Online Professional Learning and
Technical Assistance for
21st Century Community Learning Centers

Selecting or Designing a Strategy? Be Intentional and Purposeful

A Chat With…

Karyl Resnick, 21st CLCC State Coordinator, Massachusetts

The 21st CCLC program in Massachusetts has several initiatives under way to support program improvement and professional development. Resnick shared these highlights during a recent chat with Y4Y.


Y4Y: When we asked a group of state coordinators about professional development for 21st CCLC grantees, more than half named social and emotional learning as an important topic. What role does that play in the 21st CCLC program in Massachusetts?

Resnick: Social and emotional learning is a big piece of the work we do in Massachusetts. Our professional development emphasizes that it shouldn’t be viewed as separate from other strategies. We encourage grantees to be intentional and purposeful about infusing practices throughout the entire program. We want them to ask questions like “How are we applying the principles of social and emotional learning as we design activities, build relationships, communicate with students and families, and develop students’ critical thinking skills?”

We use a statewide tool to collect data on social and emotional outcomes, based in part on the five core competencies identified by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL): self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making. Grantees examine school climate data and other student-level data to select three outcomes that best meet their students’ needs. Social and emotional learning outcomes include things like critical thinking, engagement in learning, perseverance, adult and peer relationships, communication, self-regulation and leadership. Grantees then build students’ skills in these areas within the context of their programs.

One example from recent years of how we have supported purposeful integration is through a curriculum called Novel Engineering from Tufts University School of Engineering. Novel Engineering is an innovative approach to integrate engineering and literacy in elementary and middle school. Students use classroom literature — stories, novels and expository texts — as the basis for engineering design challenges that help them identify problems, design realistic solutions, and engage in the Engineering Design Process while reinforcing their literacy and social and emotional skills.

Either as a group (as part of a read-aloud) or independently, students read a book such as Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats for elementary level or A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park for older students. A staff member facilitates a discussion about the problems the main character is facing and what the character may be feeling. This helps build students’ self-awareness and develop communication skills. Students work in teams as they apply critical thinking and problem-solving skills to design realistic solutions to the problems they have identified. In doing so they are learning to work collaboratively, listen to other perspectives and develop leadership skills.

Academically enriching programming presents many opportunities for integrating social and emotional learning — if you’re intentional and creative in designing the activities.

We’ve explored research that says developing relationships can enhance student outcomes, and we’re building that finding into our sports and recreation activities. We’re doing the same with movement and mindfulness activities.

To help programs infuse social and emotional learning into activities, we’re developing short videos to help grantees understand what it is, what it looks like in practice, and strategies for making it part of their activity design. Also, we work with professional development providers so they understand what our data say about student needs and program goals and can be intentional as they design their training.


Y4Y: Project-based learning seems like a big part of the 21st CCLC program in Massachusetts. I’m sure other state coordinators would be interested to hear about your activities in this area.

Resnick: Yes, project-based learning has always been a strong focus. It presents many opportunities to infuse social and emotional skills and connect them with academic learning. We’ve found it’s not about using a certain curriculum. It’s about strategy and process. We’ve learned a lot over the years, and have developed our own project-based learning training series. We’re now developing a digital project-based learning tool kit, and we’re piloting a series of trainings and a coaching model.

Project-based learning is a good way to promote student choice and voice. Choice is different from voice. Voice is about having a say in the process. In project work, as in the Novel Engineering strategy I mentioned earlier, students choose the process they’ll use to solve a problem or create a solution. The solution isn’t prespecified. The student gets to decide on a solution, and on how to present the solution.


Y4Y: What are some other topics or areas that your state’s 21st CCLC program is addressing?

Resnick: We’ve been doing training on equity and diversity. The goal is to help grantees design programs that reflect students’ needs and interests. To reach students and families effectively, it’s important to understand their cultures because that understanding informs the ways we work with students. We all need to understand the biases and assumptions we bring to the table, and how that can affect program and activity design. We need to think about things like “What do our activities look and feel like to English learners, or students with disabilities? What can we do to make our program more accessible, engaging, supportive and effective?”

Because literacy is important to all aspects of student learning, we’re always looking to improve in that area. Right now we’re partnering with the Mott Foundation and the American Institutes for Research in a comparison group study around literacy practices in grades K-3, with the intent to mitigate reading problems by grade 3. We’re in Year 2 of a three-year study. There’s no standardized curriculum. Programs have the opportunity to use best practices to create programs that work for them. We’re interested in learning which practices promote high-quality outcomes for students.


Y4Y: Thank you for sharing a little about the 21st CCLC program in Massachusetts. We often hear from state coordinators that they’d like to know more about what’s happening in other states. Any final thoughts?

Resnick: When I talk with grantees about selecting or designing strategies, I often use the words “intentional” and purposeful.” If you’re going to do something, be clear about why you’re doing it and what your goals are.