Social and Emotional Learning Skills are Academic Skills

Until fairly recently, the theory of educating young people in America has been dichotomous: Go to school, learn stuff about things in the world from teachers, and then come home to the “family setting” to learn how to “be a person.” Teachers and schools have traditionally been viewed as purveyors of “hard skills,” or academic content: math proofs, the scientific method, grammar, historical knowledge. “Soft skills,” or concepts around relationships, morality, emotional regulation, responsible decision-making, and getting along with others have been considered non-academic skills, relegated to “figuring it out” in life outside school.

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Classrooms are where we learn to be people!

Of course, teachers and students have known for millennia that learning doesn’t happen without relationships in the classroom and emotional awareness. Human brains are hardwired to connect with one another, and learning takes place when human connections are strong and humans feel safe and welcome in learning spaces. The academic skills we associate with traditional school don’t even register in the brains of young people without addressing the so-called “soft skills” of relationship building, self management, effective collaboration, selective vulnerability, etc. More and more research confirms that, indeed, social and emotional skills are academic skills.

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How do academics directly connect to SEL?

The Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning offers five SEL competencies, and the ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) gives concrete examples of how these competencies directly integrate with academic concepts, based on Common Core standards:

Self-Awareness

  • Use context to confirm or self-correct word recognition and understanding, rereading as necessary. (Reading/Foundational Skills/Grade 5)
  • Introduce a topic or text clearly, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure in which ideas are logically grouped to support the writer’s purpose. (Writing/Grade 5)

Self-Management

  • Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach. (Writing/Grade 5)
  • [Mathematically proficient students] monitor and evaluate their progress and change course if necessary. (Math Practice Standard 1)

Social Awareness

  • Describe how a narrator’s or speaker’s point of view influences how events are described. (Speaking and Listening/Grade 5)
  • Engage in a range of collaborative discussions with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly. (Speaking and Listening/Grade 5)

Relationship Skills

  • With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed. (Writing/Grade 5)
  • [Mathematically proficient students] justify their conclusions, communicate them to others, and respond to the arguments of others. (Math Practice Standard

Responsible Decision-Making

  • Come to discussions prepared, having read or studied required material. (Speaking and Listening/Grade 5)
  • Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions and carry out assigned roles. (Speaking and Listening/Grade 5)

Edutopia offers this case study on how the large urban school district in Nashville, Tennessee, has been intentional with integrating SEL and academic skills across all schools and levels. Here is the Austin ISD research brief demonstrating the positive academic outcomes that our ongoing district-wide commitment to Social and Emotional Learning has produced. The numbers speak for themselves – SEL skills = academic learning!

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How do you link social and emotional learning in your education space to boost academic learning? Teachers and school leaders are the true experts! Let us know in the comments and by tagging us on social media: @austinisdsel!

 

Many Mindful March Moments!

Ah, March – the midpoint of the spring semester.  It’s a great time to lock in some strategies for self-care and mindfulness, especially as testing season starts to ramp up.  We’ve discussed mindfulness in this blog before, and our school district even has its very own Mindfulness Specialist! He got his start helping pre-kindergarteners learn to “pay attention, in a particular way, in the present moment, on purpose, and non-judgementally” (Per Jon Kabat-Zinn!).

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At its essence, the practice of mindfulness is a chance to choose one’s response to life events, large and small, significant and mundane.  Here’s a short video from Happify for a concise and adorable explanation:

Exercising the Superpower

Since the concept of mindfulness has gotten more attention lately (in large part due to positive research findings!), there are many resources available to help build a practice.  And don’t forget: a practice can just be reminding one’s self to take a breath once in a while, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally!  The breath is the present we can always return to, and the tool we can always use. Beyond just breathing, check out these other great ideas:

Here are 22 simple mindfulness exercises and activities, geared toward grown ups!

Done with those 22 already?  Here are 71 more methods for occupying the present moment!

Want to try some mindfulness out on your kid?  Check out this New York Times article that’s browseable by child age, from newborn to teenager!

Interested in integrating mindfulness into a classroom? Edutopia’s got you!

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There are many mindfulness experts teaching already in Austin ISD and beyond – how do you do mindfulness in your life and work?  Let us know in the comments, and tag us on social media: @austinisdsel! See y’all out there in a near-future present moment!

 

Get your Compassion On in February!

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It’s been coming for a month now: increasing red hearts in various retail establishments, culminating in brilliant crimson displays of chocolate boxes, cards and stuffed animals. Perhaps the heart-shaped Valentine focus of February can start to seem a little cloying!

But there’s something to all these hearts everywhere…science shows that our actual hearts, the ones that pump blood tirelessly around our bodies our whole lives, benefit from acts of kindness and compassion toward ourselves and other humans.  So let’s get our hearts out on our sleeves in the name of science!
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Compassion – What is it?

According to Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center:

Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.

