To make SEL stick, align school and out-of-school time

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FOCUS                     STARTING STRONG

                  To make SEL stick,
                     align school
                and out-of-school time
                                                     BY SUZANNE BOUFFARD

           or 20 years, Prime Time              time programs typically strive to foster   approach across the school day and out-
           Palm Beach County, a                 in the young people they serve. Prime      of-school time hours. Like Gopie, she
           nonprofit organization in            Time leaders believe you must foster       believes that starts with adults’ skills.
           Florida, has supported local         the skills in adults first. As Katherine        In 2017, when Rulison began
           out-of-school time programs          Gopie, the organization’s director of      developing an SEL professional learning
with professional learning, capacity            professional development, puts it,         plan for a group of elementary schools,
building, and other resources. One of           “Adults have to first understand what      she kept hearing about Bringing
the organization’s most popular and             SEL is, then they have to embody it,       Yourself to Work from community
longest-running professional learning           then they can model it.”                   partners. She brought it to the schools
offerings is called Bringing Yourself to            That approach resonates with           as the first professional learning offered
Work, which helps out-of-school time            Kristen Rulison, social and emotional      to school staff. It fit nicely with two of
practitioners develop self-awareness,           learning manager for the School            the core components in a framework
understand and facilitate positive              District of Palm Beach County. Rulison     of five SEL competencies from the
group dynamics, and strengthen their            develops and oversees the district’s       Collaborative for Academic, Social,
relationship-building strategies.               approach to SEL and works with             And Emotional Learning (CASEL):
    Those are key social and emotional          Prime Time to ensure that elementary       self-awareness and self-management.
learning (SEL) skills that out-of-school        students experience a consistent           (The other three are social awareness,

30     The Learning Professional |                                                  August 2021   |   Vol. 42 No. 4
                                                                                                 AND PALM BEACH COUNTY

                                                                                                 P    alm Beach County, Florida, and
                                                                                                      Tulsa, Oklahoma, are two of
                                                                                                 the six communities participating
                                                                                                 in the Partnerships for Social and
                                                                                                 Emotional Learning Initiative,
                                                                                                 which is supported by The Wallace
                                                                                                 Foundation. In each community, the
                                                                                                 local school district and an out-of-
                                                                                                 school time intermediary facilitate
                                                                                                 the partnerships, bringing together
                                                                                                 multiple schools and community-
                                                                                                 based programs.
                                                                                                     In Florida, Prime Time Palm
                                                                                                 Beach County, a local nonprofit
                                                                                                 intermediary organization, co-leads
                                                                                                 the partnership with the School
                                                                                                 District of Palm Beach County.
                                                                                                 Prime Time had a longstanding
                                                                                                 presence in the community, but its
                                                                                                 relationship with the district had
relationship skills, and responsible         different approaches, both communities              been limited to the department of
decision-making.) Focusing on those          are committed to professional learning              afterschool programming.
skills, Rulison says, helps staff focus on   for adults as the backbone of improving                 The partnership grant has
“being the best you” for students.           practice and student outcomes.                      provided an opportunity to create
     Prime Time and the School                   Their insights complement the                   more alignment across the school
District of Palm Beach County aren’t         findings of an October 2020 interim                 day. Kristen Rulison, the school
the only organizations focusing on           report by RAND, the project evaluator.              district’s social and emotional
professional learning to develop adults’     Both communities are encouraged                     learning manager, says this “has
SEL skills. That strategy is one of the      by the growth they see in staff and                 pushed us to be more explicit and
themes emerging from a study of six          students. In fact, leaders in Tulsa                 intentional about SEL and well-
communities working to foster SEL            are so pleased with the changes at                  being and to acknowledge that all
across school and out-of-school time         their district’s pilot sites that they are          educators are caregivers.”
settings.                                    expanding the SEL supports to all                       Tulsa Public Schools is
     The Partnerships for Social             elementary schools in the district.                 partnering with The Opportunity
and Emotional Learning Initiative,                                                               Project, a citywide intermediary
supported by The Wallace Foundation,         WHY SEL PARTNERSHIPS?                               for expanded learning. Previously,
is a six-year effort to prioritize social         SEL, which includes skills and                 out-of-school time programs
and emotional learning in Boston,            capacities such as empathy, self-                   across the city were scattered and
Dallas, Denver, Palm Beach County,           regulation, and conflict resolution, is             disconnected, according to Paige
Tacoma, and Tulsa. The initiative            a key element of success in school and              Kennedy, The Opportunity Project’s
focuses on simultaneously building           life, according to decades of research              associate director of professional
capacity in schools and out-of-school        (Jones & Kahn, 2017). It develops in                learning & quality improvement.
time programs.                               all of the places where children and                    Some programs had
     Team members from two of the            youth spend their time, not just at                 partnerships with individual
participating communities — Palm             home, but also in school, after-school,             schools, but the lack of a systemic
Beach County, Florida, and Tulsa,            and community settings (Durlak et al.,              approach led to gaps in access and
Oklahoma — spoke with The Learning           2015).                                              quality. The Opportunity Project
Professional to share what they’ve                Research suggests that students                team aims to change that so that all
learned during the first half of the grant   benefit when all of those settings take             students have equitable access to
period. Although they take slightly          a consistent approach to fostering SEL              high-quality experiences.

