Most social-emotional learning efforts have focused on the elementary grades, and most of the research documents discrete programs within schools. We know far less about the promises and challenges of SEL in middle and high school—and less still about what it takes to make social and emotional learning central to a school’s mission and inextricably linked to academics.
The five case studies by What Kids Can Do—made possible by the NoVo Foundation—document the transformative power of social and emotional learning, and its connections to deeper learning, in five diverse American high schools.
In four of these schools, the links between academic and social-emotional learning were built into their DNA, although the designs and students served are decidedly distinct; each school had close to 20 years of experience forging these connections. The fifth school, Chicago’s Fenger High School, offered an extraordinary opportunity to observe educators embracing SEL as a strategy for turning around years of poor performance.
WKCD took a constructivist approach to its research. Rather than bring a list of contested issues to the schools visited, it worked the other way around. Researchers asked administrators, faculty, and students to show them where in the school day social and emotional learning stood out for them, and what effects it had. They focused on effective practices as much as effective programs—a reminder that the best schools are learning organizations, continually inventing and measuring the effectiveness of practices rooted in their own particular circumstances. WKCD's mixed research approach also made multimedia built on student and teacher voices one of the tools in its data gathering.
With one exception, researchers visited each school twice for several days, observing and interviewing as many students and faculty as possible and gathering images and voices from students and teachers alike.
In addition to the full case study, WKCD has created a "Close-Up" for each school that examines a particular aspect of its SEL work: restorative practices at Fenger, developing student agency at Springfield Renaissance, service learning and giving back at Quest, creating accountability through community at East Side, and soccer as unifier at Oakland International.
A new book, Global Education Reform: How Privatization and Public Investment Influence Education Outcomes, provides a powerful analysis of these different ends of an ideological spectrum – from market-based experiments to strong state investments in public education.