Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Importance of Social-Emotional Learning

By Sam Piha

Joseph Durlak
Joseph Durlak and his team have produced some seminal studies that examine the impact of in-school and afterschool programs that promote social-emotional learning. Two of his most important studies offered a meta-analysis, examining high-quality evaluations of the programs and their many effects on youth outcomes. We urge the readers to review these studies when reflecting on the implementation of their own programs. Readers should also visit the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) website. Below we offer a brief interview with Dr. Durlak. 

Q: In partnership with a number of your colleagues, you conducted two meta-analyses regarding the effectiveness in school and after school efforts to promote social-emotional learning. Can you briefly explain what is meant by social-emotional learning and competencies? 

A: In brief, social and emotional learning (or SEL) focuses on the systematic development of a core set of five interrelated social, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral competencies that help children more effectively handle life challenges and thrive in both their learning and their social environments. These skills fall into five areas:   self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. Representative competencies in these areas include the abilities to recognize and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, appreciate the perspectives of others, establish and maintain positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle interpersonal situations constructively (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, 2013).

Q: In your research you were interested in whether youth gained social-emotional competencies and whether this had an impact on school behavior and academic success. What did you learn?

A: Overall, we found that the 213 programs that we evaluated were successful in improving students functioning in all six of the outcome areas we examined.  
In perhaps the most important finding, programs were able to improve students’ academic performance (grades and test scores) to a degree that corresponds to an 11% percentile gain in academic performance.  This type of gain corresponds to what many educational interventions have been able to do based on other evaluative research.  SEL Programs also significantly improved students’ self-perceptions, their social and emotional skills, and their prosocial attitudes (e.g., toward school ) and significantly reduced levels of conduct problems and emotional distress (e.g., symptoms of anxiety and depression).   

Q: In these studies, the effectiveness of these efforts were conditional on the quality of the implementation. You identified some key characteristics of implementation that were vital to the program’s success. Can you briefly describe these characteristics? 

A: Extensive research on both children and adults suggests that skills training is most effective when certain principles are followed. Many of these principles are consistent with educational research on effective teaching practices. 

We found that four characteristics representing four of these principles were associated with programs that were more effective than others.  We constructed the acronym, SAFE, to capture these features. ‘S’ stands for Sequential, meaning that programs had a carefully sequenced plan that was designed to develop SEL skills.   This was usually accomplished by a specific curriculum or protocol that built competencies in a coordinated, step-by-step fashion.  ‘A’ stands for Active and means that active forms of learning involving practice and feedback were used to develop skills. Hands-on learning followed by constructive feedback leads to skills acquisition. ‘F’ stands for Focused, meaning that sufficient time was set aside exclusively for skill training, ‘E’ stands for Explicit and means that the skills targeted in each program were clearly explained to students so they knew what was expected of them. 

Aside from these four program characteristics, we also found that programs that were associated with better implementation were more effective than those that experienced problems with implementation.  Implementation involves several dimensions but basically refers to the extent to which intended programs are conducted as planned. 

In other words, effective SEL programs are both well-designed from the start and well executed when they are put into action.   

Q: There is growing discussion of the importance of non-cognitive skills. How are these non-cognitive skills related to the SEL skills that are promoted by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)?
A: In general, there is now growing evidence that success in school and later life is not dependent solely on one’s cognitive or intellectual abilities.  The different domains of functioning are not independent. We have shown that fostering students’ personal and social development via SEL programs can also improve their academic development.   

Q: The LIAS project is promoting 5 key principles that we should apply in our afterschool and summer programs: learning that is active, collaborative, meaningful, supports mastery, and expands horizons. Can you say a bit about the relevance of these principles and how they overlap, or not with social-emotional learning?

A: There is considerable overlap and sometimes only the terms are different. For example, learning that is active and that supports mastery relates to both the ‘A’ and ‘F’ of our acronym in that students need to practice new skill and we must devote sufficient time and attention to foster student mastery. 

The LIAS principles of collaboration, meaningfulness, and expanded horizons are each consistent with the types of skills that compose SEL such as skills relating to managing one’s emotions, developing and maintaining satisfactory relationships with others, and enhancing self-awareness.  In general, the LIAS principles and the five SEL domains allows flexibility and adaptations to occur for work with different types of youth at different developmental stages, and with different needs and interests.

Joseph Durlak is Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology at Loyola University, Chicago. He currently lives in Santa Fe. New Mexico, where he remains active writing, editing, consulting, and reviewing. His primary interests are in prevention programs for children and adolescents, meta-analysis, community psychology, and social and emotional learning programs. He has published major reviews on prevention programs for youth, after-school programs, program implementation, and school-based social and emotional learning programs.  He is currently editing contributions for the Handbook of Social and Emotional Learning, to be published by Guilford in late 2013.   