August 2021   |   Vol. 42 No. 4                                       |   The Learning Professional   31
(Jones et al., 2018; Jones & Bouffard,
                                                 WALLACE FOUNDATION SUPPORTS FOR THE PARTNERSHIPS
2012), just as children’s literacy skills
                                                 FOR SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL LEARNING INITIATIVE GRANTEES
improve when they read not only at               IN THE FIRST TWO YEARS OF IMPLEMENTATION
school but also at home, on the bus, at
the laundromat, and everywhere they              Form of support                                                                  2017-18 2018-19
go.                                              Annual implementation grants to districts and out-of-school                          3            3
     Schools and out-of-school time              time intermediaries
programs can build that consistency.
                                                 Additional grant to expand out-of-school time enrollment and                                      3
They share students and often the same           enhance the quality of out-of-school time services in Phase 1
physical space. Rulison describes out-           sites
of-school time as “a continuation of
                                                 Weekly newsletter emailed to system-level managers                                   3            3
the school day experience” for many
students and says, “The more we can              Annual daylong meetings with system leaders and Wallace                              3            3
align those experiences, the more                program staff to discuss the community plan for implementation
positive experience school will be for           Technical assistance from CASEL, the Forum for Youth                                 3            3
students.”                                       Investment, Crosby Marketing Communications, and Education
     School and out-of-school time               First
also offer complementary skill sets and          Learning communities
resources from which each can benefit.
“SEL has always been a focal point                    For system leaders from the six communities (twice per                          3            3
for us in the OST space,” says Prime                  year)
Time’s Gopie, because it “dovetails                   For staff from the 38 sites (once per year)                                                  3
with positive youth development
practice, which is the grounding for             Role-alike retreats for school principals, SEL coaches, and out-of-                               3
                                                 school time site leaders*
much of our work.” Schools often have
more infrastructure for professional             RAND formative feedback reports for each community                                   3            3
learning and access to financial and
                                                 Website that contains each community’s initiative-related data                       3            3
human capital, as well as expertise              (surveys, observations, SEL student assessment data, RAND
about student learning and curriculum.           reports)
     The Partnerships for Social and             * Role-alike meetings or retreats bring together educators that hold similar positions or roles and
Emotional Learning Initiative is                 encourage professional learning and networking.
based on the idea of combining those                                                                                      Source: Schwartz et al., 2020.
strengths to weave a tight net of SEL
supports for students. The project              on the following four elements, which                  (see table above), to each site’s ongoing
provides financial support, technical           they are developing in a staged way:                   support for leaders’ SEL capacity, to
assistance from national experts, and               • Create a positive climate in                     professional learning for frontline staff.
facilitated networking among the six                    school and out-of-school time                  After two years, some key themes and
communities to help educators across                    programs (including welcoming                  lessons have emerged.
settings use consistent SEL language,                   physical space, supportive
messaging, and strategies.                              culture, positive norms, goals,                Focus on adult SEL.
     In each community, the school                      and values);                                       Like Palm Beach County, most
district and an out-of-school time                  • Offer SEL-specific instruction                   of the sites began their professional
intermediary organization lead the                      to students;                                   learning with helping adults understand
partnership, working together to                    • Integrate SEL into academic                      SEL and build their own SEL skills
create consistency across five to seven                 instruction and enrichment                     (Schwartz et al., 2020). In Tulsa, Paige
elementary school sites with co-located                 activities; and                                Kennedy, The Opportunity Project’s
out-of-school time programs. A                      • Create consistent and mutually                   associate director of professional
research study is underway to determine                 reinforcing SEL practices.                     learning & quality improvement, says,
if the initiative results in better                                                                    “Before we talk about students, we talk
implementation of SEL practices and             PROFESSIONAL LEARNING                                  about ‘what does this skill look like in
whether students benefit.                           Professional learning is a major                   myself?’ because it’s hard to teach a skill
     Although the six participating             focus of the initiative. It is prioritized at          to students that you don’t have.”
communities vary in their structure,            every level, from the technical assistance                 She acknowledges that this can be a
needs, and approaches, all are focused          provided to participating communities                  challenge: “People were so excited to

