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Professional Development

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Adapting SEL Programs to Your OST Program

While the goals of social and emotional learning (SEL) and out-of-school time (OST) programming are well-aligned, relatively few OST programs focus primarily on developing SEL skills.

In the recent report Navigating Social and Emotional Learning from the Inside Out, Stephanie Jones, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a team of researchers explore 25 evidence-based SEL programs to ensure that schools and OST programs can make informed decisions on adopting strategies that best suit their SEL goals, needs and resources.

Programs are most effective, however, with the right foundation. In the report, the authors outline a set of principles and considerations to help guide your program and make choices that are appropriate for your program's context.

Align SEL adaptations with your program mission.

The report highlights four common principles underlying quality SEL and OST programs:

  1. Provide a safe and positive environment for children and adults.

  2. Support the development of high-quality relationships between children and adults.

  3. Are developmentally appropriate, relevant and engaging for children.

  4. Provide opportunities for direct skill building.

The report states that leaders must build on these core principles by considering what elements of SEL programs best match their mission and needs.

"When SEL adaptations for the OST context start from these dimensions of mission alignment," writes Jones, "children are more likely to benefit."

Consider program tensions.

According to the report, organizations must grapple with five key tensions when adapting SEL programming for OST settings. Carefully consider each of these tensions to help guide your program in adopting program elements that best meet your needs.

  1. Expansion is difficult when forcing standardization. To most effectively use programmatic ingredients, partners must think about how they can differentiate for the specific needs of their organizational context and student population.

  2. The benefits of consistency must be balanced with the need for programming to be additive. Research suggests that consistency across contexts improves outcomes for children and youth, but repetition could also lead to student disengagement. Organizations must consider how to maintain consistency without becoming redundant.

  3. SEL programs must authentically support the mission of the OST organization. Adaptations are most effective when they're fully integrated into the mission and practices of an organization. Programs must choose ingredients from SEL programs that support their existing mission.

  4. In addition to mission, the pedagogical approach of SEL and OST programs should be both aligned and additive. SEL programs vary in goals and pedagogical approaches. Organizations should look for SEL programs that match their existing pedagogical approach and can be easily integrated with—but also add to—what an OST program already offers.

  5. Organizations must consider the specific SEL needs and learning styles of their students. Collecting data could help inform choices about the content and activity type your program adopts. Once you're clear on student needs, choose SEL ingredients that best address target outcomes.

Build your SEL program.

After considering your mission, pedagogical approach, partner organizations and students' needs, it should be possible to use the report to search for appropriate SEL building blocks—including structures, strategies, routines and activities.

Commissioned by The Wallace Foundation, Navigating Social and Emotional Learning from the Inside Out looks inside and carefully analyzes evidence-based SEL programs to provide comprehensive details, transparent information and cross-program analyses about in-school and OST programs. To download the full report, visit http://bit.ly/NavigatingSEL.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of AfterSchool Today, the official publication of the National AfterSchool Association.