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[00:00:00] Dr. Sharp: Hello everyone. Welcome to The Testing Psychologist podcast, the podcast where we talk all about the business and practice of psychological and neuropsychological assessment. I’m your host, Dr. Jeremy Sharp, licensed psychologist, group practice owner, and private practice coach.

This podcast is brought to you by PAR.

To determine if someone is feigning psychiatric illness, trust the Miller Forensic Assessment of Symptoms Test or M-FAST. This 25-item screening interview helps you assess for malingering. Learn more at parinc.com\mfast.

Hey everyone, welcome back. Today we’re talking about social-emotional learning for kids. It’s so important for our kids but unfortunately, I know that many psychologists, myself included, don’t necessarily focus on social-emotional learning during our evaluations or when we think about recommendations, but my guest today, Dr. Evelyn Johnson, is going to talk through the ins [00:01:00] and outs of social-emotional learning.

These are just a few things we talk about: we get into the history and definition of social-emotional learning, we talk about how it is related to mental health, and cultural considerations in social-emotional learning. We also talk briefly about Aperture software and ways to measure social-emotional learning among many other things, but these are just some of the highlights.

Let me tell you a little bit about Evelyn. She is the Vice-President of Research and Development for Aperture Education, where she leads a team to create social and emotional assessments, strategies, and adult SEL programs. Prior to joining Aperture, she was a Professor of Special Education at Boise State University and the CEO of Lee Pesky Learning Center, a non-profit organization that serves students with learning and attention challenges. In her free time, she likes all things outdoors including running, hiking, and skiing. [00:02:00] I think this is why Evelyn and I got along so well.

This is a fantastic episode. There’s lots of information to take away about social-emotional learning and how we can incorporate some of these principles into our evaluations. As always, I’m grateful to have Evelyn here, and really enjoyed our conversation.

So without further ado, I bring you social-emotional learning with Dr. Evelyn Johnson.

Hey Evelyn, welcome to the podcast.

Dr. Evelyn: Thanks, Jeremy. I’m excited to be here.

Dr. Sharp: I’m excited to chat with you. This is an interesting area that we have not talked a lot about on the podcast, and so I think there’s plenty of room to dig into social-emotional learning and [00:03:00] learn a lot ourselves as we go through this conversation. I’ll start with the question that I always start with, which is, why this? Of all the things that you could focus your life and time on, why this, why is this important?

Dr. Evelyn: Thanks for that question. I actually started my career in education as a special education teacher. A lot of my focus was on working with students with learning disabilities like dyslexia, and dysgraphia. And then over the years, I pursued graduate education and worked in teacher preparation.

Eventually, I ran a non-profit center called Lee Pesky Learning Center that was affiliated with Boise State University. In that work, we had the great fortune [00:04:00] of having academic interventionists and social workers and psychologists all in one place, and we were able to create a model of support for students that really focused on the whole child.

So we talked about these three aspects that impacted a person’s ability to learn. And those were their basic academic skills, their executive functioning, their social-emotional abilities, and other cognitive processes.

Once we were able to integrate all of those aspects of the way a child learns, we saw the most incredible changes in the students absolutely, in our teachers who were providing services, who really felt through [00:05:00] addressing social and emotional needs of their student, they were teaching people now, instead of remediating reading.

And so our teachers became more engaged and then families were just blown away at really appreciating and starting to understand that their children were not just struggling with reading or some aspect of learning but how it then impacted them in so many other areas of their life. And really opened up conversations across all of those different relationships and people. It was so powerful.

And so when I was looking for a new challenge, the opportunity with Aperture Education came up and I was able to [00:06:00] focus full time now on research and development of tools that support social-emotional learning for all students.

Dr. Sharp: That’s really cool. It seems like you progressed through different roles related to social-emotional learning and now have gotten to a place where you can have a pretty big impact on how we frame it, assess it, work with it, and integrate it. It sounds very thrilling.

