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Report Offers Early Lessons from Schools, Afterschool Programs Implementing Social and Emotional Learning Supports for Students

Report Offers Early Lessons from Schools, Afterschool Programs Implementing Social and Emotional Learning Supports for Students
October 20, 2020

October 20, 2020

Melissa Connerton
(212) 251-9750

Ann Bradley
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Report Offers Early Lessons from Schools, Afterschool Programs
Implementing Social and Emotional Learning Supports for Students

Developing adult capacity, creating shared vision, clear guidance among keys to success

New York – The Wallace Foundation today released a report detailing early lessons from a six-community, 38-site study examining implementation of social and emotional learning (SEL) programs and practices for elementary-age students and the adults who serve them.

The RAND Corporation report presents findings from the first two years of the Partnerships for Social Emotional Learning Initiative (PSELI) — a comprehensive, multiyear project exploring whether and how children can benefit when schools and out-of-school time (OST) programs intentionally work together to build students’ SEL skills. The findings cover how the partners carried out the work and what it takes to implement high-quality social and emotional learning programs and practices.

The report, which follows the most comprehensive study of SEL implementation to date, offers important insights at a time when interest in SEL is outstripping empirical guidance about how to carry out these programs and practices. A future report will assess student outcomes and look at implementation after four years.

“As more schools recognize the importance of social and emotional learning, it’s critical that we gain a better understanding of what it takes to do this work effectively, when schools and out-of-school time programs work independently or in partnership,” said Gigi Antoni, director of learning and enrichment at The Wallace Foundation. “The insights are especially relevant now that COVID-19 has disrupted school and OST programming on an unprecedented scale. The pandemic has also amplified the urgency of addressing students’ social and emotional wellbeing along with their academic learning.”

Early Lessons from Schools and Out-of-School Time Programs Implementing Social and Emotional Learning describes implementation efforts in the six PSELI communities (Boston, Dallas, Denver, Palm Beach County, Fla., Tacoma, Wash., and Tulsa, Okla.). The lessons and recommendations are based on a trove of data that includes approximately 5,000 completed surveys of school and OST staff, 850 interviews, and observations of over 3,000 instructional and non-instructional activities in schools and afterschool programs.

“For many schools and OST programs, efforts to implement social and emotional learning are still relatively new,” said Heather Schwartz, director of the Pre-K to 12 educational systems program and a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation. “Research like this is vital to understanding what works, what doesn’t, and what lessons should inform efforts going forward.”

Based on the first two years of work in the initiative (from 2017-2019), the researchers found that:

  • Implementation efforts benefitted from developing adult understanding of their own SEL skills in order to foster these in students

  • Although each community customized its approach, three common strategies were used: implementing SEL through explicit skills instruction, integrating SEL into academic instruction and OST activities, and creating a positive in-school and out-of-school culture and climate

  • SEL-focused partnerships (between schools and OST programs and/or districts and OST coordinating entities, or intermediaries) faced substantial barriers—but there were strategies to help overcome them

  • It was helpful to first create a shared vision of SEL, determine roles and responsibilities, and identify which SEL skills to develop

The report draws early lessons for districts and out-of-school time intermediaries from each of these four main findings, as well as others. For example, researchers recommend that those leading efforts to improve school climate consider not just students’, but also adults’, social and emotional wellbeing. Additionally, the report suggests developing a common language for SEL, which can aid in a shared understanding between and among system- and site-level staff. Its findings are intended to be helpful to those who wish to implement SEL in or across schools, OST programs, or in both settings.

A separate nationally representative survey released this month by RAND – Supports for Social and Emotional Learning in American Schools and Classrooms: Findings from the American Teacher Panel – found that 80% of teachers surveyed expressed a desire for more professional development in a variety of topics related to social and emotional learning.

The PSELI communities are working to help children understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. Research has found these competencies are important for brain development and success in school and life. Technical assistance for the cities is being provided by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), the Forum for Youth Investment’s David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, and Crosby Marketing Communications.

Going forward, the PSELI communities’ work will continue to inform the broader field. Over the next two years, researchers will share additional implementation lessons as the communities’ SEL efforts mature. Future reports will document these findings, offer case studies with more detailed portraits of school-OST partnerships, and analyze the effects of the PSELI work on students’ SEL skills and academic achievement, site-wide climate, and staff retention and job commitment. RAND will also provide a how-to guide.


Based in New York City, The Wallace Foundation is an independent national philanthropy that seeks to improve learning and enrichment for children and foster the vitality of the arts for everyone. Current areas of interest include school leadership, expanding and diversifying audiences for the arts, social and emotional learning, summer learning, arts education, and afterschool. Wallace aims to help solve problems facing the fields in which it works, benefiting both the organizations it funds directly and the broader field by developing credible, useful knowledge to inform policy and practice nationwide.  The foundation maintains a free, online Knowledge Center at

The RAND Corporation (RAND) is a research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges to help make communities throughout the world safer and more secure, healthier and more prosperous. RAND is nonprofit, nonpartisan, and committed to the public interest. 

RAND Education and Labor, a research division of the RAND Corporation, is dedicated to providing objective research and analysis that improves social and economic well-being through education and workforce development. The division does research on early childhood through postsecondary education programs, workforce development, programs and policies affecting workers, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy and decision making. E&L's staff include more than 70 experts from a diverse range of backgrounds and disciplines.


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