Navigating SEL from the Inside Out

By Katie Brohawn
Senior Director of Research, ExpandED Schools

Educators (both formal and informal) have long touted the importance of fostering social and emotional competencies of the youth they serve for their long-term success. A large body of research supports the notion that programs that promote the development of SEL skills impact not only students’ behavior and attitudes but academic performance as well. However, only recently have SEL skills joined the ranks of skills to be measured for the purposes of education accountability (via the Every Student Succeeds Act), garnering these skills the true attention they deserve.

To date, the bulk of research in the SEL space (and thus subsequent tools for practitioners) has focused on in-school settings. However, over the past decade, the expanded learning field has received more prominent recognition for its role in partnering with schools to support the social, emotional, and academic achievement of youth. With the addition of SEL metrics to education accountability systems, the need for evidence-based programs to support these skills across both formal and informal education settings is becoming ever more apparent.

This past March, the Wallace Foundation released a resource guide, Navigating SEL from the Inside Out: Looking Inside and Across 25 Leading SEL Programs: A Practical Resource for Schools and OST Providers, that can be used by both schools and OST providers alike. The guide is unique in that it pays special attention to the intricacies the OST space provides, both in facilitating and hindering implementation of SEL-focused programming. Further, the evidence base from more traditional school day programs is also highlighted, acknowledging that expanded learning time programs vary greatly in the degree to which the OST space is aligned with and connected to the school today.

As is the case with previous tools in the field (i.e. the CASEL Guide), Navigating SEL from the Inside Out, sets forth a Framework to narrow down content, dividing SEL skills into three core domains that research has found related to positive short- and long-term outcomes for youth: cognitive regulation, emotional processed and social/interpersonal skills.

Across these three domains are 12 SEL skills with a strong evidence base linking them to youth outcomes. Further, the resource provides insights for practitioners as to 17 evidence-based practices for developing these skills, from more traditionally academic in focus (i.e. discussion, stories, vocabulary) to more dynamic/interactive (i.e. videos, songs, role-playing and games) that OST providers may prefer.

For the list-lover in all of us, the guide succinctly breaks down six features common to evidence-based effective SEL programming, followed by seven commonly faced implementation challenges such that programs realize they aren’t alone in their struggles and, subsequently, ten program components that address these key features and common challenges. However, most relevant to our readers is the distinct call-out of four common principles specific to providing quality SEL programming in the OST space. Notably that programs:

  1. provide a safe and positive environment for children and adults;
  2. support the development of high quality relationships between children and adults;
  3. are developmentally appropriate, relevant and engaging for children; and
  4. provide opportunities for direct skill building.

These principles are followed by five areas OST providers should consider specific to the OST space before embarking on the decision to be intentional in their SEL focus.

  1. Expansion is difficult when forcing standardization
  2. The benefits of consistency must be balanced with the need for programming to be additive.
  3. SEL programs must authentically support the mission of the OST organization.
  4. In addition to mission, the pedagogical approach of SEL and OST programs should be both aligned and additive.
  5. Organizations must consider the specific SEL needs and learning styles of their students.

Every Hour Counts has long recognized the value of incorporating SEL in both practice and measurement in expanded-learning systems, illustrated by the development of our Measurement Framework. The Measurement Framework provides a blueprint for communities to better understand the impact of programs, with a focus on youth outcomes and a defined set of social and emotional skills. We realize this is an ever-evolving field and appreciate the efforts of The Wallace Foundation to commission this type of research that drives the field forward.

Originally published at on June 29, 2017.

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