Dr. Evelyn: Yeah, absolutely. It’s been a really exciting change, and as much as I love focusing on the whole child to be able to narrow in on the social-emotional aspect, just because we understand so much now about how that really lays the foundation for pretty much everything in life, but in particular, from my background [00:07:00] and areas of focus in terms of learning and being successful in school, the social-emotional piece is so critical and yet oftentimes it doesn’t receive the attention that I think it needs.

Dr. Sharp: 100%. I know that it’s gotten a lot more attention over the last several years, but I was shocked at, even now how much more we could be talking about social-emotional learning. It just seems intuitive that it is a huge part of kids’ success and seems like it took us a long time to really zero in and start to pay attention to it.

Dr. Evelyn: Yeah, agreed. Organizations like CASEL have been around for 25 years now. I agree, 100%. [00:08:00] It’s been fairly recently, and I think, in large part in response to both the pandemic and some of the impact that was felt there through all of the isolation but also the rising rates and concerns around adolescent well-being and mental health certainly has put a very much needed spotlight on how social-emotional learning can be a preventive and proactive way that we can support children and adolescents in developing stronger well-being.

Dr. Sharp: Absolutely. I know we’re going to talk a lot about social-emotional learning and the different aspects, but before we jump to that, I do want to spend some time just talking about your position and your company. Aperture is an interesting company to me. I first heard about it through some of the work with Riverside. [00:09:00] Could you tell us a little bit about Aperture and what y’all are up to?

Dr. Evelyn: Sure. Aperture Education, as you noted, is part of Riverside Insights. We’re the social-emotional learning arm of Riverside. We’re a relatively new company about 6 years old now, but one that has been through a long and interesting history. I’ll keep it brief, though.

It started with Paul Lebuffe, Jack Naglieri, Val Shapiro, and Jen Robitaille, they’re the authors of the DESSA, the Devereux Student Strengths Assessment.

They were all affiliated or working directly at the Devereux Center for Resilient Children and wanted to put together a measure that was framed and grounded in [00:10:00] resilience theory that moved people away from always looking through the lens of pathology and instead focused on students’ strengths and created the DESSA and found that there was a real need for it. I’m going to quote Paul. He likes to say that they were doing social-emotional learning before it was cool.

The DESSA is really the core of Aperture. It’s one of the most well-researched social-emotional learning assessments out there. It’s a great measure of students’ social-emotional competence. And there’s now versions that help us get great feedback on students’ social-emotional competence from kindergarten all the way through 12th grade and now students self-report options for middle school and high school.

Dr. Sharp: Got you.

[00:11:00] Dr. Evelyn: Sorry.

Dr. Sharp: I was just going to ask a little bit more about what it looks like and what kind of information we get from it. Maybe you were headed there anyway.

Dr. Evelyn: Yeah. As I mentioned, there are several different forms of the DESSA app. As we’ve been in the business of working with practitioners and help being responsive to their social-emotional learning needs, we’ve created a variety of formats but they all are grounded in a resilience theory. They all are aligned to the CASEL 5 plus optimistic thinking.

So we have scales that measure self-awareness, self-management, relationship skills, decision making, and gosh, as soon as I start naming them off, I always forget about, social awareness, [00:12:00] always happens. And then because of that grounding and resilience theory, and from what we understand from the work of folks like Stephanie Jones at the EASEL lab in Harvard, that cognitive domain, the perspectives and having positive perspectives, positive growth mindset is an area that we really felt was important to call out as an additional construct, even though it’s not part of the CASEL 5.

So schools that use this, then are able to do several things. We have screening versions of the DESSA; the screening version of which takes about a minute per student to complete. They can get feedback universally on how are students in their school doing generally with regard to their [00:13:00] development of social-emotional skills.

And then like any other screening tool that’s used within multi-tiered systems of support, our screening measure helps identify students who would benefit from a longer, more in-depth assessment of their social-emotional functioning. For those students, practitioners can complete the full DESSA and receive an overall social-emotional competence score and individual competency level scores.

