Committee for Children Blog

What’s New and Coming Soon with Second Step® Programs: An Update from Director of Programs Rachel Kamb

photo of Rachel Kamb, Director of Programs

At Committee for Children, educators are trusted partners in growing and improving our Second Step family of social-emotional learning (SEL) programs. We sat down with Director of Programs Rachel Kamb, whose role focuses on how our programs can help meet educators’ needs, to talk about this year’s updates and coming changes.

What is this time of year like for you as director of programs? 

This is an exciting time of year at Committee for Children because we’re preparing for our annual refresh of Second Step programs. Though we work on our programs all year, we do a big push for back to school. This creates a momentous feeling around June for our entire organization!

There’s a rhythm to how we make changes. On an ongoing basis we gather, process, and analyze feedback from educators and researchers. Around February, we start deciding what changes need to be made for fall. We look at the lessons, the supplemental and reinforcement resources, and the experience and flow for educators. While some technology and program improvements can be released during the year, we hold off until summer on any curriculum changes that might interfere with teaching the programs. And by sharing these updates in June educators have time to prepare to use them in the next school year. That’s why June is a big deal for our team—it’s when we get to bring a lot of changes that we’ve been working on to life.

What concerns are you hearing now from educators? How can this year’s program changes support them?

The last couple of years have been especially stressful for teachers. Educator turnover and fatigue are real. Many of you know we released our Second Step® SEL for Adults program last June. It reflected a close partnership we fostered with teachers, principals, and school leaders throughout the pandemic to understand their challenges. I want to highlight this collaboration because it helped us develop a program to support teachers rather than burden them. The program has been thoughtfully designed to fit into educators’ lives to help them create a more positive environment for themselves, their colleagues, and their students—specifically through building trust, resilience, belonging, and efficacy.

Now that classes are coming back in person, we’re also hearing about ongoing struggles with children’s behavior and readiness to learn. It’s been stressful for everyone! This is one reason we decided to add Mind Yeti® mindfulness sessions to the Second Step® Elementary digital program. I’m so excited about this decision. When we did field-test studies a couple of years ago, the sessions gave teachers an effective way to help their students focus while reinforcing important social-emotional skills like emotional awareness and practicing kindness to yourself and others. Now teachers can use these audio sessions to provide centering experiences during transitions and throughout the day in a way that supplements Second Step lessons.

We also often hear from educators that there is little time even for high-priority initiatives, so we’ve focused a great deal on how we can provide implementation resources to make it easier to start using our programs. Tools, checklists, and resources are now easier to find, and in response to feedback we’ve reviewed things like the overview presentations leaders use with their staff are easier to find, too. The length of presentations is now more flexible because every school has a different amount of time it can allocate to them. More is coming in the way of implementation support: we have a team that’s developing resources that will continue to make the programs easier for teachers to use, and that team will also support district and school leaders.

Another focus for us this year is accessibility for students from a diverse range of backgrounds, and this will remain true in coming years. We want to make sure that students see themselves in our lessons, and that the lessons represent their lived experiences. It’s important when you’re learning social-emotional skills to understand that these competencies are for you, and not just for others. We’ve worked on adding additional languages to our digital programs, and by fall 2022 it will be possible to teach Second Step lessons from Kindergarten through Grade 8 entirely in Spanish. Also, our family communications are now available in 12 languages to keep more families updated and engaged throughout the year. It’s a priority for us to help educators make our programs accessible to all students and families.

Educators who teach and facilitate our programs want more reinforcements, supplements, and ways to expand the learning. By this fall, one addition we hope to have ready in the Second Step Elementary digital program is Class Meetings. Class Meetings give students the opportunity to have conversations with each other and put social-emotional learning into practice. We plan to provide Class Meeting templates that relate to each lesson. The templates will give teachers flexibility to integrate what’s happening in their classrooms during the week and really make the experience their own.

You can also expect to see some new songs over the upcoming school year. We started out light on the number of songs in the Second Step Elementary digital program so we could see how much teachers were using them and whether they and their students liked them. The answer was overwhelmingly yes. Songs are fun, and they’re great reinforcement tools. However, they take a little planning, and we want to be deliberate about aligning them with the lessons.

We’ve also added new advisory activities to Second Step® Middle School and have linked some of those activities directly to the lessons to reinforce what students are learning.

When we talk about how we’re connecting Second Step offerings to what educators need, our goal is to create a holistic SEL experience not only for students, but also for teachers, school communities, districts, and families. Having a digital platform makes this possible. We’re investing in tools and approaches to support educators in ways that can flex to their communities and priorities. And we’re constantly working to understand the needs of students, educators, and families so we can continue to make improvements.

That’s a lot of news and clearly represents a great deal of work. How does your team do it? 

I get a lot of joy out of this work, and our teams do, too. Our work motivates us—not only the interactions that we have with users, clients, educators, and students, but the partnerships we create with each other while developing what we hope are resources that can really make a difference.

So many people play a role in building, launching, and maintaining our programs. It all starts with educators and what they tell us. We do a lot of listening and perspective-taking around here! We have program managers, project managers, instructional designers, research scientists, software developers, and many other team members dedicated to bringing high-quality SEL to schools around the world.

I feel so lucky to work with people who are here because Committee for Children is a nonprofit with the mission to foster the safety and well-being of children through social-emotional learning and development. Many of our staff worked in education in some capacity before coming here. Care for educators and students, and the desire to see them thrive, is a big part of what attracts people to our organization.

You’ve been with Committee for Children for a long time. How have things changed?

I’ve been at Committee for Children for 15 years and have worked on just about every Second Step program we’ve developed. I’ve seen them go from classroom kits to DVDs to all-digital programs. These changes have allowed us to reach more children and educators. The core of the programs remains the same, and we use the same development process as we did when I started: we create the content from core research, then test it and gather feedback from both teachers and students. Our organization has grown, but the feeling of a direct partnership with the educators using our programs remains the same, and that’s why I’m still here. I really love what I do. I love the people I work with, and I love the people that we serve.

Thank you for your insight into the development priorities for Second Step programs! How can educators find out more about these changes and provide input for future updates?

Great question. We’re conducting a live interview event in our Second Step Educator Facebook community on May 18 at 10:30 a.m. Pacific time. Educators can go to that channel for the opportunity to hear more from our team and ask questions.

An invaluable feedback loop comes from surveys at the end of lessons and, in the case of our adult SEL program, at the end of microlearnings. Please use those to send us any thoughts and suggestions. We read and consider every single response.  

We’ve also prepared FAQs about recent and upcoming program changes:

Our Product teams work closely with the Education Partnerships, Client Support, and Client Success teams who are listening and responding to educators every day. Please don’t hesitate to reach out!