This report presents findings from the first two years of the Partnerships for Social and Emotional Learning Initiative, a multiyear Wallace-supported effort exploring whether and how children can benefit from partnerships between schools and out-of-school-time (OST) programs focused on building social and emotional skills. Coming at a time when interest in social-emotional learning is outstripping empirical guidance about how to carry out programs and practices, the report covers the early work of six communities that have gone about incorporating social and emotional learning programs and practices into the school and OST parts of the day: Boston, Dallas, Denver, Palm Beach County in Florida, Tacoma and Tulsa. The findings are based on a trove of data—approximately 5,000 completed surveys of school and OST staff members, 850 interviews, and observations of more than 3,000 instructional and non-instructional activities in schools and OST programs—making this the most comprehensive study of social and emotional learning (SEL) implementation to date.

The report is designed to be useful to those carrying out SEL instruction in schools, out-of-school-time programs, or both.

Among the early lessons for those considering SEL efforts are: Focus on developing a set of social-emotional skills of both students and adults; define those skills and plan the needed supports from school districts and OST intermediary organizations; develop a common language for SEL that can build shared understanding of the terminology among school and OST staffers; set aside staff time for clear and frequent communication; and document and formalize SEL routines and practices, such as protected time for SEL in the school/OST schedule, so they can survive staff turnover.

These early lessons are based on key findings from the experience of the six communities in the first two years of the initiative (2017-2019). The findings included:

  • A community-wide definition of SEL, shared terminology and guidance on what skills and practices to focus on were helpful to site leaders carrying out the work.
  • A mutual commitment to SEL and making time for in-person meetings were important means of getting school-OST partnerships under way.
  • The communities taking part in the effort viewed adult SEL skills, such as establishing and maintaining healthy relationships, as a foundation for students’ SEL skill building.
  • SEL rituals and routines, such as warmly greeting students and closing with an opportunity to reflect on the day’s activities, were a good starting point for promoting a positive culture.

Although each community customized its approach, all sites participating in the initiative focused on four activities:

  1. Setting a positive climate, which refers to the features of a school or OST environment that youth and adults experience, including the physical space, culture, norms, goals, values and practices;
  2. Offering SEL-specific instruction to students;
  3. Integrating SEL, as well, into academic instruction and enrichment activities; and
  4. Creating mutually reinforcing SEL practices across the school and OST program day.

 Points of Interest

  • To help schools, out-of-school-time providers, or both working together, adopt social and emotional learning programs and practices, school districts and OST intermediaries should combine a shared vision for SEL with frequent, clear communication, according to a RAND Corp. study.
    RAND: Shared vision and clear communication can help schools and out-of-school-time providers launch a strong social-emotional learning effort.
  • There is a perceived and actual power difference between schools and out-of-school-time providers that share a building. Ways to ensure mutual respect and effective collaboration on social and emotional learning efforts include: strengthening space-sharing arrangements so OST staff members can deliver SEL instruction in a quiet environment; hiring full-time, on-site OST managers who can attend school meetings; and establishing a steering committee for SEL with representation from both school and OST staffers.
    Want schools and out-of-school-time providers to work together on social and emotional learning? Face-to-face meetings and better space-sharing help build mutual respect.
  • Communities in The Wallace Foundation’s Partnerships for Social and Emotional Learning Initiative have reported the need to modify SEL curricula so that instruction is culturally responsive and relevant to all their students. Curriculum developers and experts at the district and out-of-school-time intermediary—not frontline instructors—should be the ones to make these modifications.
    RAND: Social and emotional learning curricula do not come out of the box culturally responsive to all students. It’s the responsibility of developers and experts to make changes.

 Supplementary Materials