Through that process, again, it’s been designed to really fit nicely within the MTSS framework because we know that that’s how so many schools operate now. Schools are able to get feedback at the universal level how, in general, are my social-emotional [00:14:00] learning efforts benefiting most students? They’re able to break things down by different student populations.

They can keep an eye on whether there’s a need to take a hard look at whether there are practices that are potentially not benefiting certain students’ subgroups as they should. They can take a look at whether their intervention efforts for students who need more targeted and explicit support in developing social-emotional skills, what that looks like.

And so it’s an informative tool. Just like reading assessments, just like math and other academic assessments help us know whether our instructional program is benefiting students, I feel like the DESSA and the Aperture system really provide that same kind of [00:15:00] information and data-driven support except with regard to social-emotional learning.

Dr. Sharp: I Got you. I’m just getting super practical. It sounds like this is administered electronically. Is that right?

Dr. Evelyn: Yeah.

Dr. Sharp: That is great. I imagine that data can be super useful. Are we to the point, I would hope so, that it’s being integrated into student support and IEPs and assessment, things like that as far as the goals and tracking progress and things like that?

Dr. Evelyn: Yeah, absolutely. One of the things about the DESSA that I think makes it so useful is it includes skills that, right now there’s so much noise, people have referred to it as the jingle-jangle of SEL. There’s so [00:16:00] many different terms being used about, is it life skills? Is it resilience? Is it social-emotional skills? What the items on the DESSA reflect are the sets of skills that have been shown time and again that if students can develop these and engage in them, they tend to have greater success.

The relevance of the skills reflected on the DESSA, in my opinion, helps cut through that noise and help bring the focus on really what we’re trying to do is help students learn things like how to collaborate with others, how to empathize with different perspectives, how to work cooperatively, how to communicate well, how to make better decisions, all the kinds of skills that we know are so critical but [00:17:00] oftentimes aren’t necessarily explicitly taught unless we start to call attention to them.

Dr. Sharp: Sure. Yeah, that makes sense. It feels like it’s an easy thing to overlook unless you are purposefully measuring this information. It stands in contrast to academic skills, at least to me, where that feels like a much more concrete and measurable set of skills because kids are doing homework, getting grades, and taking standardized tests. And if we’re not paying close attention to social-emotional components and measuring them, it’s easy to lose track.

Dr. Evelyn: Absolutely.

Dr. Sharp: It gets very soft very quickly.

Dr. Evelyn: Yeah. Related to that, so many states have committed to standards that support, whether they call it college and career readiness portrait [00:18:00] of a graduate social-emotional learning standards, most states have committed to a set of standards that they have decided are important for students who graduate through their school systems to obtain. And with a tool like the DESSA, I think what it helps provide is that accountability piece. It helps keep the focus on the extent to which schools are being successful in helping students achieve those skills.

Dr. Sharp: Yeah, absolutely. Well, we’ve been talking about social-emotional learning without necessarily defining it yet. So we should probably do that. I have a feeling people have a general idea of what we’re talking about and certainly the discussion so far has helped to understand that but I would love to get just a working definition of social-emotional learning as in the context of [00:19:00] this discussion.

Dr. Evelyn: Sure. It’s huge. I could probably try it out with five different definitions. I won’t do that, though. One that we use internally to guide our work is that social-emotional learning is about helping students learn both intrapersonal and interpersonal skills. So the ability to learn to regulate their emotions and behavior in support of having positive interactions with others. I think that’s as concise as I can be.

Dr. Sharp: That’s good. That captures a lot, thanks. And so we talked a little bit about why this is important. It seems intuitive that social-emotional learning will be important, but can you give a little bit of the history [00:20:00] in terms of when we really started to pick up on social-emotional learning and as it has gathered steam over the years? Lots of questions rolled into this one question but I’m curious why we might be paying more attention to it in recent years than in the past.

