When educators make over 1,500 decisions on a daily basis, how do we ensure that these choices are consistently oriented toward the holistic development of each of our students? This is the question that our team at Detroit Prep and Detroit Achievement Academy sets out to answer each school year as we develop our annual goals. As proud EL Education schools, we believe that a strong school culture is the foundation of our students’ development as learners, leaders, and world changers. But while culture and character development are paramount, there’s an ongoing balancing act — if we focus on social emotional learning, are we sacrificing mastery of knowledge and skills? How can we ensure the quality of students’ work is high while also encouraging them to be ethical people? We’re committed to finding this balance; for our adult crew, this means using a range of data to inform our big-picture plans and decisions so that our minute-by-minute choices have the greatest positive impact for our students.
To get a balcony-level view of our SEL data that inform and steer our daily decisions, our team has adopted the use of improvement science to work with teachers, social workers, and school leaders to develop a hypothesis, create a plan, implement the plan, study the data we collect, and act on that data. We created a protocol that provides a structure for discussing our culture data every 6-8 weeks in professional development (and can also be used as needed!):
- Norming: We spend time revisiting our common understanding of positive social emotional development, as well as our shared definitions of off-culture behaviors using our Habits of Character Continuum and Behavior Tiers.
- Analyzing: We dig into a range of data for each crew, identifying strengths and opportunities for growth. Our leadership team shares trends from the SEL data from the current school year. Our team analyzes student surveys on their sense of belonging and levels of trust, observational data on our six habits of character, and data on our off-culture behaviors (social work and disciplinary referrals).
- Acting: Based on the strengths and opportunities, we identify the next move that will support and empower students, and how we’ll monitor progress.
- Reflecting: We revisit the next steps at the end of the cycle to celebrate success, codify learnings, and identify additional actions needed.
These discussions enable our school team to make shifts in practice related to what our students are sharing, either directly or indirectly, about their needs and refine systems, procedures, and mindsets to ensure equity and holistic growth for all learners. For example, our student survey data indicated that students were not connecting their Habit of Character learning targets from morning meeting to other times throughout the day. As a result, teachers have incorporated more explicit connections between the social emotional learning target and academic learning, for example, explicitly naming how students show perseverance by trying again in math. As these data-driven shifts become habits, we move closer to finding the balance.