By Sam Piha
Social-emotional learning (SEL) and character skills are increasingly accepted as vital for youth to promote their success in school, work, and life. Dr. Dale Blyth has been a leader in youth development and SEL for many years. Below we offer a brief interview with Dr. Blyth. (He will also be a featured speaker at our Speaker's Forum on April 6th in Los Angeles and April 10th in Oakland. We have also posted three briefing papers on SEL authored by Dr. Blyth on our Expanded Learning 360°/365 website.)
Q: Can you give a brief description of what you mean by social-emotional learning?
A: I see social emotional learning as the ways children and young people learn to deal with emotions, other people, and tasks -- what I call their ways of being.
Q: SEL (sometimes talked about using the terms of non-cognitive skills, growth mindsets, etc.) has gained acceptance as vital for success in school, work, and life. How did this acceptance come about?
A: Partly from new research on a clearer set of measured concepts in this area and partially from the failure of a strictly academic or "cognitive" focus to provide results.
Q: You also talk about "program quality". Can you define this?
A: Program quality is about the processes and practices that programs use to ensure youth are safe, engaged and have voice. I like the way the Weikert Center's Youth Program Quality Assessment (YPQA) defines and operates in this space.
Q: In your mind, how is SEL different than the principles and practices of "youth development", which we learned about in years past?
A: I see a lot of compatibility or overlap in good youth development and good SEL practices. Youth development is less focused on any specific outcomes, meets youth where they are, and is youth centric. Good SEL is also youth centric but more conscious or deliberate about helping youth build social and emotional competencies (knowledge, skills, attitudes) needed for success.
Q: You write about the importance of pursuing SEL through intentional practice. Can you say what you mean by this and offer a couple of examples?
A: Intentional practice involves preparing adults to do SEL, creating environments that use routines that deliberately foster SEL, designing programs/activities/experiences that deliberately involve SEL competencies and help youth practice SEL. This includes using data to improve these skills in young people and the climate of the program.
Examples: Program practices that create space for emotions and seek to understand where youth are at each day; programs that involve team problem solving and promote positive relationships; and feedback from staff that promotes self reflection and is more about feedback than advice.
Q: Could you explain the idea that some SEL skills are "taught" while others are "caught"? Can you give some examples?
A: Young people are learning how to deal with the emotions, relationships and tasks everyday. In this sense, SEL skills are being caught from role models and others around us -- whether positive or negative.
At the same time, we can also deliberately or intentionally teach youth these kinds of competencies and help them have experiences where they use them. Unlike math which needs to be primarily taught to be learned, SEL is learned in both ways and we miss a lot of opportunities to shape SEL competencies if we limit ourselves to just a teaching mode. SEL competencies may even be primarily caught and not taught. The distinction is important so that we do not create a class on SEL and think our job is done -- teaching is not enough.
Q: Due to rising costs (including the raise in minimum wage), afterschool programs increasingly have less to invest in staff development and training. Can you suggest some core staff competencies that can lead to a program quality "floor"? (Example: facilitating youth discussions that can lead to the establishment of group agreements and check in circles).
A: I am not a believer in raising the floor as the right approach to professional development in the field. I would argue for a middle out development of the field and its professionals. Great middle managers, site coordinators, and such are the key to supporting the front line -- training the front line in basics as a whole will not do the job we need in my view. Great youth development is more about expertise -- knowing how to read the situation and respond - than it is about a checklist of basic competencies.
Q: The Learning in Afterschool & Summer project promotes five learning principles that are based on "how" not "what" children learn (learning that is active, collaborative, meaningful, supports mastery, and expands horizons). How well do these principles link with SEL and program quality?
A: They are highly related and very compatible. Best SEL practices include the SAFE elements - sequenced, active, focused and explicit.
Dr. Dale Blyth served as the Howland Endowed Chair in Youth Leadership Development with the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Youth Development and the College of Education and Human Development. From 2013 to 2015 he led the SEL Initiative, a partnership between the University and Youthprise. The American Youth Policy Forum describes Dr. Blyth as "one of our favorite SEL gurus".
By Sam Piha
There is a growing consensus among school day and expanded learning educators that young people need social-emotional and character skills to be successful in school, work, and life.
The 360°/365 Project and Temescal Associates are offering a number of educational and training events for expanded learning program staff:
JOIN US AT BOOST
DAY I, Workshop 1: April 19th, 2017; 10:30-12:15
Let’s Zoom in on Trust: The Role of Trusting Relationships in Expanded Learning
DAY I, Workshop 2: April 19th, 2017; 2:45 – 4:45
Screening of Finding the Gold Within and Discussion
Day II, Workshop 1: April 20th, 2017; 10:00 – 12:00
Social and Emotional Learning: Feedback and Communications Insights from the Field
Day II, Workshop 2: April 20th, 2017; 1:15 – 2:30
Transforming Schools Through Restorative Practices and Engaging Youth Voice and Leadership
Day II, Workshop 3: April 20th, 2017; 3:45 – 5:15
Promoting Success in School, Work, and Life!
Day III, Workshop 1: April 21st, 2017; 9:15 – 11:15
These Forums offer access to national thinkers and researchers, innovative practitioners, and networking opportunities.