Compassion is not the same as empathy or altruism, though the concepts are related. While empathy refers more generally to our ability to take the perspective of and feel the emotions of another person, compassion is when those feelings and thoughts include the desire to help. Altruism, in turn, is the kind, selfless behavior often prompted by feelings of compassion, though one can feel compassion without acting on it, and altruism isn’t always motivated by compassion.

Got it! So how do I get started?

Luckily, the internet is full of ways to invite more compassion into our lives, for the benefit of all of us!

Ready to get out there and fill February with compassion? Share your plan with us in the comments, or tag us on social media: @austinisdsel!

Equity New Year to You!

Happy 2019 y’all!  The new year represents a moment to examine ourselves and our practices – personally and professionally, individually and collectively.  As educators working to create the best possible learning environments for ALL students, the turn of the year provides an important opportunity to consider how we create equity in our schools.

Skills learned through social and emotional learning support positive student outcomes and district equity initiatives. Check out the AIR researcher Jameela Conway-Turner discussing the link between social and emotional learning and equity:

How are we growing our capacity for equity work locally?

In recent years, our diverse district has deepened its commitment to intentional equity work in our schools, and examining and disrupting systems that perpetuate inequity, specifically racism, and the oppression of marginalized populations.  Our cultural proficiency and inclusiveness department, run by Angela Ward, Administrative Supervisor of Race and Equity, recently received a major Educational Innovation and Research (EIR) Grant to implement culturally responsive restorative practices in 10 schools.  This grant, from the US Department of Education, seeks to examine how our district’s commitment to restorative practices impacts glaring inequity in disciplinary actions and academic performance in schools.

From the AISD press release:

“With the restorative process, we’re aiming to build a positive classroom and school environment that helps students cultivate a high level of belonging and trust to engage with peers and adults in the school,” said Angela Ward, Administrative Supervisor of Race & Equity.

“The grant aims to lessen the use of suspensions and expulsions and their disproportionate impact on students with disabilities and students of color. Restorative practices build upon the district’s ongoing efforts to address equitable outcomes for our diverse student body,” said Michelle Wallis, Executive Director of Innovation and Development.

The 10 campuses participating in this grant have a dedicated Restorative Practice Associate based on-site, whose job is to work with campus leaders and staff to build a restorative culture rooted in each school’s unique environment and needs. This intentional focus on building culturally-responsive, restorative schools that cultivate positive relationships between all the members of the educational community will profoundly affect behavior and academic outcomes.

Walking the Talk

Educators and school leaders in our district have increasing opportunities to engage with professional development around educational equity, anti-racism work and cultural proficiency. In recent years, three CP&I cohorts have been held in which participants engage in personal and collective work on cultural proficiency. These cohorts continue to work on building professional learning experiences for colleagues to deepen understanding around the importance of culturally-responsive, anti-racist teaching and learning.  New teachers and teachers new to our district receive intentional cultural proficiency professional development as part of our August on-boarding process, and many campuses have participated in book studies of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by Zaretta Hammond, a profoundly influential figure in our district’s ongoing work.

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Keep it up!

There is so much work to be done! We continue to move forward together as a district, as an educational community, and as a part of a growing, crucial national conversation around disrupting inequitable and oppressive systems and practices in public schools.  Ready for more? Check out these resources!

American Institute for Research Equity Project

US Department of Education Equity of Opportunity

Center for Public Education article: Educational Equity: What Does it Mean, and How Do We Know When We Reach It?

Educational Equity Resources from EduTopia

Civil Rights in Education Database: look up any school to see discipline and academic data!

EdWeek Article on the relationship between SEL and educational equity/anti-racism work

Greater Good Berkeley article on SEL skills needed to discuss race in the classroom

How will you disrupt oppressive systems and move educational equity work forward in your sphere of influence in 2019? Let us know in the comments, and tag us on social media: @austinisdsel!

December: Spotlight on Service

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The last month of the year in the northern hemisphere is filled with celebrations from many cultures, often honoring the winter solstice, the turning of the seasons, and the connection with family and community.  It can get hectic, of course, and pressure to buy presents and attend social events can narrow our focus toward material concerns and stressful experiences. Because of this, December is a great time to recenter our attention on the deep origins of myriad global holidays: celebrating love and life, and our human connection to one another. One way to reshape our focus is to consider ways we might serve our fellow humans.

Serving You Serves Me Too!

Most people who have participated in acts of service and volunteerism for causes they care about will report that they feel good, and maybe personally fulfilled, during and after the service. But, could it be that authentic altruistic service to others has measurable physical and emotional health benefits? This article from the New York Times explores this idea for young people, and this post from Harvard Health Publishing looks at it for adults in general. This post from HHP examines studies about volunteerism and specific benefits to heart health and lowered blood pressure. Although there is no medical evidence of a direct link between volunteerism and better health, the correlations found in current research are intriguing and promising.

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Learning Through Service

There is no doubt that communities generally benefit from service-oriented individuals, and schools offer students, faculty and families unique opportunities to do intentional, authentic service within their community.  When carefully scaffolded and crafted, service learning experiences can be deeply educational for students and teachers.