Dr. Evelyn: Sure. I do think that having a national organization like CASEL, that is the Collaborative for Academic, and Social-emotional Learning, I think has done a lot to elevate social-emotional learning in general. So anytime that you have a national organization whose sole function is to really be the warehouse and the producer of lots of excellent research and practical tools for helping [00:21:00] schools think about social-emotional learning, it does so much to help people be aware and understand.

I think the other piece, as we’ve already alluded to, is that in recent years, especially after dealing with the pandemic but even before that, for 20 years now, there’s been research that has steadily shown significant increases in rates of depression, anxiety, suicide for children and adolescents. It’s very alarming.

And so when you think about how much of a child’s day and life over the years is spent in school, I think it makes a lot of sense that schools have an important role to play. There’s lots of factors too. [00:22:00] I think that those two are probably the most important but there’s also, as the economy changes, jobs change, jobs that the common line working in higher education is like we need to prepare graduates for jobs that don’t even yet exist. And so how do you do that?

Identifying some of the core softer skills that are going to be really important as we all continue to navigate a rapidly evolving world has taken on some increased importance and really elevated the need for more emphasis on not just teaching those core academics, but teaching the kinds of skills that help people be adaptive and flexible and able to collaborate, communicate, cooperate.

[00:23:00] Dr. Sharp: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I talk with my brother-in-law a lot about this. He’s in the summer camp industry. He talks a lot about the value, at least in this case, of summer camp in building a lot of these “softer skills” around social-emotional functioning, skills that a lot of people would argue are a lot more valuable in our world than maybe just rote academic skills.

Not that rote academic skills are not important but there’s just so much importance about being able to be flexible and collaborate and interact with others and regulate emotions and self-reflect. These are incredibly valuable in the work and it seems like just getting more important as time goes on.

Dr. Evelyn: Yeah. Summer [00:24:00] camp is a great place to work on those skills to write as out-of-school time programs are also great ways to have those in-person interactions where, not only do you get to learn about the skills, but you have to apply them because you’re in a new setting with new people and having a shared experience. So that’s great to hear that your brother-in-law’s in that business.

Dr. Sharp: Yeah, certainly. This raises a question for me as we talk through this, how much of this is the school’s responsibility to teach versus anything outside of school? Let’s keep it very broad. I think there’s some consideration to be had there, and I imagine there’s been a lot of discussion as well about what is [00:25:00] under the umbrella of school. And given the limited time and resources of a lot of school districts and employees, how has this been approached through that lens over the years?

Dr. Evelyn: That’s a great question. I like to think of social-emotional learning as this collective responsibility because it’s not like all of us exist and operate and interact in multiple settings that all have an impact on the communities in which we live. And so if you think about schools as just one other aspect of community, I think schools are responsible for creating positive and safe learning environments, which really go a long way towards promoting social-emotional learning skills.

I think schools again, [00:26:00] because there is this commitment to standards that specifically address social-emotional skills, that commitment calls for responsibility in helping students develop them. That’s not to say that it’s only on schools to help students develop skills. As we just discussed, there’s out of school time activities that can play such a significant part in helping students develop their social-emotional skills outside of the school setting, whether that’s through athletics or community groups or even faith-based groups where there is opportunity for students to develop their sense of agency.

So they get to either be in a leadership [00:27:00] position or, I have this notion reinforced that they do have some say in direction and in what they choose to do and how they choose to show up and interact with the world to really help students develop confidence in their social-emotional skills. If you think about it, the more ways and opportunities that students have to interact with others in different settings, whether that’s in the home, in their community or at school, the more they get to, it’s like this self-reinforcing loop.

And then through all of those interactions, students really develop a much stronger sense of connection. Of course, we know the importance of connection and belonging and just helping to reinforce some intrinsic motivation to engage in more prosocial behavior. I guess that’s a long way of [00:28:00] saying that I think it’s a shared responsibility for all the settings where our kids show up and interact for all of us to create those safe and positive environments and focus on helping students develop the kinds of skills that we know will help them be successful and happy.

