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Navigating Social-Emotional Learning Globally

A new toolbox to help adapt social emotional learning to diverse contexts around the world
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While there’s been a lot of buzz around social-emotional learning (SEL) and psychosocial support (PSS) for students, there’s not much consensus around definitions and strategies, making it difficult to communicate, design programs, and conduct assessments. This lack of transparency is especially challenging in emergency education contexts where the need for SEL skills and PSS supports is urgent. Additionally, much of the research on social-emotional development and wellbeing comes from western, stable countries and reflects the norms of these contexts, making it difficult to translate practices effectively.

To better provide PSS and SEL initiatives and programming to vulnerable children around the world, the EASEL Lab in partnership with the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) has developed a toolbox to help stakeholders working in global emergency education contexts explore a range of PSS-SEL approaches currently in use and adapt them to a local context.

“The PSS-SEL Toolbox is a much needed and unprecedented resource for stakeholders engaged in work in Education in Emergencies globally,” says Professor Stephanie Jones, director of the EASEL Lab. “We expect it to provide a wealth of information and support to many global actors focusing on social and emotional learning and related areas, essentially operating as an open-source global public good.”

Here, EASEL Lab’s Research Manager Sonya Temko, Ed.M.'16, and EASEL Lab Project Coordinator Bryan Nelson, Ed.M.'15, explain the project’s origins, how to use it, and next steps.

How did this project originate?

Sonya Temko: This project came out of and builds on previous projects, including EASEL Lab’s Taxonomy Project [which seeks to help researchers, educators, and schools navigate models for social emotional learning and corresponding terms] as well as a previous collaboration between the lab and INEE to understand and navigate global SEL frameworks, guidance documents, and approaches to measurement and assessment used primarily in education emergencies. When we started the project, the first step was to engage with a lot of different stakeholders across the fields of PSS and SEL and Education in Emergencies and codesign a core framework together. In those meetings, we heard from folks in the field that they didn’t want another framework. What they really wanted were tools to navigate the existing frameworks to help implement them in a local context. We redesigned the project to be a toolkit that helps support that end goal.

What is an SEL Framework and how is it typically used?

Bryan Nelson: When we talk about frameworks, we’re talking about ways to organize the skills people see as important and want to target and emphasize. Each framework defines each skill in a different way, and they don’t always align to each other. The toolbox can help translate from one framework to another and help us understand what’s actually in the framework and what it emphasizes [so people can choose what works for their context and their programming goals].

Temko: What we often see, is, in the same ways research on SEL and PSS is very much based in western, stable contexts and not in emergency settings, the same is true of the frameworks used in the field. So this toolkit helps people to see what’s inside each of them, to take the parts that may be relevant to them, and contextualize them to their setting.

“The PSS-SEL Toolbox is a much needed and unprecedented resource for stakeholders engaged in work in Education in Emergencies globally. We expect it to provide a wealth of information and support to many global actors focusing on social and emotional learning and related areas, essentially operating as an open-source global public good.” - Stephanie Jones, EASEL Lab Director

So how does the toolbox work?

Nelson: It’s a learning tool. There are three sections to this toolbox. The first one is a set of interactive data tools and that’s used to understand the existing frameworks — what’s out there, what’s included in them, what skills do they target. This breaks it down for you and helps you see how they compare to each other. The second part includes support for the process of contextualization and localization — mainly PDFs, worksheets, guides, questions, and supports for building out focus groups and other community engagement activities to gather diverse perspectives. The third section contains additional resources like case studies of how stakeholders in different countries used the Toolbox during field testing, other ways to use the site, and our literature review.

Is this something that was designed for a specific user or can it be used in a variety of contexts for different purposes?

Temko: So far, we’ve had a broad range of users making sure they’re addressing the local needs of the population they serve. We field tested it in 13 different countries. Some used it with teachers in training to learn about the different skills and how they can support students in developing those skills and support student wellbeing. Sometimes, it was used by university-based researchers to conduct their research on PSS and SEL. We also had stakeholders at the policy and ministry of education level who used it to develop national frameworks. It was also used by NGO's in refugee settings supporting program design. It’s also been used to create context-relevant resources for online open courses.

How do you hope to see this impacting the field of global education and/or emergency education?

Temko: One hope we have is that funders can embed time to use this toolbox and localize into how they fund and track programs. We hear so often that, “Oh, we really wanted to contextualize our program but things in emergencies move fast and we didn’t have the time or the funding or the people power.” If we’re able to embed [the toolbox] at different levels of implementation and planning, we hope it can make a change in the resources and approaches taken in the field. Ultimately, we want to help move the field towards using more materials and approaches to PSS and SEL that are relevant to, designed for and by, the people that they serve. So much of this field is taking things from the west and importing with little contextualization — and we know that when it comes to PSS and SEL the local culture, norms, and context matter. So, we’ve done a lot of work to find frameworks from diverse places and highlight ways people can incorporate localization and contextualization in their work at the ministry level, program design, and research. Whatever the end goal may be, we really hope it enables people to do deep, meaningful local work to support children’s wellbeing.


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