Cover: Learning to Focus on Adult Social and Emotional Learning First in Tulsa

Learning to Focus on Adult Social and Emotional Learning First in Tulsa

One of Six Case Studies of Schools and Out-of-School-Time Program Partners (Volume 2, Part 7)

Published Sep 15, 2022

by Karen Christianson, Celia J. Gomez, Catherine H. Augustine, Heather L. Schwartz


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Research Questions

  1. What are the benefits of school and OST program partnerships that focus on SEL?
  2. What approaches to implementing SEL are useful?

The Wallace Foundation's Partnerships for Social and Emotional Learning Initiative is a six-year initiative that The Wallace Foundation launched in 2017 to explore whether and how children benefit when schools and their out-of-school-time (OST) programs partner to improve social and emotional learning (SEL), as well as what it takes to do this work.

According to the Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning, SEL is "the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions." This case study explores how Whitman Elementary in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and its out-of-school-time program partner, Youth at Heart, learned to first invest in adults so that they are equipped to support students' SEL.

In the 2020–2021 school year, a focus on consistent SEL practices as a way to support students, particularly those who had experienced trauma, resulted in students experiencing the same SEL resources, signature practices, and monthly SEL words across the school and OST day. School and OST program staff alike noticed improvements in both students' social and emotional skills and behavior, as well as school climate. Students' improved ability to express and regulate their own emotions corresponded with fewer fights, stronger relationships, and an improved climate. A switch to focusing on SEL practices, as opposed to SEL lesson plans, and reducing the number of SEL resources also helped teachers more consistently incorporate SEL.

Key Findings

  • Building adults' SEL skills (for example, by helping adults recognize their own emotions) helped adults incorporate SEL into instruction and model SEL skills.
  • Prioritizing adult SEL also increased buy-in for SEL instruction and corresponded with declines in teacher burnout and turnover.
  • Regular meetings and shared trainings promoted consistency between the school and OST SEL instruction.
  • A switch to focusing on short SEL rituals, as opposed to lesson plans, helped teachers start to use SEL; they could then later build in explicit SEL instruction.

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