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.
By participating in the exSEL Network, educators gain critical insight on how to support the development of social-emotional skills through changes in policy and practice at the district, school, and classroom levels. This year’s sessions include a focus on empowering students, strengthening relationships within communities, fostering positive mindsets, and helping students be mindful learners.
“This is a tremendous opportunity to build off of the momentum we gained from last year’s sessions,” said George Ferro, Assistant Superintendent of Whitman-Hanson Regional School District, which has joined the exSEL Network for the second year in a row. “Last year, we really started to map out and put into place a plan for integrating social-emotional learning in our schools; this year, we’re aiming to bring back more competency-building strategies to our district, align our work vertically throughout grade levels, and implement student-voice gathering surveys to inform future professional development work,” he said.
TransformEd Executive Director, Sara Krachman, and Rennie Center Executive Director, Chad d’Entremont, started the day by sharing important new developments in the local and national conversations around students’ social-emotional learning (SEL). Krachman and d’Entremont both noted that organizations and researchers have placed an increased emphasis on equity in SEL-related work, and specifically highlighted efforts by the field to study learning conditions that promote success for all students. The two shared these developments while acknowledging that 47% of the students in the Network’s districts are students with disabilities, current and former English language learners (ELLs), or low-income students.
During the day, educators learned about the topic of student agency, and engaged in a variety of conversations and activities on what agency looks like in practice and how they can communicate about agency to others.
Established in 2016, the exSEL Network is the product of a partnership between TransformEd, the Rennie Center, and the exSEL Coalition—whose members include the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, Massachusetts Organization of Educational Collaboratives, and Massachusetts School Administrators Association. This year, the Network has grown from nine to 19 districts, and is divided into two regional cohorts.
“We’re inspired by the amazing enthusiasm we’ve received about the Network,” says Stephanie Hurley, TransformEd’s Senior Manager of Partnerships and one of project’s leads. “We know that teachers and administrators want the time to learn about and adopt approaches that support the whole child — the more they can collaborate with each other, the better equipped they will be to build and sustain practices that effectively integrate SEL and academics.”