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Research Questions

  1. How did the participating school districts and OSTIs in six communities launch their SEL efforts?
  2. How did school districts and OSTIs, as well as schools and OST programs, develop working relationships?
  3. What kinds of PD and supports were offered to develop adults' SEL skills?
  4. How did schools and OST programs work to improve climate and offer SEL instruction to students?
  5. What lessons do these six communities' SEL implementation experiences offer for others?

In 2016, in an effort to gain knowledge about how to help children develop social and emotional learning (SEL) skills, The Wallace Foundation launched a six-year project called the Partnerships for Social and Emotional Learning Initiative (PSELI). The goals of PSELI are for students to experience reinforcing messages about SEL both in school and in out-of-school time (OST) programs; practice social and emotional skills in both settings; and experience consistent, supportive relationships between adults and students. To achieve these goals, school districts and out-of-school time intermediaries (OSTIs) have partnered to develop professional development (PD) about SEL for school and OST staff, help elementary schools and their OST partners develop closer working relationships, and implement reinforcing SEL practices and instruction across both settings. In what the authors believe is the most-comprehensive SEL implementation study to date, they draw lessons that can help school districts and OST providers carry out their own SEL programs.

An Executive Summary of this report is also available.

Key Findings

  • A clearer vision for SEL, paired with desired "look-fors," could have supported a stronger launch to PSELI.
  • Time constraints meant that this multi-part SEL project took more time to roll out than planned.
  • Churn and unanticipated external events have been the norm, not the exception, requiring the communities to adapt their PSELI work to make it more resilient.
  • Being committed to SEL and taking the time to meet were important starting points for district-OSTI partnerships.
  • Staff turnover posed serious challenges for partnerships and for delivery of PD.
  • There was a perceived and actual power differential between schools and OST programs.
  • SEL rituals were a good starting point for promoting a positive climate and for allowing OST and school staff to create continuity.
  • PSELI communities viewed adult SEL skills as a foundation for building student SEL skills.
  • Staff wanted PD to include hands-on practice and, as their SEL work progressed, to focus on differentiating SEL instruction for students with disabilities or with cultural or linguistic differences.
  • Although support for SEL was high among school and OST staff, they also expressed concerns.
  • Time for stand-alone SEL lessons was often cut short.
  • Most of the schools adapted the SEL curriculum used, with unknown effects on efficacy.
  • SEL content sequences for OST programs were in an early stage of development.
  • Guidance about how to integrate SEL into academics and regular classes lagged behind guidance about how to deliver stand-alone SEL lessons.


  • A specific vision for SEL, combined with frequent, clear communication with sites about desired practices, can promote strong site-level implementation.
  • Staff can benefit from PD that is ongoing, customized, and provided by coaches with prior expertise in the relevant setting (school or OST program).
  • Site leaders need to be intentional about protecting time for SEL and conveying to staff the priority of delivering the intended SEL instruction.
  • The integration of SEL instruction into academics and OST activities requires explicit guidance and resources, such as lesson plans and model activities.
  • SEL coaches can provide valuable support to school and OST staff who are implementing new SEL programs and practices.
  • Taking the time to meet, increasing the overlap of school and OST staff, and explicitly acknowledging the power differential that favors schools over OST programs are important ingredients for strong school-OST partnerships.
  • Because it can take several years to implement SEL efforts effectively, funders and policymakers should offer encouragement and incentives for educators to persevere and to craft realistic implementation plans.
  • Because available SEL curriculum materials might not fully meet communities' needs for culturally relevant SEL or for teaching students with Individualized Education Plans, practitioners could benefit from collaborations with curriculum experts and developers to make these adaptations.
  • Funding and other resources to institutionalize new roles, such as SEL coaches, could promote sustainability of SEL efforts.

Research conducted by

This study was sponsored by The Wallace Foundation and undertaken by RAND Education and Labor.

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