Cultural Proficiency and Responsiveness: Know about it in November

In Austin ISD, our definition of cultural proficiency is “…when an adult understands that their personal culture and background impacts the students they work with.” Our definition of inclusiveness is “a way of being that shows respect, understanding and acceptance; in which diversity is valued as an asset within the AISD community.” Austin ISD has made a public commitment to cultural proficiency and inclusiveness throughout our district; indeed, it is the foundation of our SEL wheel.

Cultural proficiency is an inside-out approach to examining classroom practices and educational environments; it is the professional educator’s process of examining biases and lived experiences that filter interactions with students, families and colleagues. As we grow our cultural proficiency, we can create ever more culturally responsive classroom environments; working to ensure that every student who walks into our classrooms and schools throughout our district will find safety, connection, engagement, and challenge. Per the National Equity Project‘s definition of educational equity, we strive to:

  • [Ensure] equally high outcomes for all participants in our educational system; removing the predictability of success or failures that currently correlates with any social or cultural factor
  • [Interrupt] inequitable practices, [examine] biases, and [create] inclusive multicultural school environments for adults and children
  • [Discover] and [cultivate] the unique gifts, talents and interests that every human possesses.

So, how do we do it?

Cultural proficiency is a complex personal journey, one that Austin ISD supports with a series of professional learning opportunities presented by and in collaboration with our Office of Cultural Proficiency and Inclusiveness. There are many relevant books that address cultural proficiency for educators, like this excellent list from the Corwin Press. And, of course, Zaretta Hammond’s Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain offers a framework for developing classroom practices via self-reflection and a working understanding of neuroscience; check out her teaching style self-assessment chart!

Hammond also suggests classroom systems and practices that create the foundation for positive relationship building and safety. By increasing the brain’s connecting hormone, oxytocin, and decreasing its stress hormone, cortisol, we create environments conducive to learning with these trust-builders:

Want more concrete ways of building cultural responsiveness into your classroom? Check out this resource on designing a relationship-based learning environment!

Looking for more information on building cultural proficiency, increasing educational equity and actively working toward becoming an anti-racist educator?

How will you build your own cultural proficiency and increase cultural responsiveness in your own educational environment? Let us know in the comments, share your favorite resources, and tag us on social media @austinisdsel! We’re grateful for you – Happy Thanksgiving!

Motivation for Self-Regulation

Do as the octopus do?

October sometimes bears the dubious distinction as one of the toughest months of the whole school session – new year novelty has worn off, high-stakes academic content can feel pressing, and Thanksgiving break is a mere mirage on the vacation horizon. Stress can ramp up, frustrations can flare – and therefore, October is the perfect time to segue from Self-Awareness to Self-Management on our SEL Wheel.

[For the record: an example of a non-human animal who demonstrates extraordinary invertebrate self-management gets a special celebration on October 8th: World Octopus Day! We can all learn from the unorthodox intelligence of the octopus: it can control both the color and texture of its skin for camouflage or communication, use objects from its environment in clever ways for hunting or defense, and make split-second decisions for itself based on the information gathered from each of its semi-autonomous arms. These shell-less swimming chunks of protein have had to develop a lot of self-management over the millennia to avoid predators and effectively reproduce, and all with a decentralized nervous system! Essentially, octopuses learn collectively as an individual entity, which is kind of how classrooms function, am I right? Let’s hear it for octopuses as classroom metaphors and self-management exemplars! But I digress…]

Self-Managment and the Brain

Human self-management skills afford us the capacity to make plans, stay engaged with tough or tedious tasks, regulate our emotions and choose our actions. Self-management has long been associated with the logical, thinking, focusing part of our brain: the prefrontal cortex. However, another, older part of the brain – the one that has a lot to do with our ability to feel empathy with others – has recently been shown to contribute to self-management as well. The research suggests that the very brain structures that allow us to take the perspectives of others also let us think about how our future self would be impacted by our actions in this moment. Thus, we can make choices that benefit our future self, even it’s not the easiest thing for our current self! As explained by The Atlantic Science article,

Empathy depends on your ability to overcome your own perspective, appreciate someone else’s, and step into their shoes. Self-control is essentially the same skill, except that those other shoes belong to your future self—a removed and hypothetical entity who might as well be a different person. So think of self-control as a kind of temporal selflessness. It’s Present You taking a hit to help out Future You.

