Educare schools work to improve children’s social and emotional learning

Social-emotional well-being and executive functioning skills, which include initiative, problem-solving and self-control, are critical features of early childhood development that contribute to later student success.

Educare schools and their research partners are collaborating on a project that aims to build teachers’ capacity to promote the young children’s social-emotional development and executive function skills. It is one of eight Acceleration Grant projects at Educare schools and is supported by the Buffett Early Childhood Fund.

The Social-Emotional Learning and Executive Functioning project is led by Dr. Jolene Johnson from the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Dr. Helen Raikes from the University of Nebraska Lincoln and is being implemented at five Educare schools in Omaha, Lincoln, Winnebago and New Orleans. Local experts are also contributing to the project. For example, Dr. Sherry Heller from Tulane University will be providing ongoing reflective sessions with all staff members at Educare New Orleans to support the social-emotional well-being of adults as well as children.

“There are three important things we must really focus on when teaching and supporting young children and their families: their development and overall health, the teaching of social-emotional skills and research-based instructional strategies,” said Tanya Murray, Educare Lincoln executive director. “Through this project, we have learned high-yield instructional strategies that we can use to develop and meet the needs of our children socially and emotionally. It has provided training opportunities, teaching kits and high-quality literature that supplement everything we do.”

Next steps for early learning programs

After a formative first year of observing and conducting focus groups, interviews and baseline assessments at participating Educare schools, the group identified that early learning programs need to:

1.  Develop a common system for supporting positive student behavior with a common language for all staff

2.  Introduce strategies and interventions for students who need more support

3.  Integrate executive function activities into current programming

In the next two years, teams at each participating Educare school will incorporate practices from the Positive Behavior Interventions and Support model and intentionally orient new staff members to the social-emotional approach at the school.

In addition, the Minnesota Executive Function Scale, a promising new social-emotional assessment battery, will be introduced at all five schools. To use the data most effectively, participating Educare schools will also have access to webinars, an intervention guidebook and a workshop focused on the integration of executive function into the curriculum.

This project was featured at the 2016 Educare Learning Network Meeting poster session.