Education leaders are navigating uncharted territory as they plan for school re-entry after a global pandemic.
While each district is writing its own script, it’s more important than ever to break down silos between schools and collaborate on strategies for moving forward. As Adam Smith, executive director of student services at Mehlville School District, put it: “We learn more together.”
In June 2020, as part of Panorama’s Celebrating Resilience: A Summer Series, we hosted a virtual meet-up for nearly 100 state, school, and district leaders from across Kansas and Missouri. The goal: to connect education leaders who are committed to prioritizing equity and SEL as they collectively traverse the many unknowns of return to school this fall.
This virtual community meetup included breakout rooms for peer-sharing, interactive presentations from Liberty Public Schools (MO) and Mehlville School District (MO), and professional learning on how to approach reopening with an eye towards equity and cultural responsiveness.
Here is a list of our top takeaways from the meetup that you can share back with your team.
“If you solicit data from students and staff, you have a moral obligation to use the data to benefit the students and staff you solicited it from.” @LIBERTYSCHOOLS speaking about the district’s #SEL journey at @PanoramaEd’s virtual community meetup #inthistogetherLPS #SELchat— Kim Lawson (@kalm71) June 16, 2020
Key Takeaways From Our Virtual Meetup With District Leaders in Kansas and Missouri
All students will return to school this fall having experienced trauma
When schools reopen this fall, all students (and staff) will be coming back having experienced some level of trauma. Some students will be socially overstimulated. Others will struggle with increased academic demands. Many will need to readjust their sleep patterns.
In several breakout rooms, individuals emphasized the importance of social-emotional learning for all students. They also spoke about the imperative of generating universal buy-in for SEL in general education classrooms, versus targeted SEL instruction for only students in Tier 2 and/or Tier 3.
Jessica Meisenheimer, director of special programs at Liberty Public Schools, explained how her team is planning to address the evolving needs of students:
"When our students return in September, it will have been almost six months that they have been away from us. These students have likely experienced significant trauma since schools closed. We must figure out what cultural, personal, academic and emotional supports they need."
–Dr. Jessica Meisenheimer, Director of Special Programs
Seek to understand how students, staff, and families have experienced distance learning
To better understand student, staff, and family needs in this period of uncertainty and upheaval, several district leaders spoke about the need to capture data to inform decision-making.
Earlier this spring, Mehlville School District administered three new surveys to assess the impact of distance learning and the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). According to Adam Smith, executive director of student services in Mehlville, the district rolled out:
- A distance learning and wellbeing/SEL survey for students in grades 3-12;
- A distance learning and wellbeing/SEL survey for K-12 staff, and;
- A community needs survey for all families, PreK-12.
It’s critical for us to understand how students, staff, and family experienced the transition to distance learning. But it’s equally important to know how they are functioning as human beings, and what resources and support they need at home.
For Christopher Hand, director of assessment at Liberty Public Schools, continuing with similar assessments into the fall will be crucial to inform district-wide decisions.
"Schools are data rich and learner information poor. We have lots of data at our fingertips, but we don’t always know how to put it into action. We need to alter our processes to: (1) consider student voice, and; (2) learn how to look at the data to inform decisions."
–Christopher Hand, Director of Assessment
Act on data to respond to the multi-dimensional needs of your community
What should districts actually do with the data that they have collected? Christopher Hand emphasized moving from data collection to taking action on the data. According to Hand, “If you solicit data from students and staff, you have a moral obligation to use the data to benefit the students and staff you solicited it from.”
In the context of schools reopening, much of this work will involve prioritizing students’ social and emotional needs—getting students to a space where they feel comfortable, safe, and engaged enough to learn.
"You have to reach the heart before you can reach the head. The heart is the strongest muscle in the body. This fall, our teachers have to start with the heart and build trust again with students." @LIBERTYSCHOOLS at @PanoramaEd’s virtual community meetup #inthistogetherLPS #SEL— Dr. Amy St John (@AmyStJohn4) June 16, 2020
For example—summer school is already underway at Liberty Public Schools, with over 200 students participating virtually. The Liberty team is helping educators implement SEL strategies alongside academic content to ensure a focus on developing the whole child.
In Mehlville, the district is exploring ways to help families address their children’s social and emotional needs this summer. Brian Smith, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, outlined how Mehlville School District is providing additional resources for parents by sharing lesson plans and SEL activities from Panorama’s Playbook—an online library of strategies typically used by educators and counselors.