In the year before the COVID-19 pandemic, two of my grandparents died, both of whom were pillars in different branches of my family. On the fourth yahrzeit of my grandfather’s death a couple of months ago, my stepmom shared Maya Angelou’s poem, When Great Trees Fall, in his memory. I had never heard of the poem before but have returned to it many times in the weeks since as I reflect on the losses, silences, and birth in myself, in our educational systems, and in our society over the past few years.
I still remember my first day of work as a fourth grade teacher. My classroom had a green chalkboard, an overhead projector, one large wooden teacher desk and rows of student seats. I entered ready to present my lesson and engage with students. But within the first few minutes I recognized I was prepared to give a lesson but outside of that really had no idea what I was doing. It would be an understatement to say I struggled my first day as a new teacher.
This is not a book review. It is a celebration. Officially released in December 2019, Cultivating Genius caught fire in the pandemic era, becoming a widely popular resource for ensuring equitable classroom learning experiences. Two years later, this masterwork by Dr. Gholdy Muhammad via Scholastic Publishing deserves its spotlight – better yet, birthday candles – for a few key reasons.
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).