Feb 23

Guest blog: Strategies to support social and emotional learning in afterschool

By Thomas James, Community Outreach and Communications Coordinator for the Out-of-School Time Programs division of DC Public Schools. This blog post is adapted from a longer article on SEL that you can find here.

As many of us in the afterschool field are well aware, youth that participate in high-quality afterschool programs develop a wide array of critical skills that are imperative to become a productive citizen. Skills like self-control, critical thinking, and collaboration—sometimes referred to as social and emotional learning (SEL)—are gaining prominence in the education policy world. This type of learning significantly impacts the life skills and outcomes of youth.

Yet, when trying to address and incorporate these skills into afterschool programming, it can often seem daunting. In this post I will try to shed light on a variety of tactics and strategies that are proven to enhance the development of social and emotional skills in youth.

In order to help youth develop these skills, afterschool professionals can use a wide range of strategies to encourage social and emotional development, including:

Program discussions

  • Student-program leader(s) dialogue with a focus on content relative to what students are seeing and learning
  • Chance for students to elaborate on their own thinking as well as the thoughts they hear coming from their peers

Balanced instruction

  • Active and direct instruction
  • Comes in many different forms, including group projects and playing educational games

Self-reflection and self-assessment

  • Leaders help students to actively think about and assess their own work
  • Students compare their work to the agreed-upon standards, then think of ways to improve their performance

Cooperative learning

  • Students learn to work together in order to accomplish a goal
  • Encourages positive interdependence and accountability, forces students to apply social skills, improves self-esteem, and helps young learners understand material better

Unfortunately, it can be challenging for educators to encourage the development of these skills. Furthermore, traditional education environments are often ill-suited to helping youth develop these skills, which makes their inclusion in afterschool programs even more important. It is important to make sure that youth development professionals have the proper supports and training when focusing on SEL.

Fortunately, the field has developed a wide array of tactics to help program staff properly incorporate SEL in their programming:

  • Staff members should be educated on specific competencies and the benefits of SEL. If the staff does not buy into the idea of this type of learning, it will likely not be practiced.
  • All staff should be trained on SEL-supported behavior management techniques. Staff can be trained to identify negative behavior before it begins, and how to deal with misbehavior in a positive way.
  • Programs can implement policies that encourage specific, positive feedback. This helps facilitators encourage and reinforce good behavior, which builds capacity and trust between themselves and their students.
  • Community building can be intentionally included in program hours. Adults showing students they care about them is one of the most important parts of afterschool. If students feel a sense of community, long-term behavior and learning also tend to improve.
  • Intentional SEL lessons can be incorporated. When challenging activities are offered, children may become overexcited and/or frustrated, which can become a great teaching moment for facilitators wherein they can help students identify their emotions and reflect on their actions.

We all know that SEL and afterschool programs have a deep impact on children’s futures. In the short term, these skills and behaviors may help students improve their academic performance and behavior in school. Long-term, the skills learned from SEL and afterschool will help these students become more employable, productive, successful citizens. It is critical that we continue investing in afterschool programs and the personnel supporting them.