32     The Learning Professional |                                                                  August 2021   |   Vol. 42 No. 4
To make SEL stick, align school and out-of-school time

get started with students, so we’ve had              accomplishment, and future           lot of expertise in SEL processes and in
to constantly go back” and maintain                  directions, such as a reflection     building relationships with kids, and
the focus on adults as the foundation.               prompt or “one-minute                that can foster a more positive climate
     Kennedy’s colleague Jessi Hicks,                accolade.”                           and culture.”
the SEL continuous improvement                   In keeping with best practices                One way that Hicks and Kennedy
coordinator for Tulsa Public Schools,       of professional learning, and the             bridged the gap is by facilitating a
says this focus on adults’ SEL capacity     initiative’s core belief about the            session with out-of-school time staff
has multiple benefits. “It helps the        importance of adults’ own skills, leaders     from different programs who work at
adults deal with their own stress           model those practices in their meetings       the same school site, along with the
management skills, build positive           and in the professional learning they         school principal, about what out-of-
climate and culture, and impacts their      facilitate with staff.                        school time looks, sounds, and feels
practice,” Hicks says.                           Rulison says this has been an            like. Kennedy says that having the
     SEL skills enable other aspects of     intentional approach with each site’s         principal there was “a game changer,”
high-quality practice. “We plan to have     implementation team — the group               especially when she pointed out to
a big focus on culturally responsive        of stakeholders who meet regularly            the principal that her presence sent
leadership next year, and you need the      to move the initiative forward that           a message to the out-of-school time
self and social awareness to be able to     includes the school principal, OST            partners that she was invested in their
do the deep work on equity,” Hicks          director, SEL lead (designated teacher,       collaborative work.
says.                                       school counselor, or administrator),               To further strengthen connections,
     The emphasis on adults’ SEL seems      teacher representatives, and other SEL        both communities are working to
to be paying off so far. According to       “champions.”                                  create shared professional learning
the RAND researchers, at the end of              In Tulsa, Kennedy says this              opportunities where out-of-school time
the planning year (spring 2018), three-     willingness to reflect on and model the       and school staff learn together. Specific
quarters of school and out-of-school        skills has helped leaders understand          strategies have included shared learning
time staff said that building their own     the goals and led to a supportive and         opportunities and communities of
SEL skills was a professional learning      “highly functional” work environment.         practice facilitated by local leadership
need. A year later, after the beginning     She credits routines like ensuring            teams that include representation from
of implementation, that proportion          that meetings kick off with stating           both sectors.
was down to two-thirds of staff, and        the norms the group agreed to at the               But creating shared professional
community leaders plan to continue          beginning of the project and a closure        learning opportunities poses a number
addressing that need in an ongoing way      such as reflecting on participants’           of challenges, scheduling chief among
(Schwartz et al., 2020).                    feelings about the work or naming the         them. “OST staff are going to work
                                            next step they will take to move the          when the school day staff are ending,
Model SEL signature practices.              work forward.                                 so you have to be creative,” Rulison
     Another emphasis has been building                                                   says. She and her colleagues have found
staff members’ capacity to implement        Prioritize collaboration.                     a summer service week to be helpful.
core SEL practices. Both Tulsa and              One of the tenets of all the              In Tulsa, Kennedy says that bringing
Palm Beach County are focusing              professional learning is that school          all the school and out-of-school time
on the three signature SEL practices        and out-of-school time staff should           leaders for a two-day kickoff over the
recommended by the Collaborative            learn with and from one another. That         summer “was a pivotal moment.”
for Academic, Social, and Emotional         kind of collaboration has traditionally            When shared professional
Learning (2019):                            been rare. As the RAND researchers            learning time is not possible, Hicks
     1. Open every class, meeting, or       documented, there is a longstanding           recommends ensuring alignment across
        professional learning experience    status differential between out-of-school     the professional learning offered in
        with a welcoming ritual such as     time staff and school staff, with the         each setting. She and Kennedy both
        greeting each person by name        former seen more as babysitters than as       credit Tulsa project manager Jessica
        or holding morning meetings;        educators.                                    Stittsworth — an employee of both The
     2. Embed engaging strategies into          Hicks attributes that                     Opportunity Project and Tulsa Public
        the learning experience, such       misinterpretation, in part, to the fact       Schools — with serving as a linchpin
        as interactive and reflective       that “so many school folks don’t see          for that kind of alignment.
        exercises and “brain breaks”;       what happens on the OST side.”                     In Palm Beach County, Gopie
        and                                 Correcting that is a priority for her         believes that such efforts to collaborate
     3. Include an optimistic closure to    and others in the initiative. She says        are beginning to change the lopsided
        provide a sense of collaboration,   out-of-school time providers have “a          power dynamic between schools and

