How did the SEAK project (Phase III) evaluation work?
The AREKT team was hired by the Canadian Mental Health Association NS Division to investigate the scale-up of social and emotional learning (SEL) in Atlantic Canada at school-community, local, provincial, and regional levels. We wanted to better understand:
· the impacts that the implementation of SEL has on children, teachers, and school climate
· how SEL programs are used or enhanced in context
· how each province is integrating and institutionalizing social and emotional learning (SEL)
· the sustainability issues that are faced and how they are being addressed
· how a regional approach can support SEL in Atlantic Canada
Between 2015 and 2018, we employed interviews, focus groups, and observations to gather stories from students, teachers, school administrators, parents, and other stakeholders.
With whom did we speak?
Over the course of our three-year evaluation, we conducted a total of 68 interviews with 44 provincial and regional stakeholders across Atlantic Canada and we observed approximately 75 project meetings. Sixty-eight percent (n=26) of these participants work in government and 32 percent (n=12) work in non-government organizations. Of the government participants, 88 percent work in Education (n=23) and 12 percent (n=3) work in Health.
Over the course of the three-year evaluation, we also held a total of 39 focus groups and community conversations with over 175 individual teachers, parents, and students in 7 pilot schools (NL, NS, PE). We also conducted 25 interviews focused on school-level SEL.
In total, we spoke with over 200 people across Atlantic Canada. They shared the process, facilitators, and barriers to the regional scale-up of SEL as outlined below.
What did we learn?
Our conversations with students, parents, school staff, and stakeholders helped us to identify key supports and barriers that were experienced as schools and provinces worked to scale-up SEL.
Facilitators/Supports to SEL Scale-Up
Government & policy support
PATHS® program evidence-based & a good fit for schools
Broad agreement regarding the need for SEL
Training from an experienced SEL trainer
Positive experiences in pilot schools overall
Coaches key to the PATHS® program’s success
Champions & leaders
Teachers shared that having the support of their administration made it easier to implement SEL and increased the likelihood of teacher buy-in for the program, while having teachers who are leaders in implementing the program was an asset.
Parents who participated in the focus groups were very supportive of the idea of having SEL education in schools, and wanted to learn more about SEL programs and how they could be integrated into curriculum and used outside of school.
Participants generally agreed that social and emotional skills are foundational for wellbeing and success throughout all ages and stages of life and are being identified as government priority areas across Atlantic Canada.
Financial limitations of provinces and funding structure of SEAK project
Time commitment for champions needed both inter- and intra-provincially
Engaging those beyond education (process not always clear)
Engaging those who have authority to make system-level decisions
Differing views on SEL programs & responsibility to deliver
Concerns about the cultural fit of existing SEL programs
Lack of clear focus, goals, expectations, and scope
Tensions between provincial and regional objectives and focus
Takes work and time to embed within provincial curriculum (mapping to outcomes)
 The AREKT team consists of: Dr. Kate Tilleczek, Professor & Canada Research Chair (Tier I) Young Lives, Education & Global Good, YORK University – Toronto, Scientific Director, Young Lives Research Laboratory; Dr. Brandi Bell, Assistant Director, Young Lives Research Laboratory; Patricia Altass, PhD(c), Matthew Munro, MA, Senior Research Associates, Young Lives Research Laboratory.