Dr. Sharp: Yeah. Well, I know that there’s a fair amount of research out there about social-emotional skills and better outcomes for kids. Is there anything that you could dig into or any highlights top of mind just to make sure that we know of? This is not just conjecture or trying to fly by the seat of our pants. There is some research to support this stuff.

Dr. Evelyn: Yeah there is an increasing amount of evidence, not just done in the U.S schools [00:29:00] but globally. Again, CASEL is a great starting point for anyone who’s interested in getting started with some of the larger, more seminal pieces of research. Recently there, Joe Durlak, Joe Mahoney, and others released an updated meta-analysis of social-emotional programs.

I’m not sure if you’re familiar, in 2011, Joe Durlak was the lead author of one of probably the most cited pieces of research in the social-emotional learning space that was a meta-analysis of programs. This most recent update was an attempt to dive in a little deeper. We have a lot of evidence that when students receive [00:30:00] social-emotional learning support in school, they tend to do better academically. They tend to have fewer behavior challenges. They tend to have more positive outcomes in terms of graduation and post-school life in their social networks and so on.

What this more recent analysis looked at was honing in on some of those key ingredients of what’s behind the curtain that is making this work and emphasize the focus on explicit teaching of skills on creating those positive environments, and then starting to get some, although it’s still a need for further study on how does social-emotional learning need to change as students progress through the school system.

[00:31:00] What works in elementary may not work as well in high school. And so on that front, I think we still need to do a lot more to learn about specific needs across the grade levels. In general, there is a lot of research to support social-emotional learning as having a positive impact on so many different areas of students’ lives.

Dr. Sharp: I’m glad you brought up this idea of needs being different across students’ time in school. Again makes intuitive sense, but I wonder if we could operationalize that a little bit, even just a big-picture view of what social and emotional learning needs might be in elementary versus middle versus high school for those of us who work with these kids, like what we might need to have our eye on.

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All right, let’s get back to the podcast.

Dr. Evelyn: If you think about child development, when children are younger, most often their first relationship and attachment is what their primary caregiver, whether that’s the mother or father or another family member, other caregiver. Very young children learn a lot from their interactions with that person. That’s [00:33:00] thought to carry on into early elementary school where, like in kindergarten, for example, the teacher starts to play a similar role where young students are really queuing off the adult that is leading the class.

So much of this comes back to making sure that you have things in place like routines, safe spaces for students, and that you emphasize positive relationships. I think that cuts across the grade levels. But then as students age, there comes a point where their peers become a much stronger influence for them than their teachers or other adults in their lives.

And so thinking about like how do you help students develop the skills to have positive relationships with each other, to support one another, to make good decisions, [00:34:00] I think that becomes more important. It’s like helping students have a voice and start to take more ownership, I guess, for their own social and emotional development becomes increasingly important.

And then as students near their exit of the K-12 system, I feel like we need to be a lot more intentional in preparing students for life after K-12. If think about it, so much of students’ lives are scheduled and directed for them. For students who go on to college or students who go on to work, they’re then thrust in this, hey, there you go, and that oversight that they may have had for so many [00:35:00] years is suddenly pulled out.

And so I’ve always thought it would be really helpful to be more intentional in those later years in high school to help students with that transition a little bit more.

Dr. Sharp: Yeah, I’m right with you. We talk about that a lot in our community and it seems like there’s a real gap in services at least around here, especially for kids, young adults, those transitioning into young adulthood who don’t qualify for formal adaptive support or some kind of true intervention. It seems like that’s a really tough area to capture for lots of folks. I wonder if have any ideas, even loosely formed ideas, about how we might support the kids/adults who are [00:36:00] transitioning from high school into the community. It seems like you’ve thought about this a bit.

Dr. Evelyn: Sure. I’ll share my loosely formed ideas. One of the things that we’re actually actively working on at Aperture is elevating student voice and choice in social-emotional learning. We do have a tool that is a student self-report option starting at middle school and through high school. The idea behind that is to help students start to reflect on social-emotional skills on their own, where their strengths are in terms of their own social-emotional competence, and where they have some opportunities to grow.

