How Parents and School Communities Can Support a Social Emotional Learning Culture 

Through his role with the nation’s pre-eminent organization that sets standards for social emotional learning programs, Dr. Duncan Meyers has worked with school districts to successfully implement Social Emotional Learning (SEL) programs into their curriculum and practices, but not just with children. Buy-in from adults – including from teachers and administrators to staff and parents –  is crucial, too, before social emotional learning can reach students.

“Social emotional learning needs to be in the vision, and thought about in the beginning,” said Dr. Meyers as he led off the speaker slate before a group of thought leaders at the Sanford Harmony Social Emotional Learning Forum Nov. 2. The forum was held by Sanford Harmony, a PreK-6 social emotional learning initiative of the San Diego-based private, nonprofit National University System. The event brought together representatives of school districts, education advocacy groups and youth organizations to discuss how educators can incorporate social emotional learning approaches to improve school culture, reduce student trauma and address equity in education.

Dr. Meyers, in his role as Senior Manager of Continuous Improvement at the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) in Chicago, connects with district staff at every level, even in human resources departments, to get a feel for how well the organization is integrating social emotional learning in day-to-day operations. Hiring the right people, he argues, is one of the keys to success.

CASEL’s work began in 2011 with a pilot program of three school districts that quickly expanded to eight. Now the organization works with more than 20 districts, including some of the largest in the country, in Chicago and Palm Beach County, FL.  Having been involved with CASEL’s district and school-level work, as well as having overseen the development of CASEL’s Guide to Schoolwide Social and Emotional Learning, Dr. Meyers sees the need not just to create positive environments for children, but also to allow for enjoyable work spaces for educators. He notes that everyone must accept that adopting, growing and nurturing social emotional learning policies is not always an easy or comfortable process.

Dr. Meyers called it “challenging, sustained work” to achieve the goal of equity in the classroom. This month, the organization released a new online interactive guide to support educators seeking methods for assessing the success of the social emotional learning model. It includes advice on preparing for assessment, selecting an assessment model and making use of the findings.

He concedes, though, that many districts find it challenging to identify SEL outcome measures, and support often needs to be provided in that arena. For instance, he cited that the use of office referrals as a way to measure social-emotional outcomes for students can be misleading due to other factors affecting disciplinary practices. Districts that start implementing restorative discipline practices often see decreased referrals due their updated referral process, which makes it difficult to know how much those reductions are actually due to increased social-emotional competence.

Another area he would like to see more work on is an adult-oriented social emotional learning program, not just for educators, but for outreach to parents and families. “For me, I think that is a void in the field,” he said of evidence-based programs for adults and educators, though he cited one parent-focused discussion series in Chicago that was offered in English and Spanish as an helpful resource for those seeking to engage more with families.