“We want to bring SEL into our district, but we don’t want to add more to our teachers’ plates.”
Many district leaders understand the importance of social-emotional learning for their students, but are rightfully concerned about the additional responsibility this might be for classroom teachers.
Leaders at Elizabeth Public Schools (NJ) faced a similar concern. Administrators and mental health teams have worked closely with teachers to build buy-in for social-emotional learning measurement and support their capacity to bring SEL lessons into classrooms in a sustainable way. Since partnering with Panorama in 2018, the district has expanded from a pilot program of five schools to measuring student SEL district-wide in 2020-21.
We spoke with Christine Concepcion, School Culture and Climate Coach, Anthony DiDonato, Supervisor of Guidance Counselors, and Peter Vosseler, Supervisor of Anti-Bullying/EEOC, about the strategies they used to build buy-in for and expand SEL measurement across the district.
"When I was a social worker in the schools, the one thing that I always was stuck on was needing SEL data. I never found anything that we could quantify and use to drive SEL learning and instruction. Then we came across Panorama."
—Peter Vosseler, Supervisor of Anti-Bullying/EEOC, Elizabeth Public Schools (NJ)
How did the district build initial buy-in to partner with Panorama for SEL measurement?
Peter Vosseler, Supervisor of Anti-Bullying/EEOC: When I was a social worker in the schools, the one thing that I always was stuck on was needing SEL data. There’s plenty of academic data, but I never found anything that we could quantify and use to drive SEL learning and instruction. Then we came across Panorama.
In our first year, we knew that implementing the surveys was going to be a daunting task, given the multiple complexities of our district and the responsibilities that everybody has. We piloted Panorama in five of our schools. We knew getting buy-in would be difficult, so we chose schools with administrators that we felt were most open to SEL. As the years have gone on and we’ve expanded to more schools, more staff and administrators are open to the importance of SEL.
When developing our surveys, the staff and administrators worked together to examine the various competencies and choose which ones we wanted to measure. We all voted and chose six: Emotional Regulation, Growth Mindset, Teacher-Student Relationships, Sense of Belonging, Engagement, and School Safety.
Panorama District Survey Data (demo data pictured)
Anthony DiDonato, Supervisor of Guidance Counselors: We were able to get early buy-in from staff by presenting the data and sharing our goals and intentions. We needed to be clear that this is not part of our evaluation techniques, or to criticize what's going on in a classroom. In order to conceptualize an SEL survey to our academic-minded peers, we emphasized the connection between improving academic performance and addressing social and emotional issues with our students. The more stakeholder buy-in you can receive, the better you'll be in implementing your SEL goals.
"In order to conceptualize an SEL survey to our academic-minded peers, we emphasized the connection between improving academic performance and addressing social and emotional issues with our students. The more stakeholder buy-in you can receive, the better you'll be in implementing your SEL goals."
—Anthony DiDonato, Supervisor of Guidance Counselors, Elizabeth Public Schools (NJ)
How did the district work specifically with teachers to roll out Panorama?
Christine Concepcion, School Culture and Climate Coach: I think that buy-in with teachers is always very difficult. Teachers are working long days--there's not a lot of downtime to look through data. When we introduced Panorama to our school, it was spearheaded by our mental health team. But it was important for us to work closely with our teachers. They are the ones who see the students during every part of the day, all of their highs and lows. They are the experts on our students in terms of behavior.
When the data from the first survey came back, we met with our teachers to get information about how our teachers felt and what they thought about the program. We found that the data surprised some of our teachers, both in a positive and negative way. It was really important for us to talk with our teachers and remind them that this is not a personal reflection of you as a teacher or of your classroom culture. It’s a student’s perception, and perceptions change and are fluid.
We needed to meet those feelings--if any staff member feels personally attacked by data, or feels like this isn't reflective of them, there's going to be resistance. With these SEL surveys, we want to make sure the students have a voice, but we also want to make sure our teachers have a voice as well. The feedback we get from our teachers is data as well. It's not tangible data that we have in our hand, but it's certainly valuable.
Tips for working with teachers to make the most of SEL data:
- During the first year, our mental health team visited classrooms for monthly social-emotional lessons. We wanted to provide support for our teachers and students, to show everyone that we are a team. Social-emotional learning isn’t something that we are “dumping on” to teachers’ plates. We're working collaboratively, making changes as teachers and students see fit.
- We invited teacher feedback on these experiences at meetings throughout the year. Some of the feedback that we received was a general fear that the SEL activities would be therapy-based. We reassured our team that these activities were for building connections and teaching social-emotional skills just like you would teach a student an academic subject.
- As teachers became more comfortable with SEL and we were spending less time in the classrooms, the mental health team took the opportunity to use Panorama data alongside other existing practices in our school. Anything that was going on in the school, we tried to infuse it with Panorama.
- We spoke with teachers and administrators about using survey data to think about areas for growth in the classroom. For example, understanding student areas of strength and growth can inform classroom management strategies.
What are some examples of ways you've taken action on Panorama data?
PV: At the district level, we use this data to plan and react to things happening at the moment. For example, during remote learning, we saw that our engagement was down. So we looked at the data that Panorama provided to see which students might need specific interventions. We also supplemented those with strategies from Panorama’s Playbook.
Panorama's Playbook provides SEL interventions for a variety of topics
CC: One of the really special things about Panorama that's unlike any other program is that it's essentially a toolbox, and you use the tools that are helpful for your school. We look at the data from different angles and create goals based off of that data. In 2020-21, that goal was around sense of belonging.
As a part of increasing our sense of belonging, we worked on building relationships with families. Virtual learning allowed us to “remote” into our students’ homes. We began having a family-centered approach--with remote learning, our families were really the first teachers and we were in the second seat in terms of making sure that our students were getting what they needed academically. To build that relationship, we did virtual family workshops, invited caretakers to participate in open forums, and sent a mindfulness newsletter to our families.
"One of the really special things about Panorama that's unlike any other program is that it's essentially a toolbox, and you use the tools that are helpful for your school."
—Christine Concepcion, School Culture and Climate Coach, Elizabeth Public Schools (NJ)