This brief is part of a commissioned series that draws on Navigating Social and Emotional Learning from the Inside Out, a resource that examines 25 widely-used SEL programs, providing comprehensive information and cross-program analyses about the various in-school and out-of-school-time programs currently available in the United States.
As schools and out-of-school-time (OST) programs embrace the expanding field of social and emotional learning (SEL), a number of barriers have arisen to implementing programming at scale, including time and funding. These challenges are likely exacerbated in low-income contexts and raise the need for more flexible and affordable supports.
This brief suggests one possible approach to lowering the barriers: identifying and using low-cost, targeted strategies called “evidence-based prevention kernels.” These strategies, which address a specific behavior, could be taught quickly and be more feasible to implement than comprehensive programs. For example, a teacher could use a deep-breathing exercise (known as the “turtle technique”) to help students calm down or hand signals to indicate a change in direction for the class.
Drawing on a content analysis of 25 top SEL programs by researcher Stephanie Jones and her team at Harvard’s EASEL Lab, the brief shows how kernels could be applied across different settings—in classrooms, for example, but also on the playground and at home—to maximize their impact. It also breaks down the possible components of kernels to help practitioners understand the optimal conditions for their use.
When employed consistently and regularly, kernels could have the potential to increase both social adjustment and academic achievement, the researchers say. They also postulate that kernels could be more readily applied, easy to administer, and ultimately could come at a lower cost for schools and OST programs than comprehensive SEL curricula.
The brief highlights the research team’s pilot process for developing possible kernels and samples of kernels relevant to SEL programming. The team suggests directions for developing future guides and additional study to help increase implementation of targeted SEL strategies across different contexts and grade levels.