SEL is Key

Intentionally growing together, today and every day.

March 27, 2020 is the first International social and emotional learning (SEL) Day and has been proclaimed Austin SEL Day by Mayor Steve Adler. During this time of social distancing due to COVID-19, we have an opportunity to reflect on the value of SEL for our children and ourselves.

Image of Austin SEL Day proclamation letter from Austin, TX, Mayor Steve Adler

Human beings engage in social and emotional learning every moment of every day, either intentionally or unintentionally. As social beings, we have the capacity to be aware of our and others’ emotions, manage our emotions, build meaningful relationships, and make responsible decisions; or, we may struggle with these skills, depending upon the experiences that shape our worldview. This starts the moment we are born and continues until our last breath.

Our brains are wired to learn through social interaction. We internalize expectations that are taught with or without intent through our relationships with our parents, family members, friends, teachers, co-workers, and partners over the course of a lifetime. Depending upon those individuals, we will learn attitudes, behaviors and dispositions that may contribute to our long-term health, happiness, and goal achievement or not. When SEL is not an intentional and consistent practice, those long-term outcomes are not as predictable and equitable as they might otherwise be.

Austin Statesman Article: How Social Distancing is Bringing Families Together

From the board room, to the classroom, to the living room.

Over the past decade, school districts and communities have come to understand and value the power of intentional social and emotional learning for children and adults throughout the United States and across the globe. Austin ISD was one of the first urban school districts to embrace and prioritize SEL. Over the past nine years, we have built a system of intentionality for school environments that seeks to create common language for learners of all ages to support growth and resilience. Additionally, data indicates that strong implementation of SEL improves test scores, reduces discipline rates, and increases pro-social behavior.

Each campus community in Austin ISD engages in SEL in a way that is informed by its own data, setting goals to create processes that support both academics and SEL. Adults learn together so they can model the skill-sets students need to achieve their own goals. By creating shared agreements for the ways in which members of the community engage with one another and approach their learning, students and adults are able to feel the sense of belonging that comes with embracing their own identity and honoring the unique gifts each person brings. This creates an environment of collaborative learning and resilience that builds academic tenacity over time.

Recognizing the enormous role families serve in building their children’s social and emotional competencies and engaging them in the intentional practices the campus is putting in place is imperative. This process enables children to see the connections between different aspect of their lives, transferring skills into multiple environments while honoring the teachings and customs of their own families and cultures. At a time when schools are closed in order to keep everyone safe, families’ ability to engage in social and emotional learning with their children is paramount.

Austin ISD’s SEL department offers resources for families to engage in SEL at home:

Austin ISD’s SEL At-Home

The human brain cannot access learning without a feeling of safety and belonging. SEL is key to ensuring environments are created for optimal teaching and learning. In this way, we build strong communities that radiate out to the city at large. Today is International SEL Day and has been proclaimed Austin’s first SEL Day: let’s celebrate the beauty of our diversity and the many ways we intentionally grow our next generation, together.

Authored by Caroline Chase, assistant director of Austin ISD’s SEL department

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