Moderator Pick
May 19th, 2020

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.

Tags: Adult SEL, Integrating SEL into academics, SEL Leadership, SEL Resources

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Comments (14)

Comments (14)

I agree that the big piece is how critical it is to explicitly teach SEL skills along with the standards! Students who are successful collaborators, communicators, problem solvers, and innovators are more likely to be successful with CCSS by nature of the abilities that they may have learned at home. What about the students who are just as bright as the students with the above mentioned skills, but have not learned the skills to be successful 21st century learners? They must be taught the skills to effectively navigate through a 21st century learning environment. If we don’t address this, we’re leaving some students behind who otherwise would be successful.

Now more than ever, staff members deserve to be supported with SEL! They have had to abruptly change the way they do everything! They haven’t had time to process what they’ve been through. With the impending budget cuts we must keep teacher emotional wellness at the forefront.

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Jacki,
I appreciate you pointing out the issue of equity among our student populations. There are definitely students who arrive in classrooms with stronger emotional intelligence skills and it's important that ALL students know these skills since it will greatly influence their academic education. It was interesting for me to learn that while studies show a "vocabulary gap" exists between higher and lower income families, the gap disappears when it comes to labeling feelings. Most students only know 3-4 words to describe their feelings. The ability to label feelings is crucial for emotional regulation, relationship skills, and making responsible decisions. This points to the need for all students to be explicitly taught these skills so they can access 21st Century skills.

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Brilliant and well stated!!!! I'm with you 100%. What if we present it as a focus and energy shift more than funding needs? We can help make staffs "healthy/healthier" first and become more comfortable with SEL/emotional intelligence skills between now and August thru what you stated. "Elevate Mental Wellness Skills Equal To Algebra and Essay Writing". I'm truly encouraged by your post...thank you!

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Michael,
Thank you! I agree, it's so important to address staff/adult SEL needs first. Some challenges I've seen in districts is that from the daily grind, teachers either don't see a way out of being stressed/overwhelmed because student behaviors will continue, they don't think they have control over their reactions to their own behavior, or they don't see that they are reacting to unpleasant feelings in negative ways. Prior to school closures, another challenge I observed was that negative feedback loop. Even for teachers who were open to addressing their stress and being role models of self-awareness and self-management, students were still not receiving explicit SEL instruction so it triggered the same issues of stress, etc. My concern for funding is just related to how districts logistically can roll-out a comprehensive SEL implementation plan (that includes students) without it impacting their budgets. To ensure sustainability, they will have to have to put money behind it in staffing and curriculum adoption. But I agree with you, funding doesn't need to be the focus for supporting teacher SEL skills when there are so many resources and free supports out there. County departments of education are amazing in this area!

We know schools are going to look different in August and despite how disappointing that is as an educator, I do see this as creating a window of opportunity to make staffs healthier first. We can't know exactly what a school day will look like, but I am confident that the modifications to the day will remove some of the barriers above for us to focus on staff wellness.

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Hi Colleen,
I so appreciate your ideas and wanted to share a few things that are already in place in CA that could be leveraged to really make both SEL and SEAD supports integral to teaching and leading in CA.

First, the first CDE SEL workgroup developed a set of SEL Guidelines for CA as well as a resource mapping CCSS with SEL. You can find those on the CDE website (in the SEL section :)

At New Teacher Center, we have focused on integrating SEL within the context of academic instruction, developed professional learning for teachers, coaches, and school leaders, wrote articles, and produced films to support educators in doing exactly what you describe. Those resources are available and ready to use :) We also worked with the Aspen Institute's National SEAD (social-emotional-academic development) Commission and their resources offer examples of and research behind an integrated SEAD approach.

In CA, Sacramento COE, Butte COE, and Orange County DE wrote a grant and received two years of funding to design and implement a CA SEL statewide Community of Practice for County Office and district leaders. I have been part of that initiative, and at each of our CoPs, we have been doing just what you suggest!!! We have been meeting f2f three times/year (one time each year at the statewide MTSS Professional Learning Inst.), and the other two meetings are held in northern and southern CA to reduce travel costs. In April, we moved our CoP to a virtual meeting, and had over 70 county office and district leaders participate. At each meeting, we make all our PPT decks and SEL and SEAD resources available so COE and district leaders could then use those within their own contexts. A number of county offices have already started their own SEL Community of Practice!

SCOE and OCDE have just submitted a new grant proposal to continue and amplify funding for the statewide SEL CoP and to support local county offices to support their districts!!!!! So, your vision could really come into reality soon, especially with this additional funding!

Finally, the CDE is establishing a new SEL workgroup, beginning in June, to take our initial work to the next level--which, hopefully, will result in policies and resources that will ensure teachers and leaders can sustain efforts to integrate SEL within the fabric of a multi-tiered system of support.