And then [00:37:00] we have built in some self-directed and self-paced challenges for students to help them learn the kind of self-direction and self-management skills that are really helpful across many different aspects of their lives. So setting goals, breaking those goals down, and then identifying steps that they need to take to do that, whether that’s health-related, relationship-related, academic, or other related. We tried to build those tools.

We’ve worked on elevating student voice by allowing students to really be in the driver’s seat in terms of what they feel is most important to them and what they need to work on, at the same time, [00:38:00] when you do that in the context of school, and then provide teachers with additional strategies and help them understand the relationship of, here’s something you can do in class that will give the student support and practice with this scale.

What we’ve tried to do is build in that scaffolding- so helping students be self-directed with a safety net as they continue to work and develop those skills. I think that’s really the most important along with more emphasis on that explicit teaching of skills as needed to make sure students can do something, like have a telephone conversation, present well during an interview, all the things that are so important and yet we [00:39:00] don’t always give adequate time to practice.

Dr. Sharp: Sure. That was very consistent with my experience. I don’t know if it’s just my perception, but it seems like over the past 5 maybe 6 years, I’ve run into a lot more families who are insistent on their kids being part of their own IEP meetings and really engaging in that self-advocacy. I love that. I think it’s great practice for real life, especially as kids get older.

Dr. Evelyn: Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. As I mentioned at the beginning of the show, I started my career in education as a special education teacher in middle and high school. It was always [00:40:00] so much more powerful to have students attend. You can see when they were able to participate in like, these are the things that are important to me to work on and here are the sports that help me, here’s what doesn’t work so great for me, it was just such a great way to give students that voice and help them understand that they have agency. They have some ability to be self-directed. And that’s such an important piece for students receiving special education services for sure, but I think for all students really need that.

Dr. Sharp: Yeah, I’m right with you. We talked a little bit in our pre-podcast conversation just about the responsibility and [00:41:00] the, I don’t want to say burden, but I can’t think of a better word, for teachers to take on some of this, it’s kind of getting back to this question of, is this under school’s purview to do social-emotional learning?

And you made a comment about how we work to have teachers integrate this information with lessons and that it doesn’t have to be a really heavy lift for teachers. I think in my mind, I had this picture of a separate lesson time during the day or a breakout session or something where the teacher is developing a whole another, almost lesson plan or subject or something to teach. Could you speak more to how we can integrate social-emotional learning into day-to-day teaching and how you see that happening?

Dr. Evelyn: Sure. I literally was just working on [00:42:00] one of our new programs that gives teachers some direction on how to do that right before I logged on with you. So it’s super fresh in my mind. I’ll start with the research first and then I’ll get to practical really quickly.

We know from research that not only is it an easier lift for teachers to integrate social-emotional learning into their instruction rather than as a separate topic, but it’s also more effective for students in the long run because if you think about it being continually exposed to that positive environment where you’re practicing and engaging in prosocial behavior and skills, it’s going to give you a lot more opportunity to develop them than if it’s seen as this separate thing that happens every other [00:43:00] Wednesday at one o’clock.

What we’ve done with our programs is think about, okay let’s take a competency like optimistic thinking, we know that when students are able to develop mindsets where they understand that making mistakes is part of learning, where they understand that they will encounter challenges and setbacks and so giving them the tools and strategies to respond to those setbacks rather than giving up.

Those are ways that we can, if we integrate those tools into our instruction by creating a learning environment, first of all, where we explicitly let students know making mistakes is part [00:44:00] of learning, that we, as learners, should be willing to take risks, and then making sure we create an environment where when a student takes a risk and it doesn’t work out, they’re supported for the fact that they took the risk.

And so that kind of integration of social-emotional learning within the learning environment, I think, it becomes a much more authentic way for teachers to support students’ social-emotional development. Again, it provides students with so much more opportunity to practice.

