Top 10 Tips to Deepen Social-Emotional Learning in Virtual After-School Programs

By Joshua Barrow, Alexandra Lotero, & David Adams, Youth Today

With fewer resources and increased constraints, program facilitators and educators are now tasked with rising to the occasion of providing high-quality experiences during a time of unprecedented need. This includes developing Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) skills in all settings, including remotely, and in support settings outside of school. After-school programming is invaluable, especially during this time where we need increased connection, relationships, and problem-solving. Explicit SEL in after-school settings aligned to and deepening what’s developed in the school day will provide students the coherent, safe, and enriching space they deserve. 

Here are the top 10 ways that your organization can build synergy between the after-school and in-school system to integrate high-quality SEL virtually and build coherence with the school’s SEL work. (Some of these tips work best in a virtual setting, while others easily translate to hybrid and in-person SEL.)

1. INTENTIONALLY IMPLEMENT SEL FRAMEWORKS AS YOU CREATE PROGRAMMING.

Joshua Bobrow

Understand high-quality SEL and the Foundations of Youth Social-Emotional Learning Development(Student Success Network), and organize your programming around the principles of social, emotional and academic development to empower students to effectively relate to themselves, relate to others, and solve problems. 

How:

— Identify opportunities where SEL skills can be integrated and activated into an existing program.

— Create a routine where new skills are taught weekly through direct SEL instruction.

2. GATHER FEEDBACK TO ENSURE YOUR PROGRAMMING EFFECTIVELY DEVELOPS SEL.

Ensure that your programming is responsive to the needs of your students and the community. By gathering data, you can determine where to best adapt your programming and can provide students information to drive reflection and goal-setting.

How:

— Create mini-opportunities for reflection (e.g. asking students via the online chat feature “On a scale from 1-5, how well did you activate your self-management skills during today’s activity?”).

— Enlist family expertise on how best to support their children’s SEL development.   

— Ask students to provide feedback to adults around how well they demonstrate SEL skills; support adults to genuinely model how to receive feedback.

— Leverage available data to inform programming and target SEL skills in need of development. Relevant data can come from schools.

3. USE ASSET-BASED LANGUAGE TO DESCRIBE SEL AND STUDENTS.  

Alexandra Lotero

Empower students to negotiate challenges and to avoid deficit-oriented understandings of themselves. Be affirming. Let students know that they are capable to meet the challenges faced in this moment.

How:

— Publicly acknowledge students when they exhibit the SEL competency and narrate what you saw and heard the student do. 

— Encourage young people to reflect on their personal motivations and goals.

4. ENSURE THAT ADULTS MODEL AND NARRATE THE SEL SKILLS THEY ARE TEACHING. 

When adults model and narrate the SEL skills that they seek to teach, two things happen. First, students become more trusting of the environment. Second, adults are held accountable for ensuring a safe and affirming virtual space. As an educator, you want students to trust you as an exemplar of the SEL skills you develop.

How:

— Share genuinely with students how you’re using  SEL skills to build competencies (e.g.  problem-solving and relationship building).

— Develop SEL skills alongside students to demonstrate that developing SEL skills is a life-long endeavor. This tool developed by the Urban Assembly helps adults track their SEL development alongside students.

— When possible, take advantage of professional development opportunities that allow adult staff to build SEL competencies.

5. USE REAL-WORLD EXAMPLES AND CONNECT THEM TO SEL SKILLS. 

David Adams

Students appreciate and engage with real-life examples. By using relevant examples, students are also empowered to address challenges they may face. 

How:

— Ask students to connect SEL concepts to experiences inside and outside of school.

— Survey and learn what your students experience during the school day and in their communities, and make connections whenever possible. 

— Invite professionals and school/program alumni as guest speakers to share how SEL skills helped them navigate decisions and challenges.

6. NAME THE SEL SKILLS YOU ARE INTENTIONALLY TEACHING AND LINK THEM TO YOUR ORGANIZATION’S PROGRAMMING.

Let students know what SEL skills you are seeking to build in your space. By naming the SEL skills explicitly and making the necessary connections, you build SEL competency.

How:

— Open and close all content activities by naming and reflecting on the SEL skills addressed.

–Communicate the skills you aim to teach with staff and ensure that you are using similar language and are on the same page. Seek out professional development and resources so you have a deep understanding of how SEL is implemented in the school.

7. MAKE CONTRIBUTIONS VISIBLE AND ACCOUNTABLE. 

 When working with students virtually, it can be challenging to gauge how well a concept is landing, especially when students have their cameras off. Help students feel heard by providing multiple ways to demonstrate their thinking.

How:

— Share a common document and type in student responses live.

— Screenshare student exemplars and common group work documents.

— Give students a choice in how they can participate (e.g. giving them the option to unmute and answer or using the online chat feature).

8. CREATE OPPORTUNITIES IN SMALL GROUPS FOR STUDENTS TO PRACTICE COLLABORATION AND COMMUNICATION SKILLS. 

Virtual learning requires students to communicate in different ways. Be intentional with creating opportunities for students to maintain community.

How:

— Share a common document (like a Google Doc) for group work collaboration.

— Create specific roles in small groups to foster accountability as students work to build these skills.

— Utilize virtual breakout rooms for both formal learning environments and informal engagement.

9. BE INTENTIONAL AND PERSISTENT AROUND RELATIONSHIP BUILDING.

Prioritize community and connection to promote engagement. Many students are struggling to remain connected to other students and to people during this time. One consistent and trusted adult can bolster resilience. That could be you.

How:

— Use engaging and relevant icebreakers; share alongside students and listen without judgment to build trust.

— Host student check-ins and lead activities that allow students to identify their mood.

— Advocate for students whenever possible.

10. CREATE COMMON VIRTUAL NORMS AND REVISIT THEM WHEN MEETING WITH STUDENTS.

Students thrive in environments where they know what success looks like and are acknowledged and heard. Curate an environment where all students can engage with each other and learn. Program facilitators should mirror the values and norms they seek to teach.

How:

— Develop positively-framed norms alongside students, including:  Be present (quiet phones, close distracting tabs, etc.). Ask questions to improve understanding. Use the online chat feature to ask questions and provide feedback.

 

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