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MTSS Social-Emotional Learning Equity

Student-Teacher Relationships, Belonging, and Equity: Top Takeaways from our District Leader Meet-up in Charlotte, NC

At Panorama Education, we believe that connecting and learning from other districts is a powerful thing. 

In February 2020, we were lucky enough to bring together 42 state and district leaders, principals, counselors, and students from more than 11 Carolina districts at Charlotte-Mecklenberg Schools (CMS) in Charlotte, North Carolina with the goal of connecting educators who are solving important issues around SEL and equity. 

Panorama's meet-up—part of a series of Panorama regional events taking place monthly across the country open to Panorama partners and non-partners—included interactive presentations, peer-sharing, professional learning, and panel discussions with educators and students. 

How did Carolina educators describe how they felt after spending the day at CMS addressing problems of practice around equity, social-emotional learning (SEL), and multi-tiered system of support (MTSS)?

"Inspired," "committed," "grateful," "optimistic," "thankful," and "energized"—just to name just a few things we heard during the day's closing ritual. 

Here's what we learned, including key takeaways to share with your district team. 

Key Takeaways from District Leaders in Charlotte, NC

1. Equitable experiences for students begin when educators address our own implicit biases.

It's essential for educators to be aware of their own implicit biases when striving to create equity in schools. CMS Social-Emotional Learning Specialist Rhonda G. Harris, M.Ed., NCC, NCSC, highlighted this point during a session titled, "How to Support the Whole Child (and Shift Adult Mindsets Along the Way)."

Harris shared how the district has seen incredible growth in students' perceptions of teacher-student relationships and their sense of belonging. At the same time, with courageous candor, Harris shared how social-emotional learning data has revealed the need for educators to examine student experiences through an equity lens.

“We saw African American students grading themselves lower on sense of belonging," Harris shared. "By third grade, they’re having negative thoughts about who they are and what they’re capable of.”

For Charlotte-Mecklenberg Schools, this focus on relationships and social-emotional learning has paid off so far. One CMS school even reported 30 percent fewer behavior incidents. 

Educators in the room also had the opportunity to hear from a fifth-grade student (the Student Voice Expert) on belonging and teacher-student relationships. During the panel "From Student to District: Taking Action on Equity at All Levels of Our Communities," the Student Voice Expert shared a time when a teacher-student relationship was missing: “I didn’t think my teacher liked me. She wanted me out of her class." 

Key Takeaway: Ask students about their relationships with teachers and how much they feel like they belong on campus. Try starting off your staff or leadership meetings with student focus groups or a student panel like our partners in Everett. Interested in measuring student perceptions of equity? Try Panorama's Equity scales

“I didn’t think my teacher liked me. She wanted me out at her class.”

- Student, Charlotte Meckenberg Schools

2. It takes just one strong student-teacher relationship to change a student’s life trajectory.

We also heard incredible stories of positive student-teacher relationships and how this affects students. 

One panelist, a Program Manager from Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, shared how student voice data had catalyzed a transformation in one school, with powerful results. One student at WSFCS, who previously believed that everyone saw him as "bad," was able to build academic confidence with the help of a caring teacher. The teacher showed her support by intervening based on data around his perceived sense of belonging.

“The kids picked on me. When I took the Panorama screener, my teacher asked me about it and helped me," the student shared. The results of this strong relationship affected the students' confidence. "Then I felt good about myself.” 

"This is a witness to what can change when teachers change," said the panelist. 

Key Takeaway: Incorporate feedback from students into your teacher development. What if every student in your district felt truly supported by the adults in our buildings? 

“The kids picked on me. When I took the Panorama screener, my teacher asked me about it and helped me. Then I felt good about myself." 

- Student, Charlotte Meckenberg Schools

3. Everything we do, and everyone in our buildings, is MTSS. 

4. We must support the SEL of educators in our buildings. 

Throughout the day, educators came back to the idea that social-emotional learning for students starts with adults. 

Teachers with strong SEL skills will be able to build stronger relationships with students and have the self-awareness to address their own biases. 

Key Takeaway: As you implement SEL and MTSS, don't forget about your adults. Delivering interventions focused on adults' mental health and self-care can go a long way. Download this Adult SEL Toolkit to access our top district resources for strengthening adult SEL. 

Topic(s): MTSS , Social-Emotional Learning , Equity

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