Social and Emotional Learning for Kids Starts with Adults

Filed Under: Vibrant Community - Posted @ 10:27am

More than fifty Tacoma organizations came together on Tuesday, February 28 at the Graduate Tacoma headquarters to begin developing a unified approach to Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) for local students. The gathering is the first of four community meetings to develop a plan for extending SEL into after-school programs.

One theme that emerged was the need for adults to develop their own social and emotional skills to teach them to children.

Tacoma Public Schools introduced SEL five years ago as part of their Whole Child Initiative. At the gathering on Tuesday, Dr. Jennifer Kubista, Director of Student Life at Tacoma Public Schools, shared a tool designed for students that has become a staple for adult meetings among partners. Everyone checks in with their “zone” before starting the meeting.

Jennifer pointed out that practicing social and emotional skills as adults is an important part of teaching young people, “It takes everyone. It takes parents, it takes students, it takes community members, it takes organizations rolling up their sleeves in the best interest, first and foremost, of the students.”

Dr. Pamela Randall-Garner, Senior Staff Advisor at the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), has worked with cities across the country on implementing SEL. She praised Tacoma for its active and committed community organizations.

Pamela reinforced the idea that SEL must start with adults, “The a-ha moment, or the epiphany, for us was that when we went in and started talking with principals and superintendents, the first thing out of their mouths was that, ‘If we don’t address the adult SEL piece, so that these adults are modeling these competencies, we’re going to be dead in the water with our children. We’re not going to be able to instruct them.’”

Other participants in Tuesday’s meeting echoed the idea that social and emotional learning begins with grown-ups:


“To have a healthy system and implementation of this process we need to recognize the assets and skills that everyone is bringing in our work together.”
– Holly Bamford Hunt, Director of Bamford Foundation


“Compassion, which is almost synonymous for me with social and emotional development, is really at the root of all of our programming at the Children’s Museum. It made me want to go back and make sure we polish that and keep it at the core.”
– Tanya Andrews, Executive Director Children’s Museum of Tacoma


 “How am I actually developing my own self-awareness? How do I actually model that emotional management piece? I’m thinking about those competencies and how do I develop those competencies as a person, as an adult, so that shows up in my interaction with youth, but it also shows up with my interactions with my organization.”
– Tiffany Y’vonne, Active community member and engaged parent


“Every time I talk about SEL [Social and Emotional Learning] I think about myself first. That’s where change actually happens. You’ve got to look inward first, before you can affect anything outside.”
– Elvin Bucu, Director of Operations for Boys & Girls Club of South Puget Sound


Tacoma Public Schools and Greater Tacoma Community Foundation are one of nine community partner pairs nationwide to receive a planning grant for this community process from The Wallace Foundation. The grants are the first phase in the Partnerships for Social and Emotional Learning initiative, a new, multi-year effort by The Wallace Foundation to better understand how schools and afterschool partners can improve and align experiences and climate to foster children’s social and emotional learning.