Just to add another example, self-management is also a relatively easy thing to integrate into instruction. We can teach students the skills to break down [00:45:00] large projects into smaller chunks. We can help students backwards, like here’s a large goal I have to complete this science fair project or whatever the case might be. What are the individual steps that I’m going to need to do to get there?

But then help them develop a system where they’re not just breaking it down but then celebrating when they’ve met an interim step and reflecting on what did I do that helps me get here? What didn’t work so well? What challenges did I face? What did I do to overcome them?

Teaching students to have those if then plans in place. We all know we’re prone to getting distracted or off track, especially when we’re taking on bigger goals. And so having a ready plan of, [00:46:00] for students that are over-committed and so time is an issue, there’s a high likelihood that they might get off track because they’ve got competing interests and sports or other activities. And so what’s the plan for getting back on track?

And those can include things like letting my teacher know right away and either working out a different schedule or breaking things down into even smaller, more manageable pieces. Just helping students really think through what are all the things that I’m going to encounter and then what are some proactive ways that I can continue to work through them because in those scenarios, so many kids have people have the tendency to [00:47:00] wait until it becomes a huge problem, and then it’s a huge problem.

And so the more we can really be explicit about the learning process and how we work as a community and learn and grow as a community, I think, the more students are going to benefit both in terms of their academics as well as our social-emotional learning.

Dr. Sharp: Those are great points and examples. I would love to talk a little bit about social-emotional learning and how it may differ among different groups of kids. Do we think about it in the context of marginalized kids or families and access to resources? Either from a research standpoint or a practical standpoint, how we might approach [00:48:00] social-emotional learning differently for different kids, different cognitive levels, we could bring in giftedness. There’s all sorts of variability for kids. So what might that look like?

Dr. Evelyn: That’s such an interesting question because I think like so many things, what social-emotional learning comes down to is that there are these well-established principles in the research as in terms of what people need. Again, it comes down to these three areas. Students and people need to have a sense of agency. They need to feel confident so that they are successful in their endeavors and they need that sense of connection.

[00:49:00] I do think that if we can always come back to those underlying principles, then what would need to vary is the levels of support or the different levels of emphasis that a student might need.

For agency, for example, a student who does belong to a population that’s historically been marginalized, it is probably an unrealistic expectation to then suddenly say, hey, go be self-directed. Let’s really think about how we need to structure our environment in ways that are allowing students to feel confident, to feel connected, to feel that sense of belonging that then help them develop the courage and the ability to demonstrate agency.

[00:50:00] And so I think that the variability really comes into thinking about the context, thinking about the student’s experience and then me as the teacher or adult leader, if it’s out of school time, I would need to have a strong understanding of how do I take these principles that are pretty consistent but then think about what level of scaffold and how I contextualize this experience for the student, how that needs to change.

Dr. Sharp: Got you. I know there’s so much that we could probably talk about with that but that makes sense. I know that you’ve been doing some work, you said, into cultural adaptation of the assessment. I’m curious what you are seeing emerging from that so far and anything interesting there.

Dr. Evelyn: It’s super interesting. [00:51:00] Our work around cultural adaptations of our assessments really started as we started to expand our presence in areas that now are serving students from all over the world. So many districts have student populations where so many different languages are spoken. And so when we were asked to provide our students self-reports in multiple languages, we really wanted to go beyond just the translation, understanding that students from different cultures will have different norms for how they engage socially and interact socially with others.

And so we worked with some experts in the assessment field as well as [00:52:00] really dug into the research that guides best practices for cultural adaptations. In addition to translating the assessment, had experts from those cultures with expertise and psychology or education just review the skills and the constructs that are included in the DESSA to determine the extent to which they were culturally appropriate.