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The How Kids Learn II Conference - SOLD OUT

By Sam Piha

The How Kids Learn II conference in San Francisco is now sold out but interested parties can put their name on our waiting list. The conference will feature leading thinkers from the fields of education, youth development, and the new science of learning. Speakers include Pedro Noguera, Jane Quinn, Robert Granger, Nicole Yohalem, Jenny Nagaoka, Renate Caine, Jodi Grant, and a number of innovative, highly acclaimed program leaders from the Bay Area. 

This one-day TED-like conference is being sponsored by the Learning in Afterschool & Summer Project and  Temescal Associates. Co-sponsors include the WHH Foundation, the Packard Foundation, the John Gardner Center at Stanford University, Region 4 (Alameda County Office of Education), THINK Together, City Span, Partnership for Children and Youth, DCYF, Bay Area Community Resources, LA's BEST, Children Now, and Public Profit.  The conference is being conducted at the Contemporary Jewish Museum on January 9, 2013. If you wish to be on the waiting list, sign-up today at

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Social-Emotional Learning: The Responsive Classroom

By Sam Piha

There has been much discussion of the importance of social-emotional learning. This discussion has been amplified by a recent study showing the effectiveness of Responsive Classroom approaches. This study was recently featured in Education Week. While they focus on the classroom, the principles and practices are very relevant to afterschool programs. Their principles and practices are very well-aligned to the LIAS principles. Below we offer a major excerpt from the Responsive Classroom website. Check it out.

"The Responsive Classroom approach is a way of teaching that emphasizes social, emotional, and academic growth in a strong and safe school community. Developed by classroom teachers, the approach consists of practical strategies for helping children build academic and social-emotional competencies day in and day out.
Guiding Principles
The Responsive Classroom approach is informed by the work of educational theorists and the experiences of exemplary classroom teachers. Seven principles guide this approach:
  1. The social curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum.
  2. How children learn is as important as what they learn: Process and content go hand in hand.
  3. The greatest cognitive growth occurs through social interaction.
  4. To be successful academically and socially, children need a set of social skills: cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, and self-control.
  5. Knowing the children we teach—individually, culturally, and developmentally—is as important as knowing the content we teach.
  6. Knowing the families of the children we teach and working with them as partners is essential to children's education.
  7. How the adults at school work together is as important as their individual competence: Lasting change begins with the adult community.
Classroom Practices
The Responsive Classroom is a general approach to teaching, rather than a program designed to address a specific school issue. It is based on the premise that children learn best when they have both academic and social-emotional skills. The Responsive Classroom approach consists of a set of practices that build academic and social-emotional competencies and that can be used along with many other programs.
These classroom practices are the heart of the Responsive Classroom approach:
  • Morning Meeting—gathering as a whole class each morning to greet one another, share news, and warm up for the day ahead
  • Rule Creation—helping students create classroom rules to ensure an environment that allows all class members to meet their learning goals
  • Interactive Modeling—teaching children to notice and internalize expected behaviors through a unique modeling technique
  • Positive Teacher Language—using words and tone as a tool to promote children's active learning, sense of community, and self-discipline
  • Logical Consequences—responding to misbehavior in a way that allows children to fix and learn from their mistakes while preserving their dignity
  • Guided Discovery—introducing classroom materials using a format that encourages independence, creativity, and responsibility
  • Academic Choice—increasing student learning by allowing students teacher-structured choices in their work
  • Classroom Organization—setting up the physical room in ways that encourage students’ independence, cooperation, and productivity
  • Working with Families—creating avenues for hearing parents' insights and helping them understand the school's teaching approaches
  • Collaborative Problem Solving—using conferencing, role playing, and other strategies to resolve problems with students"

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Skills That Matter and the Role of Afterschool and Summer Programs

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
There is a growing body of research that suggest that young people's development of non-academic skills are critical to their academic achievement and success. In fact, there is good evidence that the acquisition of these skills are better predictors of academic achievement and life success than standardized test scores. These skills are referred to as social-emotional competencies and non-cognitive skills. We believe that afterschool and summer programs are well-positioned to develop these skills and educate stakeholders as to their importance. It is important to note that having an impact on youth outcomes requires strong program design and consistent implementation. 

Jenny Nagaoka
Pedro Noguera
The Learning in Afterschool & Summer project will use the upcoming How Kids Learn II conference and several future blogs to highlight these important skills. At the conference, we will hear from Dr. Daniel Goleman (via video), Founder of Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and the author of Emotional Intelligence. The conference will also feature a presentation by Jenny Nagaoka, University of Chicago, on the role of non-cognitive skills in adolescence. We expect that we will also hear about the importance of these skills from presenter, Dr. Pedro Noguera from NYU. 

