This article is the third in a five-part series of insights from Newark Trust for Education’s Director of P-12 Strategy, Stephanie Parry, on the value of social emotional learning (SEL).

Systems and practices to support social emotional learning should create meaningful engagement with such partners and decision makers as students, families, and communities. This ensures strategies are age-appropriate, culturally relevant, and widely understood and adopted by stakeholders.

In a RealClear Education op-ed, SEL experts Aaliyah Samuel and Michael Petrilli recently underscore the importance of including caregivers in the conversation about what social emotional learning is and how it is being taught in classrooms. Acknowledging and addressing concerns brought forth by parents early on creates buy-in and prevents misconceptions and false narratives from stoking fear and panic.

Because learning occurs within a cultural context, caregiver voice is also critical when considering how lessons and activities will impact students and their families. As we move towards deeper conversations about equity and attempt to bridge fractured cultural divides, the viewpoints of individual communities can help inform practical steps towards implementation.

In addition, the effectiveness of programs will depend on age-appropriateness. Literature on social emotional learning shows that established SEL curricula may not generate the same level of engagement in adolescent youth as it does for younger students. At the same time, adolescents are at an optimal age to benefit from SEL programs. Benefits include a decrease in emotional and social difficulties at a time when young people are experiencing challenging transitions.

According to one study, the biggest increase in SEL adoption and growth between 2020 and 2021 occurred in middle and high school grades. As schools and districts focus more on adolescent SEL programs, the field will need to advance practices to best meet the needs of older students. Soliciting direct input and feedback from youth, particularly from diverse backgrounds, should be a core component of district, state, and SEL program provider strategies.