And where they noted some potential for like, well, this isn’t really, just for a specific example, one of our items really emphasizes students being able to interact with different kinds of people. One of the reviewers who [00:53:00] was looking specifically at our Chinese version said students aren’t always encouraged to have individual conversations with their teacher. And so we might think about how we word this item or we might think about calling attention to the items that may be impacted by cultural influences so that if they are scored differently for the student, there’s a prompt for teachers to understand like, okay, well, this could be a function of the student’s different culture and background. And so let’s have a conversation about it before just jumping into, oh, here’s a skill I need a student to work on.

[00:54:00] After that review, we then engaged in different kinds of studies, either norms equivalency, where we recruited students who are bilingual and took both versions of the English version and then the relevant language. And then also doing some work with what’s called measurement and variance studies to just ensure that the assessment is functioning the same across the different cultural groups.

Through that process, again, a lot more rigorous than just a translation and what we’re finding is that the translated versions of the assessment as well as the guidance that we’ve been able to provide has been a lot more inclusive of students from a variety of cultures who speak a variety of languages.

[00:55:00] Dr. Sharp: That’s wonderful. There’s so much of a push in that direction, rightfully so and it’s really cool to hear that that’s a big part of the work y’all are doing as well.

Let’s see, we have covered a lot of ground, Evelyn. And as always, we can talk for hours about any one of these details or topics that we’ve touched on, but I’m curious, for folks who would want to dive deeper, get more information, learn more and especially, thinking about how we as psychologists might implement these principles in our work with kids, in evaluating kids, translating some of these things to recommendations or maybe just being aware of what kids need in the academic environment. I’m curious if there are any resources that stand out that you might point people towards.

[00:56:00] Dr. Evelyn: Yeah. Some of my go to’s, I’ve mentioned CASEL multiple times but I’ll throw them on. The EASEL lab which is part of Harvard, I think has some great resources. Edutopia has some practical resources that are probably more teacher oriented.

Increasingly, organizations like NASP and APA have a very strong focus on social-emotional well-being and mental health and are including many more tools and resources for psychologists to really think about the social-emotional piece. The Devereux Center for Effective Schools that’s part of Devereux, [00:57:00] they have some phenomenal resources for implementing social-emotional learning and positive behavior interventions and supports. I could go on and on, but there’s a lot of great organizations doing great work on providing free and easily accessible resources for folks.

Dr. Sharp: Very cool. I’ll list as many of those resources as possible in the show notes so that people can access them if they would like to. I appreciate your time. This has been really good. I enjoyed learning about this topic. You clearly are super knowledgeable about so many aspects of social-emotional learning. I’m just grateful that you were willing to come and chat with me for a little bit.

Dr. Evelyn: Oh, gosh, yeah, anytime. I was super grateful for the opportunity. I love being able to share the work that we’re doing but just in [00:58:00] general, the overall importance of social-emotional learning and how life changing it can be for everybody involved. Hopefully, most of us have had at least that one experience where you were just in the right setting with this wonderful support of people doing what you were meant to be doing and how wonderful that feeling is when you feel so connected and you feel like you have purpose and strong relationships.

The more we can do to make sure that more environments create that for people, I will sign up to be on any podcast that helps get that done. So thank you.

Dr. Sharp: I love that. Anytime. Well, take care. I appreciate it. And maybe our paths will cross again.

Dr. Evelyn: I hope so. Thank you.

Dr. Sharp: All right, y’all. Thank you so much for tuning in to [00:59:00] this episode. Always grateful to have you here. I hope that you take away some information that you can implement in your practice and in your life. Any resources that we mentioned during the episode will be listed in the show notes, so make sure to check those out.

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The information contained in this podcast and on The Testing Psychologist website are intended for informational and educational purposes only. Nothing in this podcast or on the website is intended to be a substitute for professional, psychological, psychiatric or medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please note that no doctor-patient relationship is formed here and similarly, no supervisory or consultative relationship is formed between the host or guests of this podcast and listeners of this podcast. If you need the qualified advice of any mental health [01:01:00] practitioner or medical provider, please seek one in your area. Similarly, if you need supervision on clinical matters, please find a supervisor with an expertise that fits your needs.

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