By Sam Piha
There is great agreement that social emotional learning skills are very beneficial in preparing youth for success. While we hear a lot about the “why” of SEL and character building, little is heard about the application (the “what” and “how”) within expanded learning (afterschool) programs. Expanded learning practices need to be uplifted so that the field can begin to see what good character/SEL practices look like.
We were interested in how programs promote these skills, so we put out an announcement asking afterschool programs to submit a program practice. We compiled these practices into a paper entitled, “Promising Activities, Practices and Resources: Promoting SEL and Character Skills in Expanded Learning Programs”. Each submission included a description of the submitting organization, a contact person within the organization, and a description of the practice or activity (i.e. purpose, time needed/frequency, target audience, and supporting resources).
"The concept of social emotional learning has come to a frenzy in the past couple of years. Where does afterschool fit in to all of this? You would hope that we’d be right at the forefront. We’ve been doing this for years we know how to do it." – Karen Pittman, Forum for Youth Investment
Below are some practices that programs submitted:
EDUCARE- Guided Visualizations. Visualizations are guided around a particular theme. There are a variety of mindfulness and centering practices they enjoy using and have found valuable. An example theme: Gratefulness. Youth close their eyes and review on an imaginary movie screen, images of who and what they are grateful for or appreciate - friends, family members, their health, people who support or inspire them, opportunities they have at school or elsewhere, etc.
EVER FORWARD CLUB- Mask Making. Youth are given a handout and asked to follow 3 steps anonymously. They are also asked to keep their eyes on their own paper. 1. Draw a mask on the left side. 2. Write 3 words on the front of the mask that represent qualities they let people see. 3. Write 3 words on the back of the mask that represent the things they don’t usually let people see. Adult leaders collect the masks and then have a few volunteers read a few of the responses anonymously. Youth are then invited to share how it felt hearing about the front and back of the masks of their peers. This would be a good time to discuss their commonalities and differences. Deeper processes can be created depending on the level of safety that has been generated in the room.
LA’S BEST- Sanford Harmony Cards. These cards provide engaging questions and activities to explore with a "buddy". The students then get to know each other and connect, which prepares them to handle future challenges and conflicts and opportunities to collaborate in a meaningful and constructive way. Sanford Harmony also provides recommendations of how and why to pair students together. The "Meet Up" strategy provides a way to strengthen a program's daily routine by incorporating practices that allow the entire group of students to explore how they treat each other and how they communicate with one another.
CALSAC- Regular Check Ins. This is an intentional space created for staff and youth to share how they are showing up in that space. Participants typically sit or stand in a circle during the check in. Next, a volunteer is asked to start and then chooses a direction for participants to follow. The information shared allows everyone in the room to understand what may be going on for them and honor that each individual may be coming into the space with varying life experiences. This allows everyone to see each other more wholly and create safety for people to be authentic in the space. It is recommended to create an opportunity for everyone to lead the check-in. (From Temescal Associates: It is recommended that each speaker holds a talking piece, such as a feather or item chosen by the group. The talking piece is held by the person speaking and then passed around the circle. Those not holding the talking piece are engaged in active listening.)
GREATER GOOD SCIENCE CENTER- Gratitude Letter. In this activity, youth are guided to complete the Gratitude Letter practice, where they write a letter of thanks and then try to deliver it in person. To introduce the activity, the following script may be helpful: 'Most everyone enjoys thanks for a job well done or for a favor done for a friend, and most of us remember to say “thank you” to others. But sometimes our “thank you” is said so casually or quickly that it is nearly meaningless.' In this activity, you will have the opportunity to express your gratitude in a very thoughtful manner. Think of the people—parents, friends, coaches, teammates, and so on—who have been especially kind to you but whom you have never properly thanked. Choose one person you could meet individually for a face-to-face meeting in the next week. Your task is to write a gratitude letter (a letter of thanks) to this individual and deliver it in person. The letter should be specific about what he or she did that affected your life. It is important that you meet him or her in person. Don’t tell this person, however, about the purpose of this meeting. This activity is much more fun when it is a surprise to the person you are thanking.
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.