Out-of-school-time (OST) programs have long focused on social and emotional development as part of their mission to build a sense of belonging among young people and positive relationships between youth and adults. Research demonstrates that high-quality, evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL) programs for young people are associated with positive outcomes, including improved behavior, attitudes, and academic performance.

This report provides tips and recommendations to help OST providers and OST intermediaries—organizations that provide support services to individual providers in a community— incorporate high-quality SEL instruction and practices into their programs. The authors drew on an extensive set of data, including surveys, interviews, observations, and document reviews from more than 100 OST programs (primarily afterschool programs) in six communities—Boston; Dallas; Denver; Palm Beach County, Fla.; Tacoma; and Tulsa—participating in Wallace’s Partnerships for Social and Emotional Learning Initiative.

The authors offer the following recommendations for OST leaders:

  • Phase in SEL instruction over time. Start with a few short SEL rituals—such as warm welcomes and emotion check-ins. Then add moments of SEL instruction into regular program activities and graduate to stand-alone lessons on SEL topics. This allows OST instructors to develop experience teaching SEL over time.
  • Deliver multiple SEL professional development opportunities throughout the year. Start with a longer kick-off training and follow up with short sessions, all of which include opportunities for adults to develop, model, and practice SEL skills. Develop written onboarding materials, offer training sessions that are easy to attend and differentiate between new and experienced OST staffers, repeat these trainings throughout the year, and pay staffers for taking part. These actions can help address the ongoing challenge of training a workforce that has high rates of turnover.  
  • Engage families using more than one form of outreach. Use multiple means of communications, such as program calendars, websites, email, bulletin boards, and in-person contact, to share information about SEL with families and guardians. Some OST programs also had success including families in SEL-themed activities at family nights and providing SEL activities for families to try at home.
  • Track SEL implementation as part of a continuous quality improvement cycle. Start by collecting a narrow set of data and reviewing it in a recurring cycle that leads to steps for program improvement. Clearly defined SEL goals can help programs and intermediaries identify areas of focus and the data they need to address them. Action plans and regular meetings to review data can help foster accountability.
  • Intermediaries—or similar organizations, such as mayor’s offices, district afterschool offices, or youth-based networks—can work with programs that need support. Intermediaries and the like can help fill gaps in OST program capacity to carry out SEL efforts—for example, by developing SEL lessons for OST instructors, leading a continuous quality improvement process, or creating a professional development sequence for SEL.

 Points of Interest

  • The out-of-school-time field has a history of fostering young people’s social and emotional learning. This publication provides research-backed tips for incorporating high-quality SEL instruction into their programs.
    Research-backed tips to help OST providers and intermediaries incorporate high-quality SEL into their programs.
  • Phasing in social and emotional learning activities over time—starting with short rituals like warm welcomes and emotion check-ins—gives out-of-school-time instructors a chance to get up to speed.
    OST programs should start small when it comes to SEL. Think warm welcomes and emotion check-ins, then build up to moments of instruction and full lessons.