What works in SEL? Our investigations continue!

October 22, 2015

What’s the best way to help young people learn social and emotional skills they can use for the rest of their lives? What’s the impact of social and emotional learning (SEL) programs like ours on students, teachers, and the classroom climate? Morningside Center has been asking these questions and working with researchers to answer them for going on three decades. Our joint quest for understanding has so far resulted in two major scientific studies that have helped us build our SEL programs – and contributed to the growing SEL field.

The questions continue – and so does the research.


This fall, we kicked off a major new scientific study (funded through a U.S. Department of Education Goal 3 grant) that will reach every 3rd and 4th grader in 33 Bronx schools over the next two years. These young people will be learning their 4Rs (Reading, Writing, Respect & Resolution) through our 4Rs Program, one of the nation’s leading SEL programs.  And their teachers will be learning too – through a video-based teacher coaching process developed by researchers from the University of Virginia called My Teaching Partner. Our staff developers will be working closely with each teacher, providing ongoing, personalized feedback and support centered on teacher-student interactions.  (For more about this process, see this NY Times piece.)

So what happens when you combine a research-validated SEL program (The 4Rs) with a rigorous, evidence-based teacher coaching process (My Teaching Partner)? We’d like to know, and so would the researchers we’re working with (from Fordham University and UVA).  Specifically, we want to know what impact combining these two powerful approaches will have on teachers’ well-being, their classroom interactions, and their students’ social and emotional functioning. Will kids in these 33 schools be more socially and emotionally competent than their peers in 33 control schools?  Will the classrooms be more respectful and conducive to learning? What are the keys to positive change?  We aim to find out!

Next Up: Restorative Practices

Our next area of major exploration will likely involve restorative practices and our Restore360 Program. Over the past four years, we’ve partnered with the NYC Department of Education to develop Restore360 and help educators implement it in hundreds of schools. Although there are other efforts around the country to bring restorative practices into public schools, this is a relatively new field of work. Based on our experiences in NYC schools, we’ve created new curricula and processes that seem to be having a very positive impact on kids and schools. (See our summary of the evidence here.) 

Over the past year, with support from the W.T. Grant Foundation, we’ve partnered with a leading academic in this field, Dr. Anne Gregory at Rutgers University, to strengthen Restore360 further.

Together, we developed, piloted and codified a Restore360 Coaching Program and manual that use observation and feedback to help educators skillfully facilitate restorative circles. We believe this is a significant contribution to the developing field of school-based restorative practices. The process is based on Dr. Gregory’s RP-Observe, the first tool researchers have developed to systematically detect the strengths and challenges educators experience when they implement restorative circles in their schools.

Next up, we hope: a scientific study on the impact of Restore360. The quest for knowledge, and the drive for impact, continue!