Partnering with Schools to Address Social-Emotional Learning

Kevin Tan

Associate Professor, Social Work

Kevin Tan

Addressing a Societal Problem to Contribute to the Public Good

In partnership with local school districts and after-school agencies, Tan helps practitioners collect and analyze data to identify and support students with social-emotional learning needs. Initially, Tan started this line of work with funding from the Campus Research Board to examine how data from a local school in Champaign could be used to create systematic responses tailored to student risk profiles. The preliminary data from the Campus Research Board project, allowed Tan to secure funding from the Spencer Foundation to identify patterns of social-emotional learning needs and examine how school protective factors can address those needs. Tan partnered with the Champaign Unit 4 School District to design ways to improve social-emotional learning for its students. His partnership with the school district was the impetus for  a $40,000 Healing Illinois grant in conjunction with the Mahomet-Seymour Community Schools to conduct social-emotional learning workshops and address race relations and equity initiatives. In 2021, he received a $313,000 grant from the state of Illinois to partner with the Danville School District 118 to identify the social-emotional learning needs of students and assess best practices. More than $1.28 million has been allocated for this project.

Mutually Beneficial Exchange of Knowledge and Resources

Tan has reciprocal relationships with school districts and after-school agencies. As a matter of practice, he first listens to the district’s or agency’s needs, as he believes they are the experts of their own lived experiences. Then, he works with the district or agency to address those needs while weaving in his research ideas. Initially, Tan approached school districts about partnering on projects related to social-emotional learning. Because of the recent racial reckoning and the effects of the pandemic on student mental health, school districts and agencies are now turning to Tan for insights. He has applied for grants that are used to employ full-time social work clinicians in low-resourced schools, thereby meeting a tremendous need in the community. Further, he trains the school practitioners to collect and analyze data, enabling them to address social-emotional needs beyond the duration of a grant. As a result of his partnerships, he creates win-win relationships with school districts and agencies.

Collaboration with Communities or Organizations

By working with school districts throughout central Illinois and agencies such as Danville’s Hope Center, a ministry that creates relationships to foster long-term transformations in the community, Tan helps practitioners collect and analyze data in order to identify and implement strategies to promote social-emotional learning among students, their families and the community.


The impact of Tan’s work extends far beyond nearby communities. As a result of his efforts, funders from the state of Illinois have expressed greater interest in having university faculty support students across the state. At the national level, he has been asked to revise the School Social Work National Practice Model by the National School Social Work Association of America. In this way, he can inform revisions to professional standards that prepare social workers to address social-emotional learning in school and after-school settings.



Tan is the author of several peer-reviewed publications and has presented at national conferences on his research. As an example of his reciprocal partnerships with school districts and agencies, he has co-authored two publications with school district personnel as the lead authors (Rummel et al., 2021; Lenstra et al., 2022). Tan has received funding from state agencies, such as the Illinois State Board of Education and foundations, such as the Spencer Foundation to support his research.


Tan has conducted community-wide exhibits showcasing his findings to the public. At a recent exhibit in Danville, he shared photos taken by elementary students that reflect their perceptions of social-emotional learning, equity and excellence. The exhibits have been attended by the community leaders, housing directors and funders as well as the students themselves and their families. Local media has promoted his work in the community.

Additional Resources

To learn more about Dr. Tan’s publicly engaged research, visit the links below.