Monthly Archives: February 2016

SEL Work is important

What is the key to a high quality social emotional-learning-program ? It has to be a whole school-effort.

According to developmental psychologist Stephanie Jones and her research team at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. They’ve spent the past five years exploring connections between social-emotional skills and positive life outcomes, in the process measuring the efficacy of many programs that teach those skills.

Their findings — developed as part of a research project called SECURe (Social, Emotional, and Cognitive Understanding and Regulation in education) — show that a successful SEL program involves “all the adults in the building being trained in and familiar with a set of language and practices that they can use in the hallways, in the gym, at recess, in the lunchroom, on the bus — all the times when kids have less structure, and are actually engaging in social interactions, when emotions are more likely to come up,” says research manager Rebecca Bailey.


Educators differ slightly in how they define these skills, which help kids pay attention in class, develop friendships on the playground, and make smart decisions after the school day ends, among other self-regulation tasks. Jones’s team identifies three main “buckets” of skills, based on their analysis of SEL programs and a comprehensive review of the developmental literature:

  • Cognitive regulation skills. Also called executive function skills, this bucket includes working memory, cognitive flexibility, inhibitory control, and attention control.
  • Emotion skills. This group includes emotion knowledge and expression, emotion behavior and regulation, and empathy and perspective taking.
  • Interpersonal skills. Also called the social domain, this bucket includes prosocial behaviors and skills, the ability to understand social cues, and conflict resolution.

These skills look different for children of different ages, and many build off of one another over time. For example, in a first-grade classroom, conflict resolution might just mean sharing and taking turns. In an eighth-grade classroom, conflict resolution might also necessitate empathy and cognitive flexibility.


In the traditional approach to SEL, school leaders might implement a curriculum that has one adult — usually the student’s teacher, school social worker, or psychologist — leading a once-a-week, class-wide lesson on a predetermined skill.  But research studies have shown that this method isn’t wholly effective.

“While a handful of SEL programs have been tested and shown to improve children’s SEL skills as well as academic, mental health, and behavioral outcomes, the effect sizes are smaller than we would expect,” says Jones. “This suggests that existing programs aren’t capitalizing on the potential to improve student outcomes. This could result from implementation challenges, or it could suggest that traditional SEL programs need a different approach.”

All about the collage

While conducting interviews with undergraduates at Harvard, Brown-and-Oxford. Warikoo discovered that many white students support affirmative action in as much as it benefits themselves.

This framing tends to fuel what Warikoo calls “the diversity bargain,” in which white students support affirmative action as long as black and Latino students on campus do not form their own organizations and friend groups, and whites do not feel overlooked through “reverse discrimination” when they apply for fellowships, jobs, and graduate school.

In a conversation, Usable Knowledge asked Warikoo, a faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, to talk about why students in the U.S. need to understand the historical roots of affirmative action and how colleges can become communities where students can talk about racial difference.

In general, how do college admissions frame their emphasis on creating a diverse student body?

They all use very similar language. When you look at the public information, it’s all about diversity and how diversity creates this very rich learning environment. It can be diversity of talents, diversity of leadership styles, diversity of ways of learning, diversity of background. But it’s interesting that they very rarely actually use the word “race.” It’s instead about how this is going to create this great learning environment for all students.

What’s troubling about that?

I don’t want people to get me wrong. I believe in the diverse learning environment, and I think that diversity of race and ethnicity does improve the educational experiences, not just of white students, but also of students of color.

But the problem is that just stopping there ignores what affirmative action has historically been about. If you think about its early roots in higher education in the 1960s, it was about opening the doors of these places that had very few African American students on their campuses. The universities were worried that the race riots happening all around them were going to spill onto their campuses. They wanted to be seen as leaders and forward thinking about race and racial inclusion. So it was not about a diverse learning environment. It was about racial justice. And we have to recognize that that is part of the reason we have affirmative action.

The other reason why it’s so important is for creating a diverse leadership — having a leadership in society that looks like the people who live in society. And that’s symbolic. My kids are growing up in a society where it’s just normal to have a black president. It’s normal to have a woman who may be the next president. That’s not the panacea to everything, but it’s a start. And one way to do it is to create diverse student bodies in select colleges to then take up those leadership positions.

What happens when students don’t understand that the purpose of affirmative action isn’t only to create a diverse environment, but also to support people of color?

I think that lack of understanding leads to this “diversity bargain” that I discuss in my book. Beyond that, more generally, there’s a lack of acknowledgement of the fact that we have ongoing racial inequality in American society. There are so many ways in which race continues to shape our lives in American society, and ignoring that leaves us very little hope for changing it. Even when students want to talk about race, they don’t have the tools or understanding to dig into these conversations.

So how can colleges talk about race and diversity in ways that foster a productive understanding of racial difference?

One of the things that I think about is just fostering an understanding of American history. Students often learn that we had slavery in this country, and then we had segregation, and then we had the civil rights movement, and here we are now. But that’s not the whole story, right? To give you an example, students don’t learn about the systematic exclusion of African Americans from first-time homeowner loans, which created residential segregation and poverty in African American communities. They don’t learn that the GI Bill that led to social mobility for a lot of working class whites in the 1950s didn’t include nondiscrimination clauses, so African Americans couldn’t access it fully. There are so many moments in which African Americans were systematically excluded by seemingly race-neutral policies that weren’t explicitly Jim Crow laws, and I think an understanding of that history would go a long way.

