Moderator Pick
May 27th, 2020

Think Big to Make Meaningful Change

COVID-19 gives schools across the country the opportunity to correct some entrenched models of learning that have been problematic, specifically prioritizing academic needs over SEL. After essentially patchwork instruction at the end of 2019-2020 school year, there will be mounting pressure to ‘catch up’ kids, especially those that are most vulnerable to falling behind. At the same time, these are also children that are most susceptible to trauma and anxiety, because of their financial circumstances at home or other factors of instability. School leaders have to prioritize children’s mental well-being more than ever, given the tumultuous nature of these unprecedented times, and give teachers permission to spend more time on social-emotional health. While most educators recognize its importance and have added SEL resources or required some level of instruction into schools, it is done so without the same level of accountability and rigor as academic standards. There aren’t standardized assessments for social-emotional health; there aren’t explicit national standards for it, like the Common Core. This is not to argue for that, but simply to point out that we pay lip service to its significance without following through. Teachers often have so much instruction to fit into a day, into a school year, especially with the pressure of standardized assessments, that dedicated SEL curriculum, exercises, activities are usually the first to get squeezed out. Teachers will need dedicated time at the beginning of the fall to focus on relationships - teacher to student, teacher to parent, student to student. These have always been critical to school success but now they need to be prioritized above all. Children will need recovery time.

Furthermore, in addition to vertically aligned, evidence-based curriculum as a foundational resource for teachers, teachers cannot be solely responsible for a child’s SEL. We need more counselors, opportunity for teachers to receive summer training on how to manage children’s trauma, anxiety, depression, fear. Finally, schools need to take a collaborative approach by considering wraparound human and social services that not only support children outside of school, but provide resources to their families. This includes high quality early childhood education, after school and enrichment programs, food security programs, job skills and training for adults, language services, etc. Schools and local leaders should work together with local institutions (libraries, non-profits, faith-based organizations…) that can find common goals for the community.

Although times are tough, we have a golden opportunity to redefine the paradigm of what school is and improve its design for children and families. We need to think big to make meaningful change.

Tags: Climate and culture, community building, curriculum, relationships, school climate and safety, SEL & Equity, SEL Leadership, SEL Policy, Trauma-informed practices

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Comments (6)

Comments (6)

Well said, Samantha! I so agree - we need to take a "Big Picture" approach and seize this unique opportunity to make real and lasting change.

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Samantha,
I agree with you that school leaders need to make teachers feel like they have permission to spend time on social-emotional health. It's ironic because school leaders in general would all agree in the value of teaching "the whole child". But it's easy for leaders to forget what that takes with such a nebulous term. There is real time and training that goes into the whole child- inside and outside the school day! I see the pandemic as an opportunity for "bottom-up" efforts from educators within their districts to lead the discussions for logistically how to begin systemic SEL implementation from voices like your own.

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Hi Colleen! Yes, the term 'whole child' is thrown around a lot. Each person may have a different idea of what that means or how that gets supported. School leaders should work hand in hand with teachers to define specifically what that instruction and support looks like and put together an actionable plan that meets those ideals. Furthermore, I think school leaders and non-classroom staff members should have common language and practices that are upheld throughout the school to maintain consistency for children, i.e. appropriate tone, problem-solving approaches.

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Hi Samantha:

I always love the idea of "thinking big." But we know that state budgets have been taxed by the coronavirus. What creative ideas do you have for accomplishing your goals with a limited budget?

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Hi Cindy,

I think a lot can be done without spending more from the budget. First, school district leaders can establish a working group of qualified, passionate educators to put together a plan of action for SEL in the new year. This would need to take place over the summer. Elevate teacher/counselor voices who are down in the trenches, who are well-versed in SEL in their own classrooms, who can inspire and lead others to implement a vision of recovery in their schools. Furthermore, school leaders can be in charge of connecting educators from those working groups with community based/non-profit services that are willing to partner up and support children/family needs in a variety of ways. These could be local library services, teacher interns, foundations, national organizations like Playworks, etc. I also think connecting schools with local human and social services doesn't necessarily require a budget, but it does take time, planning, and strategic collaboration and pooling of existing resources. When educators are given opportunities to step up, we may find that counselors in a district may be willing to lead summer PDs to help support teachers who need more strategies to help children with trauma or maybe there are teacher leaders who have received specific training in restorative justice or responsive classroom or peace education and can share their insight and strategies with others. Ultimately, I think 'thinking big' is very closely aligned with 'thinking creatively'!

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Schools have long since had sufficient resources to support changes. Unfortunately, the school board has little accountability in terms of which local providers receive school funding. Far too often, agencies that assist with getting an individual elected receive support regardless of the effectiveness of their programs. Thus, services are marginalized at the expense of school budgets.

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