Caring emerges from relationships in which people are given the time and space to understand deeply what they are doing and why it matters. And the best way to promote a commitment to an intervention is through conversations about it with people who are going to be involved with implementation or implementation support.
Sustainability of interventions in social-emotional and character development (SECD) and problem behavior prevention is the result of many things, but foremost, it results from people who care about the intervention and the issues it addresses.
Through Conversations, Evidence Emerges
There are many other developments on the road to sustainability, to be sure, such as developing leadership, building a well-functioning and creative SECD team, and spreading the word via social marketing. While they all take courage, commitment, and support, putting yourself "out there" for conversations is the most challenging.
During the work of our Developing Safe and Civil Schools (DSACS) project with more than 200 schools in the past five years, my team and I had many meetings with SECD coordinators and their teams. We heard 10 distinct kinds of conversations that contributed to staff members moving toward greater commitment and sustainability for SECD efforts taking place in their schools.
Some of the 10 are attitudinal, and some are functional. There is an implied developmental hierarchy, so that later conversations are based on having achieved some lasting understanding about earlier topics. You will note that the first three are not even directly about SECD. No one knows quite yet how many must occur for sustainability to be achieved.
We do know, however, that sustainability is itself ultimately the product of sustained efforts in social marketing and support of SECD interventions. Here is the list:
#1 Engage in conversation about common visions for education and the growth of children.
#2 Engage in conversations that examine values and beliefs around race, social class, culture, intelligence, the role of families and educators.
#3 Encourage discussion about how to reach the vision, how learners learn, how the values in action are falling short of the espoused values of the setting and what is necessary for success in school and life.
#4 Encourage discussion about the need for and benefits of modeling SECD, for teamwork, respectful collaboration, shared leadership among students and faculty and parents, and having a positive and engaging school culture and climate (e.g., how will this make teaching better, lead to fewer interruptions and less discipline time, help children be more responsive and engaged students, greater sense of collegiality and how the cumulative and developmental nature of the programming leads to increasing benefits over time).
#5 Encourage discussion of why each person's role is important and interconnected and what will help people get better at improving their own classroom climate and their contributions to the school climate.
#6 Discuss the structures that will be necessary to accomplish shared goals, such as an SECD/SEL/CE/Prevention/School Culture and Climate Planning Group and/or Committee, and how that group or committee will operate and remain a priority in the plan for school improvement. (e.g., how it will solve problems, make decisions, share responsibility, obtain resources, socialize new people to the school, communicate within its members and to the rest of the school community, administration and parents, engage and involve students, provide bridges to expert consultation, and monitor progress).
#7 Make connections of SECD to such essential areas as the Code of Student Conduct, policies related to Harassment, Bullying, and Intimidation, efforts at positive discipline and classroom management, service learning, and a safe, civil, healthy, and challenging school climate. Talk about how SECD is essential to reaching many educational goals, including academic achievement.
#8 Provide the necessary ongoing mentoring, external consultation, support, networking, connections, and map of the journey so that people will feel it is well supported. Help the work ahead seem tangible and possible, within all staff members' capabilities and aligned with why they entered the field of education.
#9 Provide a mechanism for dealing openly, flexibly, creatively, and in a grounded, no-fault, no-blame, problem-solving way with obstacles, difficulties, ambivalent staff, and changing conditions as the SECD efforts unfold.
#10 Celebrate and communicate small wins, accomplishments, and successes with SECD and acknowledge and appreciate efforts in small and large ways; share, share, and share some more in as many typical and creative ways as you can think of.