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Social-Emotional Learning

How to Lead Adult SEL in School Districts: 4 Experts Share Best Practices and Tips

To improve social, emotional, and academic outcomes for students, it has become increasingly clear that we also need to support teacher wellness and social-emotional development.

Now more than ever, educators are on the front lines of addressing students' challenges that extend far beyond academics.

Kathy FitzJefferies, Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program Manager at North Carolina's Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, said it well:

"We can only bring people as far as we've come ourselves in our journey with social-emotional learning. We can't give what we don't have. If I'm not taking care of myself, I will have nothing to give or I will end up burning out. It's not just a student services job. It's on all of us to take care of students' SEL."

Yet, adult social-emotional learning (SEL) is still an emerging field. For many of you, leading adult SEL may be uncharted territory. How can you develop programs, resources, and activities to support adults' own self-care and well-being in schools? How can you shift adult mindsets and help them understand, develop, and model SEL skills for students? How can we reimagine our approach to supporting our educators and teammates during this new civil rights movement and a global pandemic?

To help you navigate these waters, we've rounded up some incredible adult SEL experts to share best practices and advice. 

Download this Adult SEL Toolkit to access Panorama's top activities, worksheets, and resources for leading adult SEL.

Best Practice #1: Lead by example.

rachel kambRachel Kamb, Education Product Manager, Committee for Children

As with any initiative, you have to have your leadership team on board. That's both at a district level and site level. Send the message that you are prioritizing it. The principal should develop a leadership team of teachers. In addition, adult SEL is a process. You can't just do it at the beginning of the year on a professional development day and think you're done with it. I still have to practice every single day, and I've been doing this for 13 years. Think about ways to integrate adult SEL into your school fabric over time. Our approach is incremental learning over time: small, bite-sized pieces for teachers to do over a manageable amount of time. You also want to prioritize time for small-group learning.

rhonda-harrisRhonda G. Harris, M.Ed. Social Emotional Learning Specialist, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (NC)

In Charlotte Mecklenburg, adult SEL begins with our executive staff. They are in key positions to be models. We've started by incorporating CASEL's three core signature practices. Our administrators need to speak about the significance of the practices and walk the talk. As many times as we can, we engage and practice.

We are also doing a lot with restorative practices; that is, modeling restorative practices and restorative conversations to prepare our educators to host those types of conversations in the classroom. It helps to create spaces that are transparent so that students can understand their teachers are humans with their own struggles.

Best Practice #2: Connect with teachers and gather data to inform action plans and supports.

kathy-fitzjefferiesKathy FitzJefferies, Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program Manager, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools (NC)

We're in year three of intentional implementation of social, emotional, and academic learning (SEAL). As part of this process, we are going out to schools, connecting with teachers, and looking at the story that's unfolding in front of us. We use Panorama surveys for students, staff, teachers, and families to understand what our community is telling us about school climate and relationships. In the data from teachers, it was obvious that there were struggles for them. We knew that we needed to address adult SEL. Having the Panorama data has been eye opening. We're now doing workshops on SEL for adults, not just for kids. The data has also driven us to include adult SEL in strategic plans. We're trying to help administrators ensure that they're integrating SEL into staff meetings consistently so it becomes part of what it means to support each other.

You can't pour from an empty cup. We, as educators, can't support students unless we are supporting ourselves first.

Best Practice #3: Show teachers how it is possible by equipping them with tools to practice SEL and wellness.

rena-keithRená Keith, M.Ed, Social and Emotional Interventionist, Johnston County Public Schools (NC)

We need to step back and show teachers how this is possible. A lot of teachers might ask, "How?" or say, "I'm not a counselor." It's important to equip them and to show them examples of how to do this. As educators, we need to learn how to connect with each other, our families, and our students. We will be able to increase student achievement if we do care that our students like us. We need to be vulnerable, tell the truth, and connect with each other.  

Educators need to be heard, they need to be cared for, and they need to be brought into schoolwide decision-making processes in a genuine way. It starts with leaders at the top conveying respect for teachers as people and as valued members of our school communities. 

rhonda-harrisRhonda G. Harris, M.Ed. Social Emotional Learning Specialist, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (NC)

Research talks about teacher self-efficacy being associated with their social-emotional learning. As we go through our daily operations and focus on core practices, we're also focusing on core practices when it comes to adult social-emotional intelligence, such as taking a moment to greet students and to greet each other in professional learning communities (PLCs). 

We have to take an approach of making sure that there are spaces available for adults to practice their social-emotional skills. We intentionally carve out spaces for students to cultivate their own SEL skills; we must create (and model) these same spaces for adults to practice their SEL skills in the same way that we do with our students. 

kathy-fitzjefferiesKathy FitzJefferies, Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program Manager, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools (NC)

When we looked at our staff responses to the school climate survey, one elementary school teacher said, "We're raining on our students, and it's going to impact them." With adult SEL, it's a matter of teaching skills as well as empowering teachers. We have an alternative school where students are coming in with trauma. This year, we started integrating new activities from Panorama's Playbook and asked teachers to try out the SEL activities themselves before they did it in classroom. One teacher was highly resistant to doing the activities. The first activity was working on visioning boards. After doing it themselves, the teachers were to report back on their experience doing the activity with students. To our surprise, one of the first report-backs was the most resistant teacher. The teacher showed us a student's visioning board, which said, "In the new year, I want to improve my vocabulary because I cuss a lot. I want to try not cussing for a whole day." It was an incredible demonstration of how it all flows together. It started with teacher saying, "You have do something to fix these kids." But in encouraging teachers to try these activities themselves, the teachers were learning the skills that they want their students to have. 

Interested in learning more about adult SEL? Explore these other resources from Panorama:

Topic(s): Social-Emotional Learning

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