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SEL Spotlight

Building Bridges: How After-School Programs Can Enhance SEL

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As an SEL advocate, you can help foster Social-Emotional Learning continuity from in-school to OST. This post explores fresh perspectives on SEL for After-School (OST) .

Educating the whole child means making sure that students’ developmental needs are being supported both in school and out of school. As an SEL advocate, you can play a role in ensuring that your school’s OST (out-of-school-time) programming complements your overall approach to Social Emotional Learning.

Elements of high-quality SEL

know the attributes of quality sel
Know the attributes of quality SEL

For anyone committed to helping students develop Social and Emotional competencies, understanding the elements of a high-quality SEL program is essential to success. A composite of the SEL research conducted over the past decade and beyond, consistently demonstrates four key attributes that make for effective SEL programs.

Keys to an effective SEL Program:

1) SEQUENCED: Successful programs use a coordinated set of activities to achieve skill development objectives.

2) ACTIVE: Programs engage students best when they use active forms of learning to help youth learn and master new skills.

3) FOCUSED: SEL programs work best when they are specifically focused on building SEL skills. This means they must have at least one component devoted to developing Social-Emotional competency.

4) EXPLICIT: In addition to being focused, effective SEL programs define and target specific skills and learning goals rather than positive development in general terms.

In addition to being SAFE (sequenced, active, focused, explicit), as outlined above, the last essential key to successful SEL is that the development happens in a supportive environment. All staff working with students must be trained to foster learning environments that are inclusive and nurturing. No SEL can happen when students don’t feel safe, included, and supported.

Fostering Alignment

To build bridges between SEL that happens in-school and after-school, it’s helpful when the program leaders and facilitators in each domain align to a common framework.The CASEL Framework for Systemic Social and Emotional Learning has become an industry standard and can be a great starting place to identify commonalities between different SEL programs. From here, the next step is to help students see how the competencies they are developing in-school help them outside of school, and vice versa.

Take an Inventory

To identify how programs at your school are commonly aligned to the CASEL framework, start by taking an inventory. Go through each competency and sub-competency and ask yourself the following questions:

1. Where does each SEL competency already appear in your curriculum and/or OST programs?

2. How can teachers and program facilitators backwards-design activities and lesson plans with outcomes related to these competencies in mind?

take an inventory of alignment to SEL competencies
Take an inventory of how your program or curriculum aligns to SEL competencies

Establish Common Language and Themes

Once an inventory is complete, work with program leaders to establish common language and themes. For example, how will you talk to students about self-efficacy and growth mindset? Reinforcing the same definitions and terms both in-school and out-of-school can be a helpful way to show students how these skills are used in both academic and non-academic parts of their day.

While finding commonalities is helpful, it’s also important that each SEL program builds from its own strengths and mission. For example, a mindfulness program may work best when it stays in that lane, rather than trying to also cover relationship skills. While alignment of language and themes is helpful, don’t force alignments that aren’t inherently there.

Activate Transition Time

Transition time during the school day (for example, before and after lunch/recess) as well as the OST transition from the school day to after-school, can be a trigger for distress and trauma. Careful planning of these parts of the day can turn stressful parts of the day into opportunities to create joy and calm.

Personal student check-ins that use active engagement are a great place to start with incorporating SEL into transitions. Adding a bit of music and movement can also go a long way to set the right tone and boost student optimism and joy.

You can dive deeper into this topic through EduMotion’s Community of Practice on participate.com. Classroom Culture: Creating Joy is an online course that offers lots of hands-on activities you can use for joy-boosting school-day and OST transition times.

EduMotion provides SEL for After-School (OST)
Find out how EduMotion aligned its cultural dance program to an SEL framework

Case Study: Aligning a Cultural Dance Program

In developing EduMotion: SEL Journeys, we started out with a mission to bring the SEL benefits of learning through our cultural dance curriculum to as many students as possible. Our first step was to take an SEL inventory of the popular multi-cultural dance program we had already developed.

From this inventory, we discovered opportunities to be much more intentional and explicit in the way we integrate and teach about SEL. As we added this layer of intentionality, the program became much easier for educators to align with other SEL programs and initiatives.

Using a clear framework for SEL, our multi-cultural dance program is now used to enhance both in-school and after-school SEL and provides CASEL -aligned themes that can be used to anchor comprehensive SEL integration into all parts of the school day.

And for students, we are offering access to an under-utilized approach to learning that is proven to effectively engage diverse learners. When it comes to SEL outcomes, dance consistently outperforms other forms of physical activity and arts practices, plus it has shown particularly strong outcomes in improving overall well-being for students of low socio-economic status. In taking time to better align our program to an SEL framework, we strengthened alignment with our own mission to offer inclusive and equitable access to our curriculum.

Connect the Dots

One great way to build a bridge from in-school to after-school with SEL is to find programs that offer a framework to connect to. From here, you can establish a common culture and climate that fosters SEL for After-School (OST) and build bridges between the important youth development that happens both in-school and after the bell rings.

DIVE DEEPER: Rigorous Fun: Implementing Research-based SEL in OST settings


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Margot Toppen

Margot Toppen

Margot Toppen is a visionary educator who works at the intersection of SEL, arts, and physical education.

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