Another thing is providing opportunities for students to develop the tools to engage with each other. A lot of campuses try this in fits and starts; the way you do it is to provide opportunities for dialogue. Those kinds of initiatives signal to students that talking about race is important, that we expect this of them — and that it is hard, and everybody’s going to make mistakes, you will offend someone, someone will offend you, but this is part of the process.

Any other suggestions?

The way we talk about admissions and meritocracy is, to me, also flawed. This idea that somehow there is this magic formula that these colleges do and then they get “the best” students in the country on campus is false. Yes, absolutely, students at elite colleges worked incredibly hard in high school. But there are so many people who work incredibly hard, who don’t have the same opportunities, or don’t have access to all of these resources that other students have.

So a very simple thing is, stop publishing those admit rates. There’s this belief that the lower it goes, the better a college is. It fuels this idea that this is the best of the best. And then, you have a college where black and Latino students are pretty severely underrepresented, and that’s telling students that, well, most of the best of the best are white and Asian, not black and Latino. And I think that’s not true.

Do you think colleges should overtly say that they strive to create a diverse campus not only so everyone benefits, but also because they’re committed to helping students with fewer opportunities succeed?

Absolutely. And that “we’re committed to addressing racial injustice in American society.” They can and should say that.

Do you need that camp is needed ?

Summer camp For so many kids is neede. It signifies care-free days of swimming, playing sports,and traveling in freedom from the demands of the school year. actually that Camp means no homework, no-studying, and no teachers.

But significant learning is still taking place at summer camp — even if the campers don’t necessarily realize it.


All those classic camp dynamics — being away from home and parents, making new friends, being part of a team, and trying new things — are building blocks to crucial social-emotional skills.

Social-emotional learning (SEL) can encompass a variety of practices, but most experts agree that a child with high SEL skills is successful in five core areas: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. These skills are increasingly understood to be central to success in school and inprofessional life beyond, but schools don’t always have the time or capacities to teach them explicitly. Obligations to complete curriculum and boost student achievement often make it difficult for teachers to prioritize community building, goal-setting, or problem solving in their classrooms.

Unconnected to the commitments of the school day, summer camps (particularly overnight camps) can dive head-first into social-emotional learning — and many do. These opportunities are especially importance for low-income students, many of whom already have fewer opportunities to gain these skills outside of school.

A 2005 study of 80 camps by the American Camp Association (ACA) found significant growth in children’s social-emotional skills after a session of summer camp. Camp staff, parents, and children reported increases in children’s self-esteem, independence, leadership, friendship skills, social comfort, and values and decision-making skills, from the beginning to the end of a session.


It’s not just the new environment and flexible schedule that builds kids’ social-emotional skills. Many camps have an intentional focus on social-emotional learning.YMCA camps, for instance, explicitly discuss their four values — honest, caring, respect, and responsibility — constantly, through songs, skits, and rallies. And most camps train staff to coach kids on becoming more independent, socially aware, and reflective.

In particular, camps foster relationship skills and social awareness by:

  • Introducing children to an entirely new group of peers. Camp may be the first time children have spent substantial time with people whose background — home, race, or religion — is different from their own.
  • Setting up opportunities for children to find their own friends. According to education researcher and longtime camp counselor and director Claire Gogolen, counselors often begin a session by leading icebreakers and regularly sorting a cabin group into different pairs. These activities give campers explicit opportunities to get to know each other, allowing them to figure out who they want to become better friends with.
  • Creating a space where silliness is accepted, and bullying is not. Without the need to plunge into academic content, camps have time to use the beginning of a session to prioritize group norms, says learning specialist and former camp counselor and director Ari Fleisher. Counselors can make it very clear that bullying and teasing are not acceptable. At the same time, camps can encourage songs, jokes, and general silliness that allow campers to relax and be themselves.
  • Taking a break from technology. Many overnight camps restrict or prohibit phones and computers. For many campers, this means it’s the first time they’ve made friends without the help of Instagram or Snapchat, and they learn how to navigate social cues to build and maintain friendships in “real life.”
  • Modeling teamwork and sportsmanship. During staff training, many camps stress the importance of adults demonstrating cooperation and friendship to their campers. When campers are surrounded by positive role models — particularly role models closer to their own age than teachers are — they learn how to get along with peers who may be different from them.

Camps also nurture self-awareness, self-management, and responsible decision making by:

  • Requiring children to solve day-to-day problems on their own. With limited contact with parents, campers have to learn how to manage their own conflicts, whether it’s a disagreement with a bunkmate or not getting their first-choice activity.
  • Presenting activities that are new to everyone. Counselors often purposefully lead games and activities that none of their campers have tried before, says afterschool specialist and former camp counselor Nicky DeCesare. Without the fear that some peers will already have a leg-up on lava tag or basket making, children may be more likely to decide to try new things.
  • Offering kids the chance to set and accomplish daily goals. The sheer amount of new activities makes it possible for kids to continually set and achieve goals, deepening their understanding of personal limits. One day a camper may be set on reaching the top of the climbing wall, and the next she may be determined to collaborate with her group to create a new song.
  • Helping children uncover new skills. Kids who are usually immersed in academics may become aware of new skills that they didn’t know they had. For children who struggle in school, these opportunities can increase self-confidence.
  • Providing time for reflection. Many camps begin or end the day with reflection activities, in which campers can think about the challenges they’ve faced, how they’ve grown, and what they’re excited for. These moments, rare in a typical school day, can develop self-awareness and mindfulness for all kids.