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Program Design, Development, and Quality

Social Emotional Learning in Out-of-School Time


For the future, it’s vital to rethink the dynamic relationships
between heart and mind within human consciousness and
their essential place in the education of all our students.

—Sir Ken Robinson, PH.D., author, speaker and leader
in the development of education, creativity and innovation

In conjunction with academic learning, social emotional learning (SEL) plays a critical role in educating the whole child and laying the foundation for lifelong learning, engagement, and well-being. While the development and implementation of SEL in traditional education presents challenges, it also presents immense opportunities to support our youth and benefit our society as a whole.

What is social emotional learning?

Social emotional learning encompasses both intra- and interpersonal processes with the overarching goal of developing fundamental skills for life success within supportive, participatory, learning environments. “Attained through both curricula and instructional practices, SEL skills include recognizing and managing emotions, developing caring and concern for others, establishing positive relationships, and making responsible decisions.”1

These are the “soft skills” that lead students on the path to becoming fully actualized adults—future doctors, entrepreneurs, artists, politicians, engineers, educators—who are able to live rich, fulfilling lives as socially responsible members of society.

social-and-emotional-learning-core-competenciesWhy is SEL important?

Given the extensive body of research that supports quality SEL programs and recognizes their profoundly positive impact on student engagement, academic performance, and prosocial behavior, it is becoming increasingly clear that the traditional goals of public education need to be reframed to prioritize both social emotional and cognitive development. The two types of learning already go hand in hand: “academic learning and SEL are inextricably linked—emotions and relationships affect how and what we learn.”2

So why are we still struggling to keep students in school and failing to equip them with the skills required to thrive in both work and life?

Federal mandates on education standards

Despite the evidence that SEL bridges the gap between what is being taught in traditional public school curricula and what students need to learn in order to become successful, responsible members of society, a single-minded focus continues to drive federal education policy. This focus, clearly evident in ‘No Child Left Behind’ (NCLB), overemphasizes the standardized testing of linguistic and mathematic proficiencies to determine academic achievement, student intelligence, and school success.

While one can appreciate the well-intended notion for using standardized tests to measure school progress and drive improvements, NCLB’s focus on “punishing” schools that do not live up to federal performance expectations has led to a “one size fits all” approach to learning that leaves many children behind—predominantly those whose diverse socioeconomic backgrounds do not coincide with our policymakers’ standardized version of achievement.

Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children’s Defense Fund, explains, “NCLB’s narrow focus on ‘high stakes’ testing and its overreliance on sanctions that punish struggling schools encouraged states to lower standards, districts to narrow the curriculum, and teachers to teach to the test.”3

The consequences of federal and state educational policies like NCLB are creating an imbalance not only in the aims of public education, but also in the lives of our youth. Teachers are under immense pressure to deliver the prescribed curriculum and ensure that their students are passing academic tests—they are being pushed to raise reading and math scores without focusing on the skills, knowledge, and dispositions that provide the foundation for school and life.” success4

What do we really want our children to know by the time the graduate?

The fundamental competencies associated with SEL echo the goals that other parents have for their children: “parents and teachers want schooling to support children’s ability to become lifelong learners who are able to love, work, and act as responsible members of the community.”5

Essentially, this general desire can be broken down into a group of inter-related core competencies as defined by The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning:
  • Self-awareness: accurately assessing one’s feelings, interests, values, and strengths; maintaining a well-grounded sense of self-confidence;
  • Self-management: regulating one’s emotions to handle stress, controlling impulses, and persevering in addressing challenges; expressing emotions appropriately; and setting and monitoring progress toward personal and academic goals;
  • Social awareness: being able to take the perspective of and empathize with others; recognizing and appreciating individual and group similarities and differences; and recognizing and making best use of family, school, and community resources;
  • Relationship skills: establishing and maintaining healthy and rewarding relationships based on cooperation; resisting inappropriate social pressure; preventing, managing, and resolving interpersonal conflict; and seeking help when needed; and
  • Responsible decision making: making decisions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, appropriate social norms, respect for others, and likely consequences of various actions; applying decision-making skills to academic and social situations; and contributing to the well-being of one’s school and community.

What are the benefits of developing these social and emotional competencies?

When students lack the ability to maintain a sense of self-confidence, effectively manage their emotions, make responsible decisions, and develop healthy relationships, they will have much more difficulty learning and benefiting from instruction, let alone meeting the demands of the classroom. Quality SEL programs promoting and teaching social emotional skills to supplement academic learning has yielded multiple benefits, including “improved attitudes about self and others, connection to school, positive social behavior, and academic performance.”6

Additionally, SEL programs reduce students’ emotional distress, risky behaviors, and conduct problems. Given the substantial research showing that “SEL can have a positive impact on school climate and promote a host of academic, social, and emotional benefits for students,” it is highly recommended that federal, state, and local policies encourage and support well-designed, evidence-based SEL programs in our school systems.7

Integrating these values alongside academic learning

As mentioned above, teachers already have their hands full with the current academic curriculum and standards—”they often believe that they do not have enough time to cover the prescribed curriculum, let alone teach to the test or become social emotional teachers.”8

This is where the expanded learning field can step in to fill an incredibly important need by providing SEL programming during out-of-school time.

If we are to educate and prepare our youth to become socially responsible lifelong learners and healthy, happy members of society, then we need to develop robust after school SEL programs with highly trained staff and supportive home-school partnerships that operate within a safe, caring learning environment.

All, regardless of race or class or economic status, are entitled to a fair chance and to the tools for developing their individual powers of mind and spirit to the utmost. This promise means that all children by virtue of their own efforts, competently guided, can hope to attain the mature and informed judgment needed to secure gainful employment, and to manage their own lives, thereby serving not only their own interests but also the progress of society itself.

—A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform

And for breakfast, I had some peanut butter toast and a glass of orange juice.

Author: Chelsea Aiken

Chelsea Aiken received her B.A. in Psychology with a concentration in Early Childhood Development from Georgetown University. Originally from Hudson, Ohio, she moved to Los Angeles in August of 2010. Ms. Aiken has over 7 years of experience working with youth from all over the world, from Washington, D.C. to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Prior to joining EduCare in October of 2013, Ms. Aiken worked for a negotiation consulting firm and two Los Angeles-based non-profits supporting children with autism and their families. She now coordinates EduCare’s Communications Department and plays an integral role in the Foundation’s marketing and fund development efforts.





[1] Cohen, J. (2006). Social, emotional, ethical, and academic education: Creating a climate for learning, participation in democracy, and well-being. Harvard Educational Review, 76(2).

[1] Cohen, J. (2006). Social, emotional, ethical, and academic education: Creating a climate for learning, participation in democracy, and well-being. Harvard Educational Review, 76(2).



[1] Cohen, J. (2006). Social, emotional, ethical, and academic education: Creating a climate for learning, participation in democracy, and well-being. Harvard Educational Review, 76(2).

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