In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I’ve been reflecting upon what it means to celebrate the holiday this year. For many of us, Thanksgiving will look and feel very different from past years. We are unable to come together to celebrate with family and friends as the nation is suffering from a widespread and deadly pandemic that has created economic devastation. As a country, we have collectively awoken to and are reflecting upon our role in the systemic oppression that people of color continue to face on a daily basis. We are experiencing turmoil during a transition of presidential power unlike any we’ve witnessed before. And, as I re-read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, I feel shame that the origins of this holiday include the mass murder of indigenous people that has yet to be atoned.
Now more than ever, Superintendents, School Directors, and Principals recognize and understand the need for social-emotional learning for both students and teachers. The uncertainty of COVID - 19 has affected everyone in many ways, and its effects may have long-lasting impressions in education.
It’s no secret that winter in the Northeast does not generally bring the blue skies and sunshine that so often fill me with energy and excitement. However, as the winter solstice drifts closer and the hours of daylight get shorter, I am reminded the season of gratitude is upon us and during this season, I strive to take a few moments of each day to pause, reflect on the beauty in my life, and express gratitude for all the things that bring me hope and joy.
On May 1, more than 300 educators, researchers, and policymakers gathered for the inaugural exSEL Network conference, titled Social-Emotional Learning: Lessons Learned and Opportunities for Massachusetts, led by Transforming Education, the Rennie Center, and SEL4MA. Participants took part in breakout sessions focused on learning from the experiences of districts putting social-emotional learning policies and practices into place and hearing from experts about SEL supports and strategies.
Growing up, I was the epitome of a cookie-cutter kid. I excelled in school, getting straight A´s throughout the entirety of my elementary and junior high career. I played soccer and basketball, participated in track and field, and did triathlons. I became obsessed with trying to be perfect. For all of my time in junior high, I became preoccupied with a trophy that was given out to students with a cumulative GPA of 4.0. I stopped at nothing to get that award and at the time it seemed like it mattered more to me than anything else. Now, that trophy is sitting under my bed collecting dust. Don’t get me wrong -- I am proud of how hard I worked to accomplish what I did. However, after taking a huge leap of faith, my entire view of what success looks and feels like drastically changed.
On Monday, TransformEd and the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy (“Rennie Center”) kicked off the second year of the exSEL Network with a cohort of districts from southern Massachusetts. Hosted at Weymouth High School, educators came together for the first of several sessions on students’ social-emotional development and the power of creating safe and supportive learning environments.
One of the most exciting parts of any school year is when educators come together to celebrate a shared vision of how they, as a community, can support their students. Last week, TransformEd joined faculty and staff from Andover (MA) Public Schools for a start-of-the-year kick-off gathering built around a unifying theme: students’ social-emotional learning (SEL).
In addition to my job as Director of District Partnerships at TransformEd, I have been, for a number of years, a project scholar for the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture, an interdisciplinary research center at the University of Virginia. There, I work with a variety of scholars to explore how U.S. high schools, including private, religious, independent, charter and public schools, approach character development among their students. My specific work has focused on the rural public-school sector (as defined by the National Center for Educational Statistics), about which I wrote a chapter that was recently published in Content of Their Character: Inquiries into the Varieties of Moral Formation. It consists of descriptive analysis of student character formation at six rural public high schools in the United States during the 2014–2015 and 2015–2016 school years. The analysis is based on classroom observation, school documents, and administrator, parent, teacher, and student interviews.
The learning and life benefits of social and emotional learning (SEL) are well-established (see CASEL research for a few of the most recent SEL research studies). In schools, classroom teachers have opportunities to build SEL competencies and skills — especially in the areas of collaboration, cooperation, and teamwork. Here are some ideas from the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) SEL Fellows for classroom teachers interested in creating classroom environments that support relationship skills with peers.
In education, we sometimes fall into an acronym trap: ESSA. IEP. ELA. SEL. Or we default to rattling off statistics as shorthand for what we’re really talking about. And sometimes, this kind of secret education code serves us well. It allows us to transmit information efficiently. But it also comes at a price if we forget to balance it out with stories about the humans at the center of our work.