August 2021   |   Vol. 42 No. 4                                     |   The Learning Professional   33
out-of-school time staff. Out-of-school         "This grant has really helped                and are able to “take their experience
time practitioners report that they feel        us see how SEL goes across the               in positive youth development practice
more seen, heard, and respected by                                                           (which includes SEL) from the OST
school staff, she says.                         school day, and it doesn’t just              setting and apply it to classroom
     On the school district side, Rulison       happen at one time and place                 teaching very successfully,” according
said she is seeing stronger relationships                                                    to Gopie.
                                                where you explicitly teach it."
not only between school and out-of-
school time staff, but also among school                                                     MOVING FORWARD
staff who don’t typically work together.        fully implement direct SEL instruction            As the six communities’ 38 sites in
“Often in the school day professional           for students and academic integration        the first phase of the project continue
development, you meet by grade level            strategies. But the leaders involved         to deepen their work, each community
or subject area. By intentionally mixing        say they are seeing a range of positive      is adding five to seven sites. The
people up, we really saw relationships          developments, including decreases in         expansion phase was originally planned
strengthen, which has impacted the              discipline referrals at schools.             to begin in the 2021-22 school year,
climate” in a positive way.                          Tulsa Public Schools’ Kennedy           but The Wallace Foundation gave
     She says the district has also             believes that is related to collaboration    sites permission to begin a year earlier
been intentional about including                between the out-of-school time and           because of the many SEL-related needs
noninstructional staff, who don’t               school staff. For example, she says,         caused or exacerbated by COVID-19.
typically have opportunities to engage          “One day, the OST director said at a              Leaders and staff have been grateful
in professional learning but who need           meeting that the 4th graders had a lot       for the support during the pandemic.
the SEL skills for interacting with             of challenges the previous day. The          “Principals said they were so grateful
students just as much as teachers do.           assistant principal said, ‘Oh, I should      for the SEL foundations they had
                                                have told you something happened in          developed to keep things going strong”
A SEAMLESS APPROACH                             the last part of our school day.’ ”          for staff and students, according to
FOR STUDENTS                                         As a result, the assistant principal    Rulison. “Because we’ve been doing a
    A goal of the initiative is to change       planned to find the out-of-school time       lot of work around handling stress, they
the culture of and practices in schools         director at the end of every day to give     were better equipped to handle it,” she
and out-of-school time programs so              her a five-minute update to equip the        said.
that SEL is woven throughout the day.           out-of-school time staff with information         Gopie says Prime Time’s SEL
For that to happen, all staff need to feel      to help them support students.               specialist also conducted a lot of check-
a sense of ownership and responsibility              There are also some benefits            ins with leaders and staff, “almost like a
for SEL.                                        from a staffing perspective that can         wellness check.” In Tulsa, leaders have
    Rulison says this has been a shift          ultimately benefit students. In Palm         prioritized responding to “many asks
for many staff. “Before this partnership,       Beach County, many out-of-school             for self-care recommendations,” and
we’ve always had school counselors, and         time practitioners are working in their      Kennedy has offered 30-minute Zoom
often they did explicit instruction of          positions while going to school at night     sessions about stress management,
SEL with students. This grant has really        to get degrees in education. They are        “pint-sized” professional learning
helped us see how SEL goes across the           supported by a system that Prime Time        sessions such as “mindful Mondays”
school day, and it doesn’t just happen          has built intentionally to professionalize   and “read and reflect Fridays,” and
at one time and place where you                 the out-of-school time field through         other strategies.
explicitly teach it.”                           partnerships with local colleges, a career        Leaders from both communities
    She says school leaders now                 advising model to support progression        also believe the focus on SEL has
take what they call a “robust SEL               along degree pathways, a scholarship         helped students during the pandemic.
implementation” approach, which                 program to pay for the cost of classes       In Palm Beach County, Rulison said
draws from a Multi-Tiered System of             and books, and an educational incentive      that morning meeting — one of the
Support framework, in which educators           program that rewards attainment of           signature SEL practices her district’s
explicitly focus on SEL with all students       educational milestones.                      schools use — helped students feel
but engage counselors, interventionists,             When these practitioners attain         connected at a time of uncertainty and
and others to provide additional                education certificates and degrees,          isolation.
support to students who need it.                many of them are hired by schools                 In Tulsa, school leaders were
    It is too soon to make quantitative         in the district. That’s a benefit for        surprised when a spring survey of
claims about the specific benefits of           everyone involved, because the new           elementary students showed that
the initiative for students, especially         teachers already know the students, the      teacher-student relationships had
because most communities have yet to            community, and the SEL approaches,           actually increased from the previous

