A year of social and emotional learning

  1. Updates

“You can’t do SEL, trauma, or equity work without each other,” Jennette Claassen, Head of Evaluation, Playworks.

As Playworks continued to progress on our equity journey, we explored a critical question: what are the intersections between play, social and emotional learning, physical activity, and trauma?

A working group focused on this question decided, among other things, that we needed to invest in a year-long learning journey for all Playworks staff about these topics, because it is fundamental to our organization that all Playworks teammates share an understanding of our work’s unique positioning in this space. The training series, hosted by Will Massey, and featuring the voices of Diana Cutaia, Kristi Muro, and Chris Barfiel, brought Playworkers together to achieve a baseline understanding of social and emotional learning (SEL) specifically addressing elements of neuroscience and physical development.

“Understanding trauma and equity are fundamental in how play is established, supported, and designed,” said Jennette.

coach instructing students on blacktopPlay–and the adults and the youth leaders supporting play experiences in school–have a critical place in these aspects of youth development. Over time, Playworks practices continued evolving and naturally brought in elements of SEL, trauma sensitivity, whole child development, racial equity, and more into our work.

“We initially used a youth development lens to build our practices and strategies. Over the years we have grown and learned how the practices are aligned with trauma-informed practices. As we continue to deepen our understanding we find so much of what we do supports kids experiencing varying levels of stress and trauma. said Jennette.

In 2022, a time where trauma and equity are at the forefront of education, it is our responsibility to continue to evolve our practices to support kids throughout our communities, and that stems from strengthening ourselves.

“We’re continuing to innovate. We have been doing this work for 25 years. We can’t consider ourselves subject matter experts without diving in and learning every single year. We’re a learning organization,” explained Dontae Privette, former Program Innovation and Support Manager, who was on the working group supporting this training series.

“We can strengthen and deepen what we’ve built,” Jennette adds.

person looking at laptopThe SEL training series was a set of sessions held with the working group and panelists, recorded, and then shared with staff in watch parties and followed up upon by discussion sessions with each local team. It was very well received by staff nationwide and across positions. The effects of this training spanned far beyond what we’d expected. Beyond helping people think about the way they can understand the neurological development of young people to apply the lessons directly with the kids we support, many of our teammates found themselves applying the learnings in an even wider way.

While this work definitely helps us think about how we work with kids, it is also about how we work with partners, adults, and each other. “It is about how we fundamentally interact as humans,” said Jennette.

“Personal reflection was a byproduct,” explained Dontae. “We thought about it attached to the work we do on a daily basis.”

For example, managers asked how the culture of Zoom meetings and Slack might be dis-regulating for teams and discussed practices that Playworks could take on culturally to support the regulation of emotion of staff.

“We’re only starting to see the beginnings of where this could go. Playworks envisions how this could strengthen so many aspects of our work together, from onboarding, to team meetings, to partners and other stakeholders. This is about SEL in the day to day of the organization function and not just SEL for programming,” said Jennette of this equity decision approach to have every single person in the organization go through this SEL training.

The pair highly recommend that many organizations think about investing in SEL training for their staff. From our experience, it was an investment in our communities, our services, our people, and our organization.

More Updates


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April 28, 2022

Updating you on our equity journey ›

When Playworks began our equity journey several years ago, we knew it would be a long term investment in our people, partners, and communities. We committed to centering equity as we prioritize partnerships with diverse communities nationwide, and this needed to begin by addressing racial equity in Playworks. We began by developing a team of…

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How Equity, Trauma, and Play Intersect ›

The play opportunity gap Play is critical for healthy child development as it is a safe way for kids to experiment and practice building relationships and cooperating with others. And yet, even in normal circumstances before COVID-19, there wasn’t an equal opportunity for every kid to play. We need to make sure this disparity does…