Social, Emotional and Academic Development

All students—particularly Black, Indigenous and other students of color and students living in low-income communities—need culturally-affirming, safe and equitable learning environments that support them to productively engage, learn and develop into adults with the knowledge, skills and habits to thrive in an ever-changing and complex world.

Schools can help students strengthen a range of inter- and intra-personal skills and competencies such as a sense of self and place and purpose in the world, agency, growth mindset and resilience—all skills that contribute to academic success but also to success in whatever next steps students pursue. Putting in place the policies and practices that recognize whole-child needs requires moving away from existing system silos and toward better integration of schools’ efforts to improve racial equity, social and emotional learning (SEL), academics and educator talent. It will require educators to have the training, skills and support to know who their students are and how they learn, and to build meaningful relationships with students that foster students’ identities, sense of agency and belonging. And it will require state and district leaders to select and use core, standards-aligned instructional materials and professional learning that integrate a focus on the whole child and to proactively work to disrupt inequities that stem from systemic racism.

As one of our primary focus areas, Education First collaborates with policymakers, education leaders and funders to design and implement coherent strategies that advance social, emotional and academic development (SEAD) evidence-based practices in schools. Our efforts include working closely with funders to amplify evidence and turn research into action and convening foundations, and with policymakers and education leaders to bring together innovative ideas and develop action plans to support the whole child.

Our core expertise within Social, Emotional and Academic Development includes:

  • Policies and practices that support anti-racist whole child development integrated with academics
  • Research to elevate best practices for integrating racial equity, SEL and academics
  • Innovations in assessment and measurement that focus on equity and starting with the needs and desires of communities at the margins and most proximate to the problem
  • Implementation of innovations in assessment and accountability that focus on expanded definitions of student success

Some of the recent ways we have helped the field strengthen its focus on Social, Emotional and Academic Development include:

  • We helped convene, facilitate and coordinate the Sobrato Family Foundation’s “Policy Partners” coalition, comprised of seven dual language learner (DLL) and English learner (EL) advocacy organizations advancing language acquisition policies and practices in California.
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic and period of significant school disruptions in 2020–21, with the support of the NoVo Foundation, we supported six school districts and charter organizations across the country to develop a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the experiences and challenges of educators and students with social and emotional dimensions of learning, well-being and relationships. As part of managing this collaboration, we directed subgrant funding and provided significant coaching and technical assistance to help school system teams refine, enhance and accelerate their reopening and recovery plans. By focusing on SEL and equity in this grant program, we are challenging school districts and charter networks to acknowledge identities, biases, assumptions, values and formal and informal power to equitably transform their schools and classrooms—considering policies, practices, mindsets and behaviors.
  • With the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and its grantees, we are identifying opportunities and challenges in advancing equity and justice in measurement and assessment that honor and develop the whole child.