34     The Learning Professional |                                                    August 2021   |   Vol. 42 No. 4
To make SEL stick, align school and out-of-school time

year. The number of students who said         the path to success.                                 Jones, S.M. & Kahn, J.
they would be excited to have the same            When her community embarked                 (2017). The evidence base for how
teacher next year increased as well.          on the project four years ago, she says,        we learn: Supporting students’ social,
Those findings are encouraging at a           “a lot of folks were saying, ‘We don’t          emotional, and academic development.
time when national studies are finding        have the time,’ and we were saying, ‘We         Consensus Statements of Evidence
many students feeling disconnected            don’t have the time not to do this.’ ”          from the Council of Distinguished
and struggling with anxiety and other         The collaboration takes time and effort,        Scientists. National Commission on
mental health issues (Sparks, 2021).          she says, but “we’re seeing that it’s really    Social, Emotional, and Academic
     Still, there is work to do. As           paying off for both kids and adults.”           Development. Aspen Institute.
students returned to school buildings                                               
in spring 2021, educators in Tulsa saw        REFERENCES                                      final_cds-evidence-base.pdf
more peer conflicts than they expected,            CASEL. (2019). Social and                       Schwartz, H.L., Hamilton,
as well as regression in social skills like   emotional learning 3 signature practices        L.S., Faxon-Mills, S., Gomez, C.J.,
self-regulation and coping with stress,       playbook. Collaborative for Academic,           Huguet, A., Jaycox, L.H., Leschitz,
according to Hicks. Kennedy points            Social, and Emotional Learning.                 J.T., Tuma, A.P., Tosh, K., Whitaker,
out that it may be a difficult transition                  A.A., & Wrabel, S.L. (2020). Early
for some students to be surrounded by         sites/2/2018/12/SEL-3-Signature-                lessons from schools and out-of-school
large groups of people and cope with          Practices-Playbook-10.21.19.pdf                 time programs implementing social and
other changes.                                     Durlak, J.A., Domitrovich, C.E.,           emotional learning: Lessons from the
     Both leaders say their organizations     Weissberg, R.P., & Gullotta, T.P.               Partnerships for Social and Emotional
are well aware that they will need to         (Eds.). (2015). Handbook of social              Learning Initiative (Volume 1: Technical
continue focusing on those skills, not        and emotional learning: Research and            Appendix) [Research Report RR-A379-
only in the pilot sites but at all schools    practice. Guilford Press.                       1]. RAND Corporation.
and programs. The district has set an              Jones, S., Bailey, R., Brush, K., &             Sparks, S. (2021, March 31).
expectation that next year all schools        Kahn, J. (2018). Preparing for effective        Data: What we know about student
will implement the signature practices,       SEL implementation. Harvard Graduate            mental health and the pandemic.
regardless of where students are              School of Education Easel Lab. www.             Education Week.
learning.                                           leadership/data-what-we-know-
     Leaders in both Tulsa and Palm           center/Documents/Preparing-for-                 about-student-mental-health-and-the-
Beach County are grateful that they           Effective-SEL-Implementation.pdf                pandemic/2021/03
have laid a foundation for SEL across              Jones, S.M. & Bouffard, S.M.                                     •
schools and out-of-school time                (2012). Social and emotional learning                Suzanne Bouffard (suzanne.
programs. The collaboration across            in schools: From programs to strategies         bouffard@learningforward.
sectors, says Kennedy, “illustrates that it   and commentaries. Social Policy Report,         org) is editor of The Learning
takes a village” to support students on       26(4), 1-33.                                    Professional. ■

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