Joseph Durlak
A future blog will focus on the Responsive Classroom approach - a way of teaching that emphasizes social, emotional, and academic growth in a strong and safe school community. In addition, future blogs will feature interviews with Joseph Durlak and Paul Tough. Dr. Durlak is known for his meta-analysis studies of the impact of in-school and afterschool programs that worked to promote social-emotional learning and key features of implementation that are required for impacting youth outcomes. Paul Tough is a writer whose articles and books examine the importance of non-cognitive skills. His latest book, How Children Succeed, is having a major impact in the fields of education and youth development.  

Practitioners can find more articles on social-emotional learning and activities that promote these competencies on the Edutopia website. 

Monday, November 5, 2012


By Guest Blogger, Jennifer Peck, Executive Director of the Partnership for Children and Youth

Jennifer Peck
It is very rare that the Partnership for Children and Youth formally weighs in on ballot measures, but we believe Proposition 30 is so important to the schools, families and students that we serve, that it is essential for us to speak out.

If Proposition 30 fails, a huge number of California school districts will have no choice but to cut two weeks from the school year.  The Partnership invests a great deal of time and energy building quality summer programs for low-income children, because we know that long summers have staggering impacts on student achievement and health.  A shortened school year would mean more summer learning loss, more health and safety risks for children, and growing economic challenges for working parents.

Proposition 30 would provide revenue for schools and local government to combat these threats and keep the school year intact.  Proposition 30 is an important step in the right direction towards rebuilding essential services and confidence in our public systems.  To learn more, go to:
The school year matters, summer matters, and so does your vote.  We at the Partnership strongly urge you to go to the polls on Tuesday and vote Yes on Proposition 30.  

Jennifer Peck was a founding staff member of the Partnership For Children and Youth in 2001 and became its Executive Director in 2003. Jennifer leads a coalition of California organizations advocating for new federal policies to improve the effectiveness of after-school and summer-learning programs. She was also one of our speakers at the How Kids Learn Conference in January 2012. Jennifer was recently honored by the Afterschool Alliance as an Afterschool Champion

Thursday, November 1, 2012

This November, Learning Is on the Ballot

By Sam Piha
Below is a blog submitted by guest blogger, Jennifer Peck, Executive Director for the Partnership for Children and Youth. This blog was originally posted in the Huffington Post.
Sam Piha
Here, in California, there are two initiatives that will impact school funding and the length of the school year - Proposition 30 and Proposition 38. It is very important to note that Proposition 38 provides additional funding support for K-12 schools. Whereas Proposition 30 also includes additional funding support for our community colleges. Please make your decision carefully. Also, local ballots may include initiatives to provide additional funding for local schools.

By Guest Blogger, Jennifer Peck
Jennifer Peck
When voters go to the polls next week, it's critical to know what's really at stake for our children's education.
Across the country, and here in California, if statewide and local school funding measures do not pass, it will result in shorter school years, longer summers, and even greater obstacles to learning for students.
A shorter school year, and longer summer, means that more students will struggle academically and teachers will be forced to spend more time on catch-up and remedial 911 once the new school year begins. Decades of research tells us that children excluded from meaningful summer learning opportunities experience "summer learning loss" -- the loss of critical academic skills and knowledge that sets students back when summer ends and the new school year begins.
Without access to summer camps, vacations, and private summer enrichment programs, children from low-income families are disproportionately at risk for summer learning loss. In addition, we know that students without summer learning opportunities are less likely to be physically active and eat well, increasing the conditions contributing to America's childhood obesity epidemic. A shorter school year isn't just about fewer days in class; it's also about what happens, or doesn't happen, for kids over a longer summer. The result will be more barriers to students' mental and physical development.
Fortunately, high quality summer learning programs have been proven to combat summer learning loss and improve students' health. Summer learning programs are a vital complement to the regular school year, and we need adequate resources for both in order to effectively educate all children.
So when you go to the polls this November, keep in mind what's at stake for our schools and communities. The school year matters, summer matters, and so does your vote. Of course simply protecting what we've got is not enough, but it's a critical step to rebuilding the educational system all our students deserve. Join me and vote "yes" on investing in our schools.

Jennifer Peck was a founding staff member of the Partnership For Children and Youth in 2001 and became its Executive Director in 2003. Jennifer leads a coalition of California organizations advocating for new federal policies to improve the effectiveness of after-school and summer-learning programs. She was also one of our speakers at the How Kids Learn Conference in January 2012. Jennifer was recently honored by the Afterschool Alliance as an Afterschool Champion

Reed Larson’s Research on Youth Development

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