Cover: Supporting Social-Emotional Development in Preschoolers

Supporting Social-Emotional Development in Preschoolers

Implementation Evaluation of the PEDALS Program

Published Jun 28, 2024

by Elaine Lin Wang, Nastassia Reed, Christopher Joseph Doss, Jill S. Cannon

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Though early childhood educators have a long history of emphasizing learning through play to foster the development of the whole child, including social-emotional competencies, the proliferation of formal social-emotional learning (SEL) curricula first seen in kindergarten to 12th grade has expanded to prekindergarten. This report presents initial implementation findings of the Positive Emotional Development and Learning Skills (PEDALS) program, an SEL program in prekindergarten classrooms in Western and Central New York and Southeast Michigan. PEDALS is a two-year program that combines the Second Step Early Learning SEL curriculum with comprehensive supports for teachers and site directors.

Findings indicate that educators perceived the Second Step curriculum, PEDALS training, and PEDALS coaching support very favorably; strongly believed in supporting children's social-emotional development; and had a strong sense of self-efficacy for doing so. Observations indicated that educators were highly skilled in implementing Second Step lessons; however, teachers used strategies less consistently when children were having a difficult time or experiencing interpersonal conflict. Educators identified PEDALS resources for developing children's social-emotional competencies as the factors that provided the most implementation support; meanwhile, they identified some contextual factors, such as children's challenging behavior and lack of planning time, as the factors that most hindered implementation.

Preliminary findings suggest that many preconditions for effective SEL instruction were met. This implementation study is a part of a larger evaluation of PEDALS that also will estimate the effect of the program on children's SEL and executive functioning skills. A second report will be published at the study's conclusion.

Key Findings

  • Educators perceived the Second Step curriculum, PEDALS training, and coaching support very favorably.
  • A large majority of educators strongly believed in approaches or strategies to support children's social-emotional development and had a strong sense of self-efficacy for supporting this development.
  • Preliminary implementation findings based on surveys and observations suggest that educators are generally implementing the social-emotional curriculum as intended.
  • In observations, teachers were highly skilled in implementing Second Step lessons and used most strategies consistently in daily interactions with children; however, teachers used strategies less consistently when interacting with children having a difficult time or in an interpersonal conflict.
  • Half or fewer of site directors strongly agreed that they provided support for Second Step classroom implementation (e.g., providing teachers time to talk about use of Second Step, providing all teachers access to Second Step training), or certain site-level supports (e.g., committing to improving PEDALS implementation site-wide, sustainability planning), but more than half of site directors indicated that they engaged in several other site-level practices to support PEDALS (e.g., including a statement about social-emotional learning in the site's mission or vision statement, using a social-emotional development screening assessment).
  • Educators identified PEDALS training and coaching, resources, and overall approach to developing children's social-emotional skills as the factors that provided the most support to PEDALS implementation; they identified some contextual factors, such as children's challenging behavior and lack of teacher planning time, as the factors that most hindered implementation.
  • Preliminary findings suggest that many preconditions for effective SEL instruction were met.

Recommendations

  • Though implementation was strong, PEDALS coaching can be fine-tuned to more explicitly consider how to support different teacher roles and needs.
  • PEDALS can develop a continuous improvement orientation in teachers such that they believe that with practice, additional coaching, site-level supports, and peer supports they can strengthen even further their implementation of Second Step lessons and strategies.
  • PEDALS should consider articulating in a document how implementation could be deepened or improved so teachers clearly grasp that there are ways to improve beyond what they were already doing.
  • Site directors should position themselves as an additional form of support and expertise, particularly as coaching support ends.
  • More-concerted efforts should be made to sustain PEDALS at the site level, such as continually assessing and improving PEDALS implementation over time, engaging families around PEDALS, addressing children's social-emotional needs, and sustainability planning.

This research was sponsored by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation and Health Foundation for Western & Central New York and conducted in the Social and Behavioral Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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