By Sam Piha
There has been a great deal of research and conversation about the importance of social and emotional learning (SEL). There have also been a number of terms and lists that are close cousins to SEL: non-cognitive skills, grit, growth mindsets, and others. How can practitioners sort all of this out and how best should we communicate with our K-12 colleagues and parents?
The Wallace Foundation recently commissioned Edge Research, Inc. to examine “the linguistic landscape of the many terms used to describe non-academic skills and finding some familiarity with ‘social and emotional learning.’” The primary goals of this research included:
- Understanding the landscape of terminology from the perspective of key stakeholders
- Understanding what motivates K-12 public school, Afterschool and Policy leaders to be interested in the topic of SEL
- Helping the field develop a common vocabulary on the topic of SEL
They conducted a review of the literature, gathered surveys, and held focus groups with K-12 educators, afterschool leaders, and parents.
The key findings of this marketing research were:
1. There is no “silver bullet” term, but across the research phases, “social and emotional learning” emerges as one that is familiar and clear for Policy, K-12 and Afterschool leaders. It also tests well in parent focus groups.
2. Over the course of research, we moved away from terms that had strong, ancillary or even negative connotations (21st Century Skills, Whole Child Development, Soft Skills, Character). We also eliminated familiar terms deemed too generic for this topic (Youth Development, Success Factors).
3. In framing this issue, a concept that speaks to “Gains” for children has traction. Specifics about SEL skills (i.e. building positive relationships, navigating social environments), plus positively asserting that all children benefit, make this frame popular across stakeholder and parent audiences.
4. Other frames include language that resonates. Consider the right time to weave in themes and ideas about: all adults having a role, the learning equation, children realizing their potential, future citizens and the opportunity gap.
5. Despite agreement that SEL should be a priority, challenges exist for the future. The field identifies training and professional development as much-needed. Parents are wary of school and afterschool overstepping their bounds.
Edge researchers, Pam Loeb and Stacia Tipton, presented their study in a webinar sponsored by the Wallace Foundation. We urge field leaders in expanded learning to give it a listen by clicking here.