This Deep-Pocketed Funder Remains Keenly Interested in Social and Emotional Learning

 photo: Diego Cervo/shutterstock

photo: Diego Cervo/shutterstock

The NoVo Foundation, a longtime funder in the social and emotional learning (SEL) field, remains committed to this space, recently awarding $1 million in new grants. The SEL approach emphasizes teaching children soft skills like how to handle their emotions, feel empathy for others, form relationships and make responsible decisions. NoVo’s commitment to SEL stems from the foundation’s belief that instilling children with social and emotional skills could lead to a more equitable, peaceful and cooperative society.

In 2014, the foundation stopped awarding new grants for certain aspects of its SEL work to digest the lessons it had learned in this area and how best to incorporate them into its approach.

In the three years since, the SEL field has gained momentum and funders. In 2016, several foundations pooled $26 million to expand a program called Playworks AIM, which focuses on teaching emotional and social skills through play.

The Wallace Foundation is one major newcomer to SEL, recently announcing as much as $6 million in grants to six cities over four years for new work in this area. Wallace has also backed research by the RAND Corporation to assess SEL. In May, the foundation released a guide to 25 evidence-based SEL programs.

Recently, NoVo awarded $1 million in grants to teachers and school districts to implement systems that promote social and emotional learning through the Social Emotional Learning Innovation Fund. NoVo partnered with Education First and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors to provide grants up to $5,000 for K-12 teachers and awards up to $25,000 to school districts for projects to promote SEL in the 2017-18 school year.

NoVo’s director of communications, Joe Voeller, says the foundation is drawing from past lessons and findings about SEL. “We’ve sought to put this new learning into practice, which has led to a deepening of our work. For example, we learned how best to support SEL implementation in schools and the school system, including professional development for teachers.”

The 2017 Social Emotional Learning Innovation Awards represent a major expansion of the program from 2016. In 2016, 25 awards were given out to teachers and groups of teachers. In 2017, that number jumped to 67 grants to teachers and 30 grants to school districts.

Studies show that SEL has promise. A 2015 study sponsored by NoVo found that every $1 spent on SEL yielded an $11 return on the investment.

A 2011 meta-study looked at 213 SEL programs and found that the children who participated in the programs were more likely to exhibit improved emotional and social skills, which in turn correlated with higher academic performance.

It’s worth watching how NoVo invests in SEL and the extent to which funders in this space can help scale an approach to improving student outcomes that excites keen interest but is still fledgling.