May 16th, 2020

Opportunity in the Gaps

In my meetings with district leaders this past week, it's clear no one knows what the school day will look like in the Fall. However, one thing is certain - there will be gaps. Will the gaps be in the morning, the afternoon, every other day, four days a week, just for some students or all students? That remains to be seen. These gaps are where I see huge opportunities to support the social emotional well-being of children. The Covid-19 crisis has increased our capacity for empathy, ability to collaborate remotely, spurred unprecedented initiative, and forced us all to practice emotion management on a daily basis. This environment is ripe for intentional social emotional growth. As we continue to refine our equitable online learning platform, we're building in the same supports we would for our in-person programs. We're also keep the design flexible so we can support any school day model. We've had great success with our drop-in "Empower Hour" sessions so far. We're doing SEL activities like dynamic mindfulness, yoga, feeling talks and kindness crafts. These activities also require little or no supplies, thus allowing for greater equity and access. We also have credentialed SEL coaches that can move a child into a breakout room for one-on-one help processing a frustration or process a trauma. Just like in-person, an emotional check in with a caring adult is sometimes much more important than a science lesson. We have to design for those moments, give space for these moments, even in a virtual classroom. 

The main barrier I foresee to realizing a student's full EQ potential during Covid-19 is shifting our mindsets from the individual to the collective. "Our students" is no longer a term exclusive to schools. The whole community must rally around students' education and emotional health. With the deep budget cuts projected for the state, our challenge is to design the most efficient, synchronous system that leverages the strengths of everyone involved in a child's education. With all the possible permutations of a school day I've heard being discussed, what does "after school" even mean anymore? Expanded learning providers will be offering services all day - before, during and after "normal" hours. Parents will be substitute teachers and enrichment providers. It's all a big jumble. The more collaborative we are in this time, the more coordinated and effective will our SEL efforts be. One person, one organization, one school, cannot do SEL education alone. SEL must be woven into the fabric of the school day, home life and virtual learning space. We can only do it together.

Tags: Adult SEL, SEL & Equity, SEL & Remote learning, SEL Leadership, Trauma-informed practices

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Comments (2)

Comments (2)

Hi Eduardo:

Thanks for joining the conversation. Creating a coordinated and effective SEL effort that melds schools, homelife and virtual learning sounds like a huge undertaking. Have you found approaches that are working? Conversely, what do you think are the key attributes of a successful coordinated effort?

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Hi Cindy,

Thanks for creating a space for these conversations to flourish. I feel comforted in just knowing that this is an important issue for our state leaders. As for what's working, we're piloting several models this summer. With Oakland Unified, we're doing an A+B model. In the morning the kids are participating in a virtual reading intensive program for 3 hours. In the afternoon they log into our platform for one hour of guided SEL activities and simple, low-supply science activities. In other school districts, like Livermore Unified, kids will be doing our whole child 2.5 hour camp experience that includes 1 hour of enrichment, 1/2 hour of SEL and 1/2 hour of Indoor Recreation over the summer. Our enrichment hour is anchored around our six "RECIPE" SEL skills: Responsibility, Empathy, Collaboration, Initiative, Problem Solving and Emotion Management. These are adapted from the CASEL and the David P. Weikhardt Center frameworks. We need to make these resources "field-friendly" so our kids, staff and parents could remember and practice them. We integrate the RECIPE into everything we do.

For example when kids code a story in Scratch, we ask them to think of a plot that revolves around the theme of responsibility. Or when kids design a city, we have them empathize with all the different types of citizens in a city and collaborate in groups to problem solve challenges facing the city. Staff are trained to praise kids when they witness RECIPE skills being practiced.

As kids act with these skills, we reinforce prosocial mindsets and character traits. It's all part of our SEL-Mindset-Character framework called The EDMO Method that we developed in partnership with the Greater Good Science Center of UC Berkeley. What isn't happening yet, however, is intentionally coordinating our framework with that of the school districts (of they even have one). For these early virtual summer pilots, we'll make do, but in the Fall we'll need more intentional alignment with what schools are doing. One idea for how this could be accomplished would be to designate an SEL point person at each school. The school SEL point person collaborates with CBO's providing expanded learning services (such as us) as well as parents at the school. There are lots of different SEL frameworks out there that a school or district can anchor themselves to. The most important thing is to pick one that best reflects the community's values, and then work with CBO's to integrate the principles of the framework into their curriculum and staff training. Every week the CBO and school could focus on a particular SEL skill or theme. Likewise, there needs to be aligned, practical SEL parent education workshops as well as outside direct SEL services. Even parents who value mindfulness can have a hard time doing SEL activities with their kids.

The school SEL point person then coordinates efforts with the district SEL Director. The district SEL Director coordinates with the county office and that person, in turn, with the state. This SEL network can share resources, training, parent education, staff training, etc. Knowledge and resources must flow in both directions, but the state must first take a strong stance that California recognizes that a child's social emotional well being is at least on par with academic achievment, if not the paramount outcome of the state's education system. This will be the first and most important attribute of a successful effort.