Creating a Rising Tide: Improving Social and Emotional Learning Across California


  • Femi Vance American Institutes for Research
  • Rebecca Goldberg S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation



social and emotional learning, professional development, expanded learning


Given the recent emphasis on social and emotional development, many professionals who manage, develop, or influence expanded learning systems are beginning to ask, “How do we better prepare staff to promote social and emotional development?” California has adopted a statewide professional development strategy for publicly-funded expanded learning programs that is designed to raise awareness of the importance of social and emotional learning (SEL) among practitioners and build tools for the field to support implementation. The strategy—led by a partnership among a state agency, expanded learning intermediaries, and funders—combines leadership development, field-building initiatives, and program-level supports. It also complements the current expanded learning system. In this article, we describe the statewide strategy and discuss how it addresses workforce challenges, the core levers that California used to develop the strategy, and why and how the state-level leadership prioritized social and emotional learning. We conclude the article with lessons learned about collaboration, implementation, and assessing impact. 

Author Biographies

Femi Vance, American Institutes for Research

Femi Vance, PhD, is an experienced youth development professional. She has worked with foster youth, military children and teens, and English Language Learners both internationally and in the United States. Dr. Vance holds a MA in Public Policy from Johns Hopkins University and a PhD in Educational Policy from the University of California, Irvine. Her research employs mixed methods focusing on positive youth development, expanded learning, and professional development for informal educators. She also evaluates and provides technical assistance to school and community-based programs. Dr. Vance partners closely with districts, local human services agencies, and youth programs in all her endeavors to keep her work relevant to educators and practitioners.

Rebecca Goldberg, S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation

Rebecca is a Senior Program Officer at the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation in the Education Program. Her focus on the Character team is on supporting high quality out-of-school time (OST) programs in California and nationally that embed character building into their youth development practices. Her grant portfolio at the Foundation focuses on supporting quality improvement, dissemination of evidence-based character development practices, organizational capacity building, and growth strategies. Rebecca brings a wealth of experience supporting OST programs and adult practice in her previous roles working at a statewide after-school intermediary and locally in Los Angeles where she ran career pathway programs for young adults into teaching and other industries. Rebecca earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religion from Colgate University. She is passionate about youth development, serves as Board Chair of the San Francisco region of Playworks, and is on the steering committee of Grantmakers for Thriving Youth chairing its OST Funder Work Group.



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