In the era of initiative fatigue, the last thing most teachers need is another program that promises to improve teacher wellbeing, reduce stress, and benefit classroom management. So let’s not have that conversation. Instead, let’s talk about real, sustainable, systemic change for the better.
On Monday, TransformEd and the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy (“Rennie Center”) kicked off the second year of the exSEL Network with a cohort of districts from southern Massachusetts. Hosted at Weymouth High School, educators came together for the first of several sessions on students’ social-emotional development and the power of creating safe and supportive learning environments.
One of the most exciting parts of any school year is when educators come together to celebrate a shared vision of how they, as a community, can support their students. Last week, TransformEd joined faculty and staff from Andover (MA) Public Schools for a start-of-the-year kick-off gathering built around a unifying theme: students’ social-emotional learning (SEL).
Nowhere is a data-informed approach to social-emotional learning more pronounced than in California’s CORE Districts, which embarked on a groundbreaking effort in 2013 to capture a more holistic vision of student success and school quality. There, eight of the largest districts in the state have incorporated Social-Emotional (SE) and Culture and Climate (CC) survey data into their measurement systems. Research on these measures, led by Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), reveals encouraging results: that student self-reporting on these measures is valid and reliable for driving continuous improvement in practice. But what does continuous improvement look like on the ground in these California schools?
Multi-tiered systems of support, or MTSS, are based on a simple and positive premise: We should use data to teach in ways that build on student strengths and address student needs. At its best, MTSS guides educators to use assessment data to teach in the most effective way possible.
In addition to my job as Director of District Partnerships at TransformEd, I have been, for a number of years, a project scholar for the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture, an interdisciplinary research center at the University of Virginia. There, I work with a variety of scholars to explore how U.S. high schools, including private, religious, independent, charter and public schools, approach character development among their students. My specific work has focused on the rural public-school sector (as defined by the National Center for Educational Statistics), about which I wrote a chapter that was recently published in Content of Their Character: Inquiries into the Varieties of Moral Formation. It consists of descriptive analysis of student character formation at six rural public high schools in the United States during the 2014–2015 and 2015–2016 school years. The analysis is based on classroom observation, school documents, and administrator, parent, teacher, and student interviews.
There’s a palpable, growing urgency to focus on social-emotional learning (SEL) in our schools. Education experts and policymakers recognize that building healthy relationships and responsible decision-making matters to student outcomes, and teachers overwhelmingly acknowledge that SEL is important to learning. Meanwhile, recent “staggering statistics” reveal the high rate at which today’s students suffer from mental illness and trauma – conditions which certain SEL-related practices can work to address. For these reasons and others, more and more educators are seeking to intentionally cultivate learning environments that help students develop socially and emotionally.
Though many studies have shown that teachers have large effects on student achievement, we know little about the degree to which teachers affect a broader set of student outcomes. In a new paper forthcoming in the Journal of Human Resources, I explore how teachers affect a range of student skills and competencies beyond those measured by multiple-choice tests.
I first heard of growth mindset about three years ago when I had to do a mandatory professional development module at the end of the school year for my district. At a time when I am usually run-down and exhausted, this learning exhilarated me: I realized growth mindset could be a game-changer in the classroom. Carol Dweck says, “In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching, and persistence. They don't necessarily think everyone's the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”
Demand for social-emotional learning (SEL) is growing – but it’s not a new phenomenon. Education experts and policymakers recognize that building healthy relationships and responsible decision-making matters to student outcomes. Most schools are already implementing some type of SEL program or practice, and, in terms of both instructional resources and teacher time, education systems invest heavily in SEL. Moreover, in a recent EdWeek article on the need for SEL in schools, Peter DeWitt shares “staggering statistics” from the American Psychiatric Association, National Institute of Mental Health, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that reveal the high rate at which today’s students suffer from mental illness and trauma.