By Sam Piha
What are Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Character Building Skills?
Recently, there has been a flurry of research studies and articles on essential non-academic skills, attitudes, and beliefs that young people need in order to be successful in school, work, and life. These studies and articles have promoted a number of new terms - non-cognitive skills, social emotional learning, growth mindsets, character, and grit - to name a few. The Wallace Foundation recently published a study on which terms resonate best with K-12 educators, afterschool leaders, and parents. They concluded that “social emotional learning” was the term that was favored by all three groups.
Due to the explosion of new terms related to SEL and character building, The Expanded Learning 360°/365 Project convened a research group to review all of this and synthesize it into something more digestible. They recently published two papers, Student Success Comes Full Circle and Finding Common Ground, to share their three foundational areas of SEL and character building:
Alignment With the California Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs
Expanded learning programs (also referred to as afterschool and summer youth programs) are perfectly positioned to promote these three foundational areas. The California Quality Standards (CQS) draw on the best of what we know about the characteristics of quality expanded learning programs and quality learning environments. If programs focus on the SEL and character building, they are likely to successfully promote CQS. For instance, promoting I AM (intrapersonal skills) and I BELONG (interpersonal connections) will greatly support the quality standards of Safe and Supportive Environment, Active and Engaged Learning, and Skill Building. Likewise, the I CAN (beliefs and mindset) foundational area is intertwined with Skill Building and Youth Voice and Leadership.
Continuous Quality Improvement
The California Department of Education funds thousands of expanded learning programs. They do not require programs to show effectiveness with a standardized tool, however, they do ask programs to engage in a continuous quality improvement process.
In conducting a program improvement process, it is important that leaders be clear and intentional (explicit) about which standards or SEL and character building skills they are seeking to promote. It is only then that program leaders can ask, “How is our program promoting the chosen standard or SEL and character building skills and how could we adjust our program practices to improve our results?”
It is essential that program leaders use a tool to capture data on their program. They are then well positioned to design and implement program practices that are well aligned (focused) with the standards or SEL and character building skills they are working to intentionally effect. The Expanded Learning 360°/365 Project has designed a self-reflection tool that is focused on SEL and character building and program practice. The 360°/365 Project has also designed several program training modules on promoting the I AM, I BELONG, and I CAN skills, which are being offered by the California School-Age Consortium.
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.