In the Middle of Difficulty lies Opportunity
As teachers across the state have had to engage with technology in ways that truly challenged their mindset; being open to being flexible and challenging themselves as learners, I see this as a time when SEL leaders can capitalize on this growth mindset. Opportunities for district and county education offices to produce online trainings and webinars in the foundations of SEL, practices and approaches to use within classrooms (virtual or in-person), and how to support teachers with their SEL skills should be pursued so that equitable access to SEL supports can be provided. In doing so, we are building capacity for SEL leadership within schools and districts through a medium that allows for flexibility and differentiation.
The positive unintended consequence of this pandemic for SEL is that it has created pointed conversations from various groups that had not invested in the work prior. From media outlets, to science programs, and ELA publishers alike, they are putting SEL front and center by championing the narrative that students' SEL skills need to be supported. Publishers are even creating robust resources for explicit instruction lessons. This is creating a lot of exposure for SEL and opportunities are vast for teachers to "try out" lessons that they may have not been inclined to do in the past. Additionally, the fact that academic curriculum publishers are recognizing the importance of SEL to the point of creating resources further strengthens the perception that social-emotional skills and academics serve to strengthen and support one another.
I believe the two greatest barriers that hinder the efforts to implement widespread SEL in districts are funding and the capacity for understanding how integral SEL is to academics. Many district leaders who may initially show interest in the positive effects of SEL with students are unlikely to entertain further discussion if there is no clear avenue to fund implementation. District leaders know that to implement any new initiative sustainably there must be a plan for staff professional development, possible curriculum adoption, and a trained professional position to oversee SEL in the district. It would be helpful if avenues for funding SEL in districts were better communicated so they can be taken advantage of. Additionally, marketing SEL and academics as one in the same by establishing SEL standards will be instrumental in moving forward the SEL agenda. More literature that highlights all California Common Core State Standards that require SEL competency skills will help provide the context of their mutual dependency. For example, when a Kindergarten Writing standard states that students must "...respond to questions and suggestions from peers" there are SEL skills that must be explicitly taught prior to this CA CCSS being addressed. Students must be taught how to be self-aware and self-manage so they can actively listen to questions and suggestions in addition to having the relationship skills to respond appropriately. SEL skills need to be presented as foundational standards for academic standards, much in the same way phonics skills and phonemic awareness are known to be foundational skills to learning to read.