Best practices in education often mention making “real-world” connections to subject matter presented in classrooms, as well as giving students choice and voice to engage with content in ways that are relevant to them.  Well-presented service learning projects are rich opportunities for students to make those real-world connections to learning, and have that learning be personally meaningful and lasting.

Vanderbilt University gives an excellent definition and breakdown of the benefits of service learning in educational environments, including:

Learning Outcomes

  • Positive impact on students’ academic learning
  • Improves students’ ability to apply what they have learned in “the real world”
  • Positive impact on academic outcomes such as demonstrated complexity of understanding, problem analysis, problem-solving, critical thinking, and cognitive development
  • Improved ability to understand complexity and ambiguity

Personal Outcomes

  • Greater sense of personal efficacy, personal identity, spiritual growth, and moral development
  • Greater interpersonal development, particularly the ability to work well with others, and build leadership and communication skills

Social Outcomes

  • Reduced stereotypes and greater inter-cultural understanding
  • Improved social responsibility and citizenship skills
  • Greater involvement in community service after graduation

The Gift of Service

Need ideas for how to get more service and volunteering in your life? The internet is full of them! Check out this list of 10 kid-friendly service projects! Read more about service learning and get some great inspiration from Edutopia! Fill your soul with the power of young people doing all kinds of great things at DoSomething! Explore family-oriented service projects from Doing Good Together! What thoughts do you have about incorporating service into your life or classroom practice?  Let us know in the comments, or tag us @austinisdsel!  We wish you warmth and happiness this holiday season, and look forward to 2019 together!

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Speak Gratitude in November!

With November, we head into the holiday homestretch of the year. This is the time when life can start to feel pretty hectic! (As if it wasn’t already in October….) The building of  anticipation for the holiday season can be a reminder to mindfully slow down, take a pause, and consider gratitude.

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Growing a sense of gratitude is certainly a relevant topic, as it is a big part of social and emotional learning (not just a theme in November!). Per the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence,

Gratitude acknowledges connection….When we contemplate our place in the intricate, interdependent network of life, we feel wonder and joy. That realization can lead us to express thanksgiving.

And you know how much the Austin ISD Social and Emotional Learning team loves to talk about connection, right? It’s one of the most fundamental aspects of authentic learning! Gratitude also has documented benefits for the physical body; again from the YCEI:

Not only is gratitude a warm and uplifting way to feel, it benefits the body as well. People who experience gratitude cope better with stress, recover more quickly from illness, and enjoy more robust physical health, including lower blood pressure and better immune function.

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Let’s Get Grateful!

For something with so many concrete physical and psychological benefits, trying out a gratitude practice can be as simple as writing down, or even just intentionally saying out loud, something you’re grateful for each day.  Really. It can be that simple. But, of course, the internet is full of ideas for gratitude practices for every walk of life:

We often think of gratitude as an externally-directed emotion, but intentionally practicing thankfulness and compassion toward ourselves is just as important:

Practice the Practice

How will you invite more gratitude into your family, classroom and/or life this November? Do you hope to start a practice that can be taken into 2019 and beyond? Let us know by tagging @austinisdsel around social media, and dropping us a comment!  We sure are grateful for you!

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October Balance

We’ve made it to October, SEL Fans – the month in which Fall really begins to begin here in Central Texas. Educators everywhere are presenting the core of their content, and often managing myriad tasks both personally and professionally.  It’s a lovely time of year, but it also can be one of the most stressful times. Therefore, it’s the perfect moment to consider balance in our lives.

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The concept of work-life balance can be challenging–we all have so many things to do, and now we’re also supposed to make sure we’re prioritizing self-care, being mindful, and all that other stuff?  How do we even start to think about work-life balance?

Let’s Get Balanced!

Luckily, teachers are resourceful and willing to share, and two dynamic educators from Bedicheck Middle School wrote this article as a guest post all about how to infuse our school lives with more balance!

Christine Carter, author, sociologist, and life coach, offers these concrete tips for ways to feel more loved and connected, enjoy today more, and ease feelings of overwhelm.  She also suggests the following about the idea of “multi-tasking:”

The human brain did not evolve to focus on many things at once; it evolved to focus on one thing at a time. And so the brain does not actually ever multitask. It can’t actually run multiple apps at any one time; it can only switch rapidly between tasks. This is a giant energy drain for your brain.

Her whole premise is, if we give ourselves permission to do less, we actually become more productive. How about that for work-life balance! She even has a whole free online course about it! (For when you have the time. ;))

Bringing it back to education specifically, check out some online resources about teacher work-life balance here, here, and here.  And this article presents ideas for teachers, by teachers, especially about balancing school and family life.

Being an educator is hard work, and heart work, and can certainly be stressful. It’s often hard to see the impact of the effort we put in every day.  Remember that you are indeed making an impact, more than you may ever know, and that you deserve care, rest, and joy!

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How will you invite some balance into your life this October? Let us know by tagging @austinisdsel on social media, and leaving your thoughts in the comments! We are so glad you are out there.