By Sam Piha
All children and youth need social-emotional and character skills in order to thrive in school, work, and life. (By “skills”, we are referring to actual skills as well as attitudes and beliefs.) A broad body of research substantiates that academic ability works in tandem with social-emotional and character skills. We want our youth, as they reach adulthood, to be well prepared for productive careers and as socially conscious, engaged citizens.
Through their design and structure, high-quality expanded learning programs provide valuable opportunities for children and youth to develop social-emotional and character skills. (By programs, we are referring to both the youth program staff as well as the larger parent organization.) These skills are both “taught” (through program structures and activities) and “caught” (by exposing youth to the program culture and the modeling/behavior of program staff). Below we suggest a number of intentional steps to promote these skills in expanded learning programs. (You can view the full Putting It All Together paper here). It is important to note that promoting these skills is an important part of promoting a quality program.
STEPS FOR INTEGRATING SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL AND CHARACTER SKILLS
1. Build Awareness and Understanding
To begin, organizational and program staff must have an understanding of what is meant by social-emotional and character skills. We suggest that everyone review Student Success Comes Full Circle at this link: http://bit.ly/FullCircle360-365.
2. Name Skills
Can leaders and staff specifically name the social-emotional and character skills that are important to the program – skills that the program is committed to? How important are these skills and to whom are they important? For example, is self-management very important to staff and leaders of the program as well as youth and their parents?
3. Explore Them
Can leaders and staff write down three things a young person would say or do if they were practicing these skills? Are these skills best “taught” or “caught”? For example, a younger youth might demonstrate self-management by waiting patiently for their turn on the play structure. This skill might be “taught” by playing a game like Mother May I where youth have to wait their turn, and ask before they can move. An older youth might show their ability to self-manage by solving their own problems. This can be “taught” using restorative justice practices or “caught” by watching program staff work out differences in a calm and respectful manner.
4. Build on What You Do
You are probably already doing things in your program that support social-emotional and character skills. Can leaders and staff name program activities and practices that support specific social-emotional and character skills?
5. Align with Quality Standards
Several organizations and state networks have developed quality standards for expanded learning programs. (See CA Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs at http://bit.ly/CalQSELP). It is important to note that promoting social-emotional and character skills is not separate and apart from quality standards.
6. Collect and Use Data
Many programs collect data to provide feedback regarding program quality. These can be observations, reflections, or self-assessments completed by program staff. Data can also be collected from youth participants, their families, and/or other stakeholders and partners. What does your data on program quality tell you about the state of social-emotional and character skills in your program? You can access a social-emotional and character staff self-reflection tool at http://bit.ly/SECtool.
7. Plan and Improve
If your program can improve how it promotes social- emotional and character skills, make a plan for improvement. Use your data and be specific as possible about what you will change. Remember that skills can be “taught” or “caught”. In developing an improvement plan, think about your program culture, your program practices, and activities.
Think also about how these skills that you deem important are reflected in your program vision and mission statements, hiring practices, and professional development plans for your program and larger organization. Institute intentional changes and determine if they make a difference. Improvement efforts can be supported by training and/or facilitation, which are services offered by the Expanded Learning 360°/365 project and other organizations.
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.