This month, I sat down for a Zoom chat with Amy Walker, Director of Strategic Partnerships for Committee for Children, creators of the Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) program series, Second Step. Amy and I previously had the chance to discuss the role of families in SEL on a webinar titled, “Engaging Families with Social-Emotional Learning” last Fall. Our conversation then was rich with ideas and my recent discussion with Amy allowed for us to dive deeper into some of the key areas that are top of mind for Committee for Children and Family Engagement Lab when it comes to teacher-parent partnership around SEL.
During our conversation, Amy shared how important it is to talk about SEL in ways that resonate with families. By focusing on key student skills that are important to families (e.g., learning how to form friendships, solving problems in a positive way), teachers and schools are best positioned to collaboratively support students’ well being. At Family Engagement Lab, we too believe in the power of forming strong partnerships between teachers and families to support wide-ranging positive outcomes for children around social, emotional, and academic learning.
In our blog, I’m excited to highlight the strategies Amy shared for how schools can meaningfully engage families around SEL to deepen trust and build collaborative relationships with the key adults in a child’s learning journey. We would love to hear more about your strategies and invite you to share them with us through LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook.
Elisabeth: Tell us a little more about Committee for Children and your role there.
Amy: Committee for Children is a nonprofit organization that has been around for over 40 years, reaching over 20 million children in more than 30,000 schools around the U.S. Most of what we do is social-emotional learning but we also work in the field of child abuse prevention and bullying prevention.
I’m the Director of Strategic Partnerships and my role is to forge relationships and business partnerships with other organizations to help us reach more children and have more impact. I’ve been in this field for over 20 years.
Elisabeth: What do you enjoy most about working in the field of SEL?
Amy: I am so grateful that I get to earn a living doing work that is so good for kids. I really believe in social-emotional learning. In my own life, I work on these skills every day and I love the idea of teaching children skills so they can start managing their feelings and solving problems in positive ways. I wish I had learned these things when I was in school.
The skills you learn in SEL programs like Second Step are the skills that carry you through your life. They allow you to hold down jobs, have good relationships, be a good parent, and make good decisions. It’s hard work to learn social and emotional skills, but these skills are an essential part of our lives.
Through SEL, I think we can help kids to have better experiences in both school and their lives outside of school and in their futures. I have a real heart for teachers and I know that everything we do in SEL, also helps teachers and schools.
Elisabeth: What are 1-2 ways that the pandemic has affected your work with school districts?
Amy: Family engagement with social emotional learning is a big deal and it certainly has become much more critical since the pandemic.
At the start of the pandemic, 90% of our clients were using the print version of our SEL program Second Step. We worked quickly to meet their digital needs by accelerating our existing efforts. In addition, our school partners immediately asked how they could connect with families about SEL. Including families has always been a part of our programs and we have been doing a lot of coaching to encourage our clients to use the resources we provide.
As the pandemic went on, we saw that children were struggling with isolation and feeling disconnected from peers and their teachers. It was apparent that children needed support to help them manage their feelings and the effects of the pandemic on their emotions. Our school partners were able to support children through Second Step because social-emotional learning builds skills that can help provide foundational support for the emotional well-being of kids.
Elisabeth: What strategies have you seen Second Step schools using that work well to engage families with SEL? Are there some common pitfalls or missed opportunities around family engagement that you see in your work?
Amy: In some ways, engaging families with SEL is not so different from engaging teachers with SEL. One of the important things to do is to educate families on what it is.
One really important thing is to talk about SEL in a way that they understand as it relates to their child. We encourage using terms like “managing strong feelings,” “setting goals,” “learning skills to make friends,” “dealing with stress,” “solving problems in a positive way.” This helps bridge to the things that families care about and what they are struggling with when talking about an SEL program.
When a school makes an effort to teach social skills, families can have more visibility into how this is helping their child. It communicates to families that, “we can grow together as a school to help kids have skills to thrive.”
Amy provided a number of recommendations for schools and educators who would like to engage families more deeply around SEL:
Amy Walker’s Recommendations for Involving Families in SEL
A big thank you to Amy Walker from Committee for Children! If you would like to learn more about Amy’s work, check out: http://www.cfchildren.org/
To learn more about how FASTalk can support your SEL efforts, visit: https://www.familyengagementlab.org/what_we_do.html.