Professional Development

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Developing Partnerships with Schools to Advance SEL Efforts

Partnerships between schools and out-of-school time (OST) programs are an integral facet to supporting youth development, especially due to the high potential to accelerate children's social and emotional development.

Because SEL and youth development can occur in whatever settings children and youth inhabit throughout their day, these partnerships deserve appropriate time and effort to be successful.

Early Lessons from Schools and Out-of-School Time Programs Implementing Social and Emotional Learning presents findings from the first two years of the Partnerships for Social and Emotional Learning Initiative (PSELI), a multiyear effort exploring whether and how children can benefit from partnerships between schools and OST programs focused on building social and emotional skills. The report, authored by the RAND Corporation, focused on the six communities in PSELI, which is funded by The Wallace Foundation. It is designed to be useful to those carrying out SEL instruction in schools, out-of-school-time programs or both.

When it comes to developing partnerships with schools to advance SEL efforts, the report found SEL outcomes are positively associated with the following conditions: Stable and safe environments; strong and supportive relationships with multiple adults; consistent messages—particularly about expectations for positive behavior—across settings; and more practice in SEL.

In addition, there were several key takeaways and early lessons found from the PSELI communities studied:

• Being committed to SEL and taking the time to meet were important starting points for district-OSTI partnerships. Schools and OST programs can function in parallel worlds with few points of connection. Although they bring complementary expertise, they also have large organizational differences and therefore need to develop shared norms, language, and trust. Institutionally, both the OSTI and the district in each community had made important commitments to SEL prior to the start of PSELI and once it began, which aided those partnerships. Although finding time could be challenging because of busy schedules, the system-level leaders interviewed in the report said it was important to make the time to meet in person in at least the beginning stages of the initiative to build relationships and trust across the organizations.

• School-OST partnerships benefited from new structures to support collaboration and some new staff roles that bridged both settings. School-OST partnerships typically started with the principal and OST manager meeting regularly and then evolved into collaboration mechanisms, such as a SEL committee. But the PSELI sites also increasingly adopted staffing roles that bridged the school and OST day. Examples of these roles include an OST SEL coordinator and crossover positions that enable school teachers to work for the OST program and OST staff to work for the school.

• Staff turnover posed serious challenges for district-OSTI and school-OST partnerships. Recurring staff turnover has been the norm, especially in school district positions and among OST instructors. This turnover can stall the school-OST partnership formation. In response to OST staff turnover, one community developed onboarding materials to codify the OST partners' role in building strong connections with the school.

• There was a perceived and actual power differential between schools and OST programs. The difference in power tipped in favor of schools, and some OST and OSTI staff expressed that they were perceived as "babysitters" or as having less say in PSELI decisions. There has been some improvement over time, especially among the proportion of school staff who felt respected by OST staff. Ways that schools and OST programs have reduced the power imbalance include improving space-sharing for OST program functions, hiring full-time on-site OST managers or coordinators who can attend school meetings, and establishing SEL steering committees with representation from both school and OST staff.

• Joint professional development (PD) for school and OST staff was difficult to execute. Because of opposing work schedules in which the school teachers' days end as afterschool instructors' days begin, it was hard to find mutually acceptable times when both staff could attend joint training. It was also challenging to find content that was equally applicable to both sets of staff. Instead of relying on joint PD sessions, school and OST staff suggested adapting the content of that PD to make it applicable to staff in both settings and delivering PD separately. In this way, PD can foster a shared understanding of the work without requiring members of each group to participate at the same time.

• SEL rituals were a good starting point for OST and school staff to create continuity, which was deepened by use of consistent SEL curricula. The use of SEL curricula, which is referred to in the report as content sequences in OST settings, can be a tall order for OST programs, given that such materials are not readily available on the market. Using consistent SEL curricula also requires considerable coordination to jointly plan pacing schedules so that youth receive instruction on complementary SEL topics in both settings each week. Short of consistent curricula, the joint use of SEL rituals or other brief SEL activities is a less demanding form of SEL coordination that may prove more practical, particularly for OST programs led by volunteers or those that are too brief to deliver full units of study from a SEL content sequence.

There were a variety of early lessons learned from these findings that afterschool professionals should take note of.

Despite the challenges of limited time, consider the benefits of face-to-face meetings, especially in the first year of a SEL partnership, to develop trust and understanding of each other's organizations. Make space-sharing modifications as needed so that OST instructors can reasonably deliver SEL instruction to groups of students in a quiet space. Document and formalize SEL processes and routines so they may live on even if specific individuals leave. Examples of formalized processes may include a short list of desired, observable behaviors and conditions, as well as a list of "do-now" activities for school and OST staff with guidance about when and how to use them.

To read more on the topic of developing partnerships with schools to advance SEL efforts, view the report in its entirety by clicking here.

Courtesy of NAA.

Photo courtesy of Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.