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Social-Emotional Learning

4 Best Practices for SEL Directors During Back-to-School 2020-21

As we welcome students and adults back to school for the 2020-21 year, district leaders are facing a layered impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, racial inequities, and learning loss from the sudden shift to distance learning this past spring.

To aid in the potentially difficult transition for students and educators, it will be critical to center the first weeks of school on rebuilding relationships, fostering a sense of belonging, and cultivating safe and consistent rituals. 

As Derrick Booth, director of social-emotional learning at Peoria Public Schools (IL), put it:

"Before students dive into mathematics, ELA, science or social studies, we want to brainstorm with them and talk with them about how they feel. How have they been impacted by COVID-19? How have they been impacted by the shelter-in-place? We need to rebuild relationships, strengthen relationships, and really focus on healing our community."

As part of Panorama’s Back-to-School Webinar Series, we hosted a discussion with two district leaders about prioritizing SEL in virtual or hybrid environments during the beginning of the school year. 

Here are four key takeaways from our conversation. Learn how districts are utilizing surveys and screeners to assess student and adult well-being, supporting students’ social-emotional learning with universal Tier 1 supports, and implementing CASEL’s critical practices for school reopening.

Download the Panorama Social-Emotional Learning Survey (includes measures for students and adults!)

1. Elevate the voices of students, educators and families to develop responsive transition plans that focus on rebuilding relationships.

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Derrick Booth, Director of Social Emotional Learning, Peoria Public Schools (IL)

Due to the pandemic, Peoria Public Schools (PPS) was forced to shift to distance learning abruptly in March. Now that we are focusing on re-engaging students in the beginning of the school year, one of the things we want to be very intentional about is building relationships and prioritizing social-emotional learning in the first seven to 10 days. 

Before students dive into mathematics, ELA, science or social studies, we want to brainstorm with them and talk with them about how they feel. How have they been impacted by COVID-19? How have they been impacted by the shelter-in-place? We need to rebuild relationships, strengthen relationships, and really focus on healing our community. [Share this on Twitter]

We are working with Panorama to administer a Back-to-School Survey to capture their feedback and give our staff the data to potentially identify students who may need additional supports. The surveys will be critical to capture this information. 

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Amanda Walker, Social Emotional Academic Learning (SEAL) Program Specialist, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools (NC)

We are in such a unique position with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing us to shift to virtual learning, but the silver lining is that we now have this push to be much more intentional about implementing social-emotional learning with both our students as well as our staff, educators, and families.

We have a space now to create deeper relationships. In meeting with our district’s superintendent, one of the themes is that SEL should be embedded within the fabric of our schools. This provides us with that avenue to deepen relationships. [Share this on Twitter]

One way that we are approaching this is through surveys with Panorama. We are examining the data through the lens of: What are our students, staff, and families telling us that they need from us? How can we utilize that data to really meet these needs?

We have also incorporated more meaningful and authentic professional development opportunities. The week prior to our school reopening start date, we offered sessions for staff on topics such as authentically deepening relationships with students. 

 

2. Design supports for teachers and staff to connect, collectively heal, and build their capacity for SEL.

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Amanda Walker, Social Emotional Academic Learning (SEAL) Program Specialist, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools (NC)

My colleague Kathy FitzJefferies said (on another recent Panorama webinar): “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” Our district is really focused on social-emotional learning for our caring adults, and that starts with getting real and being authentic. We need to see where teachers are, acknowledge and address their anxieties, and help them cope. 

Our Student Services department created a website with resources that are designed to both help students as well as assist our educators with their health and well-being. These include mindfulness strategies and mental health resources, and the portal can be accessed anonymously. 

Another project is holding internal mindfulness webinars for staff. Any individual employed by the district can come and practice mindfulness, self-reflection, and really embark on a positive experience with each other. We’re trying to put as much intentional effort into attending to our adults as we do with our students. [Share this on Twitter]

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Derrick Booth, Director of Social Emotional Learning, Peoria Public Schools (IL)

One of the things that our district did as a result of the pandemic was to start an initiative called #PPSmatters. The goal was to encourage and support our teachers and our staff members because they were also experiencing stress. We sent encouraging messages and provided them with a number of outlets to reach out to for social or emotional support.

We often tell our staff that it’s important for them to put on their mask first before helping those around you. We want our staff to be in-tune to their own social-emotional health and well-being so that they are able to support our students. [Share this on Twitter]

 

3. Build SEL into your MTSS—or existing student support structures—to create safe, supportive and equitable learning environments for students and staff.

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Amanda Walker, Social Emotional Academic Learning (SEAL) Program Specialist, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools (NC)

As a former teacher, I know what it’s like to hear all of these acronyms and think, “Great, this is just one more thing that the district is adding to my plate, and it probably comes with paperwork!” 

We don’t want our teachers to feel like that, so we try to emphasize that SEL, MTSS, and equity all fit together. We use a visual to look at SEL through the lens of MTSS and give examples (by tier) of what this looks like in our daily classroom practices. We find that this helps merge all of these terms together and help educators understand that these are strong best practices that I should be doing as a teacher. [Share this on Twitter]

SEL and MTSS

 

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Derrick Booth, Director of Social Emotional Learning, Peoria Public Schools (IL)

We administer surveys with Panorama multiple times each year. The first survey is a district-wide survey that we use to identify students who are in need of Tier 2 or Tier 3 supports. The second survey is only taken by students who are receiving those additional supports to evaluate if these interventions are making a difference. 

One of the big discussions currently happening within the district is about what can supports look like in a virtual setting? We are starting the year 100 percent remote, so we need to get creative about supporting students in Tier 2 or Tier 3 in this remote learning environment. It’s key for us to move from just having the data to actually using the data to support our students. 

 

4. Share decision-making power by acting on stakeholder feedback and continuing to ask, analyze, and push for change.

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Derrick Booth, Director of Social Emotional Learning, Peoria Public Schools (IL)

Using data is a way to honor stakeholder voices. This is our fourth year with Panorama, and it has been a journey to get to this point. When we started, the data served as solely talking points or information to be aware of. But the true work has been implementing interventions to improve the data. We are getting better at not just capturing data for the sake of capturing data, but for the purpose of acting on it to improve on our students’ social-emotional learning measures. It’s a pathway to act, analyze, and improve. That’s where the work is.

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Amanda Walker, Social Emotional Academic Learning (SEAL) Program Specialist, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools (NC)

In our district, we have an SEL Task Force that meets once per month. This group includes teachers, staff, bus drivers, community agencies, and parents. We are trying to be inclusive and to incorporate our entire district family. We want all stakeholders to be at the table.

As a district, we want to be as transparent as possible—especially with caregivers. We want to ensure they know the context behind our plans and decisions, and we want to invite them to share feedback with us. One way that we’re doing this is by creating short videos on YouTube for families designed to help them understand what social-emotional learning is. They likely hear the term a lot, but because they aren’t necessarily in our world, they may not know what it looks like in their children’s classroom. 

Topic(s): Social-Emotional Learning

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