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/12/self-control-is-just-empathy-with-a-future-you/509726/

How do we build self-management brain power?

Self-Management skills are crucial for both adults and young people, and classrooms are amazing places to explicitly learn, practice, and model these vital skills:

How will you practice, teach, and model self-management skills in your educational environment this October [and beyond!]? Also, how will you celebrate octopus self-management on October 8th? Let us know by tagging us on social media @austinisdsel, and leaving your comments below! See y’all out there, self-managers!

The First Step: Self-Awareness

Welcome back, Austin ISD SEL fans! We’re back with another school year full of exploration and discovery. Your favorite blog about Social and Emotional Learning in Austin ISD [and beyond!] is a hub for resources and an invitation to address the inquiry:

HOW DO WE CREATE SAFE, INCLUSIVE, CULTURALLY RESPONSIVE, ACADEMICALLY ENGAGING, AND EQUITABLE LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS IN WHICH STUDENTS GROW THEIR SEL SKILLS?

Great question! Let’s get to work y’all.

This year, our blog will address the six competencies rooted in and illustrated by the Austin ISD SEL wheel. The wheel is divided into three primary areas, centered around the learner. The learner, from young student to adult educator, will engage in experiences that grow these competencies throughout their lifetime. In a safe, inclusive, culturally responsive, academically engaging and equitable learning environment, we are all able to fundamentally integrate our competencies to the higher level of understanding, which encompasses the skills in the outer ring of the wheel.

We’ll start with the first skill in the top right of our wheel: Self-Awareness!

WHAT IS SELF AWARENESS?

The concept of self-awareness is complex and multifaceted, with definitions ranging from neuroscientific to theological. According to Austin ISD’s Social and Emotional Learning goals, self-awareness involves

[Developing] skills to have knowledge of one’s emotions, [developing] an accurate and positive self-concept, and [recognizing] individual strengths and external support systems.

Our district defines this skill set as:

• Recogniz[ing] emotions and thoughts and their influence on behavior.
• Assess[ing] personal strengths and limitations, and recogniz[ing] that these are not fixed.
• Understand[ing] own cultural and personal identity and how it may inform perceptions of others.

The Center for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL)’s definition for self-awareness is

The ability to accurately recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior. The ability to accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations, with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a “growth mindset.”
– Identifying emotions
– Accurate self-perception
– Recognizing strengths
– Self-confidence
– Self-efficacy

https://casel.org/core-competencies/

How can we support our students’ development of self-awareness?

Edutopia offers strategies and resources around creating classroom environments that grow self-awareness, because

Scientists believe that self-awareness, associated with the paralimbic network of the brain, serves as a “tool for monitoring and controlling our behavior and adjusting our beliefs of the world, not only within ourselves, but, importantly, between individuals.” This higher-order thinking strategy actually changes the structure of the brain, making it more flexible and open to even greater learning.

https://www.edutopia.org/blog/8-pathways-metacognition-in-classroom-marilyn-price-mitchell

Giving students the vocabulary to identify their feelings and moods and establishing class time for checking in on feelings can be a concrete way to build self-awareness in classroom environments. Many educators have successfully incorporated a feelings check-in practice in their classroom using variations of a feelings wheel like this one:

Finally, the concept of mindfulness is a natural companion to the development of self-awareness skills. This Berkeley Greater Good article discusses how mindful self-awareness is key to building empathy, and offers research and resources for developing those interlinked skills. Also, our own James Butler‘s mindfulness newsletter that comes out on a monthly basis is chock full of concrete classroom practices to build mindfulness and self-awareness for educators and students.

