By Mark Greenberg, Emeritus Bennett Chair of Prevention Science, Penn State University, Chair of CREATE (www.createforeducation.org)
In this time of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are all struggling to adjust and it is becoming clear that the “new normal of education” will include an even greater emphasis on well-being and developing community for both staff and students. Right now, we are all adjusting to learning and teaching online and we experience both the opportunities and limitations of online learning. While I recognize that online learning is necessary in some circumstances, in this blog I articulate why it is so important to have face-to-face training and consultation to create the kind of caring schools all our children deserve.
It is exciting that many schools are now actively implementing social and emotional learning (SEL) programs and policies to improve outcomes for children. There is strong scientific evidence that SEL programs can improve children’s well-being, and behavior, and academic outcomes. However, schools often do not take the time to plan SEL implementation effectively and thus do not achieve their goal of improving student’s social and academic outcomes. Effective teacher and staff training and ongoing consultation are essential for effective SEL implementation and sustainable systems change.
It is important for us all to remember that for SEL to be effective and equitable, adults need ongoing professional development and support. An analysis of 213 studies concluded that low quality implementation ultimately reduced program effectiveness.
What kind of professional development is needed to create systemic change? First, professional development should include sufficient support and technical assistance for curriculum implementation and school-wide improvement. This means that on-site training and consultation is needed so that the chosen program is used with fidelity and also adapted to fit the cultural context of the school and community. A “canned” on-line training is insufficient to support the deep systemic change needed to support the use of a sustainable SEL program, that is tailored to the needs of each school’s culture and context.
As clearly stated in the Aspen Commission Report on Practice – a Consensus Statement from the Council of Distinguished Educators. “The best professional support takes place not in one-time workshops, but through ongoing dialogue and interaction with colleagues and coaches/consultants over an extended period. (p. 9)”
Second, it is important that teachers understand the purpose and intent of activities as they make necessary adjustments for their own classrooms, so that the integrity of the evidence-based program is maintained. It is important, most of all, that they understand that fidelity is important. Ideally, when cultural or contextual adaptations are necessary, teachers will work with coaches or developers from the evidence-based program itself, to ensure that their modifications are not undermining the intent of an activity, or diminishing the effectiveness of the approach.
Third, ongoing support, including tailored technical assistance and coaching, are among the most effective strategies for promoting high quality implementation.
As stated in the final Aspen Commission Report on SEL, “Transforming instruction in this way is not easy. It does not happen overnight. It requires teachers both to teach social, emotional, and cognitive skills directly and to shift their instruction to reinforce such skills through learning academic content and through the features of the classroom and school environment.(p.25)”
As a co-developer and trainer of the PATHS® Curriculum, the statements by the Aspen Commission align with my experience working with schools around the world. Making sustainable change through the introduction of SEL is a complex change process and requires ongoing training, consultation, monitoring and support.
 Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82, 405–432.
 National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development. (2017). The practice base for how we learn. Aspen Institute. Retrieved from: http://nationathope.org/research-practice-and-policy-agendas/practice/
 Pas, E. T., Bradshaw, C.P., Becker, K. D., Domitrovich, C., Berg, J., Musci, R., & Ialongo, N. S. (2015). Identifying patterns of coaching to support the implementation of the Good Behavior Game: The role of teacher characteristics. School Mental Health, 7, 61-73.
 National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development. (2019). From a nation at risk to a nation of hope. Retrieved from: http://nationathope.org/