I recently came across an article by Bailey and colleagues (2019), all authors are based at the Ecological Approaches to Social Emotional Learning (EASEL) Laboratory at Harvard Graduate School of Education. The article, "Reimagining Social Emotional Learning: Findings from a strategy based approach" describes their research into the use of a more flexible and adaptable approach to SEL- one that replaces a prescribed curriculum with strategies that teachers can choose from.
Here's what I love about this article: almost everything. This article has effectively synthesized what has otherwise been a jumbled mess in my head for the previous decade. If we want to build capacity of educators to teach Social-Emotional Learning, then we need to design tools and resources that are useful, adaptable, and respectful to the fact that teachers gotta' teach (enough content and standards as is)!
You don't need an SEl curriculum
Tools, resources, a vision, a theory of action, an evaluation plan, an internal or external consultant who specializes in the social-emotional development of youth (School Social Workers, School Counselors, and/or other mental health professionals)- you need those things.
But do you need a curriculum? No, probably not. The amount of time it takes your school to find, adopt, train, implement, and evaluate (and you really should evaluate it) a curriculum is no more time than to do the alternative, flexible approach.
Imagine this: Teachers are given the autonomy and flexibility (and specific tools and resources) to choose which SEL practices to use in their classrooms, and when. Imagine researchers spend less time assessing whether you're maintaining fidelity to their model curriculum, and more time studying how the SEL tools you've selected to use impact the children and youth in your school.
Social Emotional Learning opportunities happen in the real world, not in a curriculum.
But we already adopted a sel curriculum...
No worries. Despite my rant thus far, I truly believe it's not a bad thing to use a curriculum, and in some schools it is feasible. In many, however, it is not. My point here is really for the schools where an SEL curriculum feels out of reach--impossible to implement given current standards and time constraints. It's also important to keep in mind that SEL curricula have been around before, just called something different (bullying prevention, character education, 21st century learning, etc...). If your reasons for adopting a new curriculum had anything to do with the fact that your old SEL/Prevention curriculum was not implemented with consistency or fidelity across classrooms or schools, or that it never seemed like the right fit for you or your students--that may end up being the case again 2-4 years from now. If that happens again, please don't give up on SEL, and consider looking toward a more flexible and adaptable model referenced in this article.
Tammy Dee, MSW.