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Posts from the ‘School Improvement’ Category

SEL All Year Long

If there was ever a time to focus on the SEL needs of our students, teachers and families, it is now. This pandemic has not only highlighted the racial and economic inequities in the US, but also the need to redesign our classrooms to better support our students and teachers.  

My new favorite hashtag is #SELyearlong. No matter the format in which you start the school year, we cannot think that the first six weeks of school will be enough to create the rich (virtual) classroom environment needed for learning. Our focus should be on reconnecting with students and families, and creating the space where meaningful relationships and learning can take place all year long. 

While many times, I focus on the specific HEART skills that students need to learn and practice, today I want to focus on how we create the social and emotional conditions that make learning possible. There needs to be trust among the members of the group, physical and emotional safety, and a sense of belonging, purpose and connection, if we want students to engage in meaningful learning. This is still true if we are meeting our students over Zoom. 

4 Social and Emotional Conditions for Learning

1. Students feel physically, emotionally, and intellectually safe, and are treated equitably.

Many students have probably lost loved ones during this pandemic, and they will need help processing their feelings of loss and grief. Other students will be fearful or stressed, which are not helpful emotions for learning. Use these resources from the Morning Center for Teaching Responsibility to help your students discuss their emotions and experiences during the pandemic, and check out this video about equitable discussions. 

2. Students experience challenging and engaging instruction.

Even in a distance learning format, we need to incorporate productive instructional strategies that will increase the learning capacity of our students. One key strategy is connecting what you are teaching with your students’ lived experiences. Students’ ability to focus and pay attention has been greatly impacted by this pandemic, and the need to stay home for extended periods of time. When the academic content is connected to students’ lived experiences, students are more likely to engage and be motivated to learn. Bring their knowledge into the Zoom room! Here are some ideas from Zaretta Hammond. 

3. Students feel supported and connected to the world around them.

Given the isolation that many students have experienced during this pandemic, it is important that we prioritize building relationships in our classrooms. Use classroom circles to build community. Even in the online world, we can create a sense of belonging and community with our students by using SEL routines such as classroom circles. Use these circles consistently, so your students know what to expect and can anticipate this time of sharing and connection. Here are some tips from Edutopia. 

4. Students and adults are socially, emotionally, and culturally competent.

When you start the new school year, don’t shy away from engaging in conversations about race and racism. For students to develop a positive identity, we need to discuss racism and racial injustice. Although these are difficult conversations, this is part of our responsibility as educators–to call injustice when we see it and educate ourselves, so we can better serve students. Check out these tools from Teaching Tolerance. In addition, educators need to take care of their own needs. We cannot support students, if we don’t support ourselves. Self-care needs to be part of your SEL plan for the year! Practicing mindfulness, going on regular walks, eating a healthy diet or watching a favorite show can help you maintain the level of energy you need to face the next few months. Use the HEART in Mind model to reflect on how you practice your own social and emotional skills. And put it on your daily to do list: Take care of myself. Everyday. 

Lastly, communicate with families. Since many families will be supporting students’ learning at home, educators would benefit from regularly communicating with parents. Families need to know the school’s expectations, grade level objectives, and classroom routines in order to effectively support their children at home. By engaging them early in the process, they can become partners in surviving this stressful time. Here are some resources to work with families. 

Update on Teaching with the HEART in Mind

In case you were wondering… this pandemic slowed down the publication of Teaching with the HEART in Mind. But I have good news! The manuscript is currently being edited, and the book will be published this winter! I can’t wait to share it with you. 

Equity Centered SEL

Based on popular demand, I will be sharing one resource that can help you center your SEL work in equity in each post. While the 3 bridges to an equity centered SEL can be a starting point to understand the necessary shifts, the work is complex and we will need to pull as many resources as possible to make this work happen. Here’s the first resource:

My Racial Equity: A Guide to Racial Literacy. My Racial Journey is a 10-week, guided curriculum aimed at helping us challenge the ways we participate – often unknowingly – in racism by developing basic knowledge and skills about race. Developed at the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development and with the Office’s Positive Racial Identity Development in Early Education (P.R.I.D.E.) Program. 

Need help?

I’ll be taking a break in August to rest and get ready for a busy school year (aka, everybody still at home 24/7 party). As you get started with the new school year, let me know what additional content, resources or training you need. Since I will not be traveling to work with schools, I’ll be able to offer more online training. Let me know what you need. I’d love to hear from you!

Crossing 3 Bridges to Center SEL in Equity

One thing has become clear to me over the last few weeks—creating a kind and tolerant society will not bring about the necessary changes to end inequity and racism. We need to intentionally develop an equity lens in our SEL work, if we want to influence and transform the behaviors and structures that have fed an unjust system. Dr. Dena Simmons says “If we truly care about the future of our young people and our nation, we can no longer be passive about racial justice. We can no longer walk away, bask in our comfort, and ignore the way racism is killing us and destroying our nation.” Read more

Context Influences Relationships

This week, I will be spending two days with colleagues and friends from around the world who deeply care about the social and emotional health of children, youth and adults. This is CASEL’s first conference, a great opportunity to celebrate the work that has been done to date, identify the current challenges, and make plans to grow this practicing community.
In addition to presenting research that I conducted with colleagues from the Learning Policy Institute, I look forward to connecting with the many people with whom I have collaborated over the years, and also meeting new colleagues. These relationships fill my bucket and strengthen my commitment to continue doing the work that matters. Read more

Preparing Teachers to Support SEL

Implementing SEL programs and practices requires teachers to be open, self-reflective and sometimes vulnerable with their students. This may be easy for some teachers, while quite difficult for others. I remember a teacher saying during a training: “Students should learn these skills at home or in elementary school. I already have a hard time covering all my content, I cannot waste any time with check-ins and community circles.” You may have said something similar yourself, or heard colleagues have these conversations. It is part of the process. Read more

Creating an SEL Mindset

Two weeks ago, I visited a high school in Los Angeles (California) to gather data for a case study that I am conducting with the Learning Policy Institute. Serving around 500 mostly low-income students, the school has raised its graduation rates from 83 percent in its first year to 99 percent last year. A school that is built on teacher leadership, the educational program prioritizes a whole child approach with a relentless focus on providing students with the social, emotional and academic supports they need to ensure they are ready to lead successful and productive lives in college and beyond. Read more

Removing Barriers to Learning

I just returned from attending the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), one of the largest educational research gatherings in the world. Among the thousands of scholars participating in the meeting, there is a special interest group for those passionate about SEL. This year, I organized the program for SEL researchers and was excited to see some new research areas, such as parenting and SEL, cultural competency and diversity, and teachers’ wellbeing. At the same time, I was disappointed to encounter several inquiries that measured social and emotional skills, while ignoring (conscious or unconsciously) the context in which this learning takes place. Read more

SEL Data for Dialogue

When I first started working as a teacher in the US, I learned about “data-driven instruction.” The school where I taught used several data points to assess students’ understanding and mastery of the academic standards taught in class: reading assessments, math benchmarks, exit tickets, student writing samples, classroom observations, and student-led projects, among several others. Read more

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