April 6, 2017 (Los Angeles); 9:00am-12:00pm
Getting Intentional about Social and Emotional Learning: Promise, Progress, and Priorities with Dr. Dale Blyth
April 10, 2017 (Oakland); 9:00am-12:30pm
Getting Intentional about Social and Emotional Learning: Promise, Progress, and Priorities with Dr. Dale Blyth
April 28th, 2017 (Fresno); 9:00am -12:00pm
Ignite Learning with a Growth Mindset! with Emily Diehl (Mindset Works). Click here to request more information.
REQUESTS FOR ON-SITE TRAINING
The 360°/365 Project offers a number of no-cost and low-cost professional development training for expanded learning programs. These trainings are offered by CalSAC, Temescal Associates, and ASAPconnect. You can use this link to request more information.
Developing a growth mindset in the young people we serve in expanded learning programs is an important part of what we do. Below is a personal take on this important work.
By Guest Blogger, Frank Escobar
Frank Escobar, Visalia Unified School DistrictSpending more than half of my life in and out of a locker room, one gets very used to the sound of competition. Sayings like, “failure is not an option” and “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” were common echoes in my upbringing. From one coach to the next, it was always about winning, getting better, playing your best, minimizing mistakes, practice makes perfect, etc., etc. It’s no wonder that I wanted to quit after losing my first soccer game of the year in 4th grade or during the 4th quarter of my first contact football game in 8th grade. I was convinced by others, that if we weren’t winning or if I wasn’t playing well, we or I were losers and should concede. As I look back, all I remember about my playing days is that every coach I ever played for was obsessed with one thing – winning. That is, except for one. My dad.
Frank Escobar Sr. never officially served as one of my coaches but I’m certainly convinced today, he taught me more about sports than any formal coach I ever had. Back then, my dad had what we call growth mindset today. A former junior college athlete himself, it wasn’t that he lacked competitive drive or a will to win, he simply had perspective. And, that perspective helped balance my competitive spirit for years to come, even today.
I do consider myself competitive, even hyper-competitive at times. The difference is my competitiveness is not tied to winning, rather just competing. I went 0-10 my senior year in college and while most of my teammates (and coaches) were rather embarrassed of our performance, I didn’t seem to mind telling friends and family how my last hurrah in college football ended up. You see, I was just happy to have been playing college football. A 5-foot, 100-nothing pound little Mexican kid from Nowhere, California was just lucky to attend a college, let alone convince a college to pay for me to attend. This is how I kept perspective and as a result, didn’t allow a 0-10 final season discourage or distort my beliefs about who I was, what I was capable of or what I should or shouldn’t pursue in my future. Call me uncaring, of low expectations, accepting of failure, and I’ll call me keeping perspective and exercising an attitude of learn from your mistakes and move forward.
Today, our American culture makes it difficult to accept a loss. After all, we have to be the best at everything don’t we? Whether in finance, business, sports or education, America was built on competition, and not just competition but winning that competition.
Now, we strive to place our children in the best of institutions, raise them in the best of neighborhoods, give them the best of advantages in life possible so that we can help them live the American dream – to be a winner. It is quite scary how we have become a society consumed with winning at all costs and accepting nothing less. This is all too evident in our material wealth, showroom lifestyles, and obsession with Facebook stalking the reality-show lives of the rich and famous.
I believe if we are to willing to win, we must accept failure as a part of that process. But also accept that winning is up to one’s own interpretation and right to define. Where one may define winning as earning a 4-year college degree and entering their dream career, another not far away might define winning as a stay-at-home parent committed to their child’s upbringing. I wish America, in all it’s diversity, would better accept that winning is as diverse in definition as the very social-fabric that clothes it. And where one may define a loss another defines it a win.
I choose to believe that losing is an important, necessary experience in life. And not just for the sake of winning but for the simple sake of living. I also believe that the more we teach our young ones to lose, the more they’ll win at whatever it is they define as winning in life.
In our after school sports league, RIZE, we constantly tell our coaches they should be hoping for a loss. Obviously, we get lots of blank stares and every now and then a good laugh. But the honesty in it is that when our students lose in the after school program, whether in a sport game or a dance competition or on a quiz, our staff “win” the opportunity to develop their grit, resiliency and growth mindset. The social-emotional skills and perspective that will help them deal with the real losses in life that will inevitably challenge them in their years to come.
Today, I can’t be more proud of my colleagues and our field for the wide embrace that we have given the act of failure. As odd as it may seem and indifferent to how I was raised (in the locker room), I do believe that my losses in life and work have defined me but have also developed me into the person of resiliency and persistence that I am today. For me, I truly believe that losing is the new winning.
Frank is currently the Manager of After School Programs at Visalia Unified School District in Visalia, CA as well as speaker, trainer and consultant for the after school and youth development fields. A popular speaker and trainer at school assemblies, youth and after school conferences, Frank has spoken to thousands of middle and high school youth and trained hundreds of educators and youth program workers across the country.
Frank and his colleague, Rico Peralta, created a Facebook page entitled, Strive. Strive aims to provide tips, tools and resources for those who work in the after school field and manage the day-to-day operations of an after school site. Frank was also named a Next Level Leader in afterschool and joined us for a 2-day convening of other leaders across the state.
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.