a brief about assessment that will be released next month around the SEL Summit that may also help frame these issues.