Over the past six months, I’ve had the great pleasure of traveling to districts across the country to speak with and learn from our new school partners who are committed to integrating important social-emotional competencies, such as growth mindset and social awareness, into their daily practice. At the start of most of these engagements, educators tend to ask me one question more than any other: “Where do we begin?”
At TransformEd, we begin by working with a district’s leadership team to design a long-term partnership that builds knowledge, uses data to make informed changes in practice and policy, and scales these promising changes across schools.
But this doesn’t mean that teachers need to revamp everything or throw out their existing curricula in order to integrate SEL. Our work is grounded in a belief that schools will benefit from taking a systematic approach to understanding which strategies will work best within the context of their schools — one step at a time.
In particular, TransformEd embraces the Six Core Principles of Improvement framework outlined by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Here’s a summary of what that approach looks like:
PRINCIPLE 1: Make the work problem-specific and user-centered.
- Districts that start by asking, “What problem are we trying to solve?” and “Who should benefit from the changes we eventually make?” are often the most successful. Our partners start this work by forming diverse ‘SEL Ambassador Teams’ with representatives from multiple buildings, backgrounds, and roles across the district.
PRINCIPLE 2: Address variation as the core problem in performance.
- We work with our partners as they engage in Plan-Do-Study-Act (“PDSA”) cycles to understand what works, for whom, and under what conditions. Then we identify examples of variation to study more closely.
PRINCIPLE 3: See the system that produces the current outcomes.
- With TransformEd, educators regularly engage in ‘Zoom In/Zoom Out’ activities that challenge them to understand SEL integration at all levels of their system.
PRINCIPLE 4: Measure what you’re doing in order to improve.
- TransformEd has curated a set of best-in-class survey-based measures of social-emotional competencies developed by leading researchers in the field. In the spring of 2015, the CORE Districts and TransformEd field tested these measures with nearly half a million students across California. The measures are open-source and available on TransformEd’s website in the paper titled “Measuring MESH”, and we use them with our district partners to gain a deeper understanding of students’ current SEL competencies.
PRINCIPLE 5: Anchor practice improvement in disciplined inquiry.
- District partnerships include a disciplined approach to building knowledge of social-emotional learning and whole child development over time. Our partners participate in regular meetings in order to identify the effective work already in progress and to explore new possibilities in developing students’ skills.
PRINCIPLE 6: Accelerate improvements through networked communities.
- Because TransformEd is a national nonprofit organization, we serve as a connector between many schools and districts that seek to network and learn from each other. In collaboration with The Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy, we’ve launched a new, district-based networked improvement community this fall: the exSEL network in Massachusetts. The aim is to increase student and adult skills in growth mindset and other social-emotional competencies throughout the network, eventually leveraging common measures to inform practice and drive systematic implementation of strategies.
Want to learn more? Have ideas to share with our team? Reach out to Stephanie Sutcliffe at Stephanie@transformingeducation.org.