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Wendy,
Thank you so much for sharing these resources. Is it too nerdy to admit how much I love the Aspen Institute's "A Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope"? I am encouraged by all the work that is being done and hopeful that a consequence of the pandemic is that it creates a space for SEL and SEAD to become mainstream.

I was fortunate to take part in OCDE's Community of Practice trainings last year and even saw Dr. Marc Brackett speak in December. His presentation was a game-changer! My colleagues and myself are hosting a district-wide book club on Permission to Feel as a result. My goal is that in building interest in an SEL approach such as RULER that really focuses on adult SEL, our district teachers will be more primed for how to deliver SEL instruction to students. We are very fortunate that OCDE is invested in building capacity in our teachers. I am looking forward to seeing what is produced in the coming year from the SEL workgroup and how that can further the work we are doing in our school and district!

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Hi Colleen,
This is probably out of order in terms of response...yet, I had to reply as I was excited to learn you have been participating in the statewide SEL Community of Practice and were there in Dec. with Marc Brackett (and me :)! So exciting that you started a book club with Permission to Feel!
Wondering if you attending the series Integrating SEL into Teaching, Leading, or Coaching that Lucy has offered to all districts in Orange County. I've been really focused on integration for the very reasons you've stated and would love to have more in-depth conversations with you and within this Forum.
I've noticed that we haven't really done enough to implement and research integrated approaches to SEAD, and thus, we don't really have a coherent approach to this methodology. Hoping we can make that a focus and outcome of this Forum.

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Wendy,
Yes! I attended two trainings in 2018 for Integrating SEL into Teaching, but after completing Lucy's Resilient Mindful Learner Project I felt comfortable enough to reach out to her to ask to attend the meeting to see Dr. Brackett speak because I was pursuing getting a cohort trained in RULER at my school.

I completely agree, I would also like to see a more systematic approach to SEAD. I studied under Maurice Elias through his courses at Rutgers in social emotional learning and character development (SECD) and worked on identifying areas of integration into our state standards. After that, I look at our standards through a completely different lens! I think there is a great opportunity for SEL leverage if the educational community can see the extent to which proficiency in academic standards depends on SEL explicit instruction and how integrated opportunities to practice those skills are often already being utilized (but perhaps without purpose). I honestly love talking about this work so feel free to email me if you would like to talk more in-depth (colleenf620@gmail.com).

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I love re-connecting with you!! We have been on such a similar path with Character Education, Maurice Elias' course at Rutgers, and RULER!!!! Yes...I'll reach out to your email next week. Maybe we can think together about how to move forward integrated social-emotional-academic learning--at least in the districts where we are working!!!

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Absolutely, we are in a place where positive change could change the landscape of education. We need to seize this opportunity to help all of our educators to understand the importance of integrating SEL into everyday practices.
We must incorporate explicit instruction in SEL into lessons across content - and we must make curricular choices that reflect these values.

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Susan,
I completely agree. I think that's one of the major hurdles that proponents of explicit SEL instruction have to overcome when talking about SEL- it can't be a 30 minute daily lesson and you're done. It has to be across disciplines and purposeful in everything we do in our system. It's no wonder that SEL is a challenging initiative, it challenges us to revolutionize our policies and school culture! I think you make a great point about curricular choices. SEL really brings to the fore issues like equity and culturally responsive teaching that we need to be mindful of how strong our curriculum supports all these issues.

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Hi Colleen:

Interesting idea about integrating common core standards with SEL. Besides funding, what supports would be needed to do that?

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Comment deleted by user.

Cindy,
Sorry, my previous comment was deleted as I edited it.

I could see supports for making clear how academic standards are integrated with SEL competencies going two ways. In a "bottom up" approach schools and districts could enlist the support of instructional learning coaches, grade level representatives, and leadership teams to partner with their county departments of education to identify specific CCSS language that depends on SEL competencies like point of view, how characters respond to events, and determining feelings to name a few. This training could be done through badges or microcredentialing to build awareness and capacity for the importance of explicit SEL instruction to support these standards. Additionally, training in how SEL is already embedded within the CCSS that largely go unassessed by state testing will give educators context for fully teaching these standards. For example, Speaking and Listening standards are almost entirely dependent upon SEL proficiency. These standards require students to hold collaborative conversations, listen to others, take turns speaking respectfully, and express feelings clearly. While teachers can provide opportunities to practice these standards, explicit SEL instruction will be needed for students to be explicity taught these standards.

A second support that will be needed will be a "top-down" approach from groups like SEL4CA and/or CASEL to identify developmentally appropriate benchmarks. I believe these benchmarks will be necessary to give district leaders a road map for the goals of SEL implementation.

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