How are you planning on helping your students grow self-awareness skills in SY19-20? How do you plan to grow your own self-awareness and reflection practices? Let us know on social media @austinisdsel, and leave us comments below!

In May, We SELebrate!

The SEL Department has a lot to celebrate as we enter the home stretch of SY18-19! The first of our celebrations is you!! Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! Teaching is the concrete empowerment of the future.  It’s the profession that creates all the other professions.  It’s teaching academic content, and the skills humans need to learn and connect with each other.  It’s the hardest work, the heart-est work, the oldest work that gets to the kernel of what it means to be a human being on the earth.  We humans are learners, and teachers perpetuate the best of humanity.  Thank you, AISD educators, for your passion and compassion, your brains and hearts, every single day.

Indeed, celebrating ourselves and each other is an essential part of being human: it gives us the opportunity to grow relationships, inspires us to set new goals, and motivates us to get concrete work toward those goals done. The end of the school year is always a good time to celebrate our many accomplishments, and reflect on where we go from here.

Intentional SELebrating!

Teacher SELebrations

In school year 17-18, the inaugural cohort of Social and Emotional Leadership Pathway teacher participants started their 2 year journey with us.  AISD’s Leadership Pathway is an innovative micro-credentialing process that allows teacher leaders to build capacity in a district-prioritized specialty area.  We are so proud of the 79 SEL teacher leaders who worked hard and completed the first SEL Leadership Pathway!

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Campus SELebrations

Austin ISD has been working to honor our collective Social and Emotional Learning journey by inviting schools throughout our district to become Seed Model Campuses:

This designation is given to schools which effectively demonstrate the process of continual social and emotional growth, and for each successive year they choose to engage in continued documentation of their SEL progress and goal-setting.

In SY 17-18 we had a cohort of 19 campuses; this school year that number has blossomed to 53! Each campus has set goals to drive their intentional, concrete SEL work: effective collection and application of student voice, growing culturally-responsive classrooms, SEL for parents and caregivers, and increased time utilizing mindfulness activities…and that’s just a few.

Part of the Seed Model Campus Cohort commitment is hosting guests to build understanding and capacity for SEL practices; our Seed Model Campuses have inspired and empowered over 100 out-of-district visitors! In addition to being learning sites for people outside the district, our SEL Seed Model Campuses helped many of our assistant principals identify what SEL looks and sounds like on our Austin ISD campuses this year. More of those visits will occur next fall!

Representatives from these schools will share their stories, goals and outcomes, at our Seed Model Share Fair, held at our annual SEL Symposium at McCallum High School on June 11, 2019. Let’s have a huge round of applause for our 2018-2019 Seed Model Campus Cohort!

ELEMENTARY CAMPUSES
Andrews
Baldwin
Barrington
Becker
Blanton
Blazier
Clayton
Cook
Dawson
EDAEP
Graham
Guerrero-Thompson
Gullett
Harris
Highland Park
Kiker
Langford
Lee
Maplewood
Metz
Mills
Norman & Sims
Ortega
Overton
Pease
Pecan Springs
Perez
Pleasant Hill
Reilly
Ridgetop
Rodriguez
Rosedale
St. Elmo
Sunset Valley
Widen
Zavala
MIDDLE SCHOOLS
Bailey
Covington
Gorzycki
Martin
O. Henry
Paredes
Sadler Means YWLA
Small
HIGH SCHOOLS
Akins
Anderson
Alternative Satellite Campuses
Austin
Bowie
Clifton CDS
Crockett
LBJ ECHS

Congratulations on another year of learning and success, everybody! We are #AISDProud of our #AISDHome.

How do you celebrate yourself, your students, and your classroom? Let us know in the comments, and tag us on social media @austinisdsel! ON TO SUMMER!

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!