Prevention Research Center to chart course for social emotional learning

Experts agree that social and emotional skills are necessary for children to grow up healthy and successful as students and later, in all aspects of life. Over the past two years, the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center at Penn State and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) have published the most comprehensive examination to date of the research on social emotional learning (SEL).

Now, through a new $800,000 grant from the RWJF, the center will chart the future direction for school administrators, educators and communities to implement high quality, evidence-based SEL programs and practices.

The 3-year project will frame actions to help researchers, practitioners, and policy makers embrace exciting new opportunities to advance SEL, while mitigating risks. Meg Leavy Small, director of social innovation and assistant research professor, and Damon Evan Jones, assistant research professor, will co-direct the project.

“Building on the success of the first grant, we will identify knowledge gaps that limit SEL integration and uptake,” said Small. “The main difference with this project is that we will focus on 'what’s next' in terms of innovative strategies with potential to address the critical remaining challenges and opportunities for the sustainable scaling of SEL in schools and communities.”

The previous grant produced a series of 11 reports, authored by recognized scholars in the field, on the current evidence based on the impacts of social emotional learning. The series examined SEL practices in infancy, the preschool years, and in the elementary, middle and high school contexts, as well as briefs on school climate, teacher stress, parent involvement, the role of peer relations, equity, and the economic benefits of effective SEL investments.

“Social and emotional skills are vital for succeeding in school and the labor force, as well as bolstering health and well-being more generally. Schools and effective SEL programs play a critical role in preparing individuals to thrive in our current economic and social reality,” said Jones, co-author of one of the earlier briefs, titled “Improving the Social Emotional Skills in Childhood Enhances Long-Term Well-being and Economic Outcomes.”  

“Currently, there is insufficient usable guidance in education and social policy to determine which evidence-based programming, assessment, and delivery systems are most promising," Jones added. "Through this series we intend to encourage a course of action to bolster social and emotional health, moving forward.”

Some of the SEL topics the team will address in this next phase will be SEL skills assessment, mindfulness, youth empowerment, and the role of school administrators, among others. The project will also include the dissemination of the reports through national conferences and meetings, as well as through a variety of digital strategies.

The entire series of published SEL briefs, created under the leadership of Mark Greenberg, founder of the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center, and Karen Bierman, both renowned researchers in social and emotional learning and early childhood education, can be found at the center’s website.