At Dallas Independent School District, social and emotional learning is the key ingredient within our vision SEL that children and adults are prepared with the necessary skills to lead healthy, productive lives.
Located in Dallas, Texas, our district serves a diverse population of over 153,000 students across 230 schools. SEL Dallas' mission is to foster collaborative communities that promote social and emotional development through in-school and out-of-school programs. We believe that SEL cannot just be the 20 minutes that we set aside for explicit instruction; it needs to be woven into everything that we are doing.
We take an integrated approach to SEL across family engagement, explicit skills instruction, academic integration, culture and climate, and building adult capacity through professional learning.
As the executive director of engagement services at Dallas ISD, I work with my team to oversee all social-emotional learning programs in our district—including our partnership with Panorama. Panorama provides us with research-backed measures to collect and elevate student voices, assess students’ SEL skills, and equip our educators with data to provide targeted social-emotional supports.
In this article, I’m going to share how our SEL work began, what implementation has looked like in our schools and classrooms, and how we use SEL and student experience data to understand the holistic needs of our school communities.
Implementing SEL Systemically at Dallas ISD
Dallas ISD’s SEL work started back in 2016, when our Board of Trustees approved an amendment to our local EHAA (LOCAL) policy to include social and emotional learning standards. Since then, we have developed standards for our district aligned to CASEL's core competencies and collaborated with internal and external stakeholders – including community partners such as Big Thought, Dallas Parks and Recreation, Dallas Afterschool, CASEL, and The Wallace Foundation – to define four interrelated tenets that guide how we serve students and work with each other: relationships, environment, resilience, and engagement.
When it comes to teaching SEL competencies, we take a comprehensive approach in Dallas ISD:
- Dedicating time for explicit SEL skills instruction
- Embedding SEL into the culture and climate of schools through a set of signature practices
- Integrating SEL into our core academic content
- Partnering with families to extend SEL into the home
In our SEL work, we also focus on children and adults alike. It’s important that our staff see themselves as role models in this work and intentionally practice SEL competencies daily. In the same way that we embed our signature practices into the classroom, we embed this philosophy about adult SEL into our professional learning sessions.
"Our goal is that all students have opportunities to develop SEL skills through multiple experiences within a given day. This work should not live in isolation or be separate from existing systems and practices. We need to provide students with chances to learn and practice SEL skills throughout the day."
–Juany Valdespino-Gaytán, Executive Director of Engagement Services
Using SEL Data to Build Supportive Relationships and Self-Efficacy
We have partnered with Panorama for the past five years to administer our student experience survey. But this past spring, when the district shifted to operating remotely due to the pandemic, we quickly realized that while we had so much data, we didn’t have the most important data.
As we started to provide as many resources as we could to families and educators, we started having conversations about the broader implications of the pandemic and remote learning. Fast forward to the beginning of the 2020-21 academic year, when we started to bring some students back into our buildings in October, we decided to administer a Panorama SEL survey to all students in grades three through 12. Our students had been learning remotely for several months, but we needed to hear directly from them. We didn't have the data we needed to address the needs of our students. We needed to know where they were at (socially and emotionally) when they returned and what they needed from us.
"We realized that we had so much data, but we didn't have the most important data. We didn’t have the data we needed to address the needs of our students. We needed to know where they were at (socially and emotionally) when they returned and what they needed from us."
–Juany Valdespino-Gaytán, Executive Director of Engagement Services
We collected individualized responses from 61,000+ students (across 244 schools) through our Panorama SEL survey. We decided to measure four topics on our student SEL survey: Self-Management, Social Awareness, Self-Efficacy, and Supportive Relationships. A valuable aspect of working with Panorama is that we can use their platform to disaggregate our survey data. We can filter results by various demographics and other criteria, giving us the ability to get very specific about the effectiveness of supports for different groups of students.
This helped us to identify one area for celebration from the results: that four out of five students felt that there was at least one supportive relationship in their life. We also saw that two out of every three students believe that they have the skills to self-manage and be socially aware.
These were great indicators, but we also started to discuss how to reach that fifth student who doesn’t feel as though they have a supportive relationship; or how to grow students’ self-efficacy, especially for our secondary students. While our data certainly helped us to celebrate successes in supporting our students, it also highlighted areas for improvement.
Panorama’s platform also allows us to drill a layer deeper to see student-level reporting and view individual “SEL profiles” for each learner, including their development across SEL skills over time. This empowers classroom teachers and school counselors, who might be thinking about whole-group or small-group instruction, to pinpoint the areas that their students need support with.
The responses from Panorama’s SEL survey have directly informed our counselor supports, campus supports, individual teacher supports, and student supports. Another way that our school leaders and educators leverage Panorama is through their professional learning library, Playbook. Panorama partners with leading SEL curriculum providers and non-profit organizations—such as QuaverEd, Newsela, and Learning for Justice—to bring our educators access to lesson plans, activities, and strategies aligned to our survey topics.
Moving forward, we are continuing to empower educators and school counselors with student SEL data to prioritize supportive relationships and accelerate learning recovery in the months to come. We are providing professional development for our executive directors, principals, counselors, mental health clinicians, and teachers to help them understand the survey results and use insights from the data to offer even more targeted supports for our students.
In tandem, we have plans to showcase "SEL exemplar campuses" and coordinate virtual observations so that we can scale successes from schools that have years of experience with SEL implementation. We are also using our Panorama data to advance our family engagement efforts—because we genuinely believe that SEL lives in every part of the day, at school and beyond.
Juany Valdespino-Gaytán is the Executive Director of Engagement Services at Dallas Independent School District in Dallas, Texas.