Riding the Waves of Change

The only constant is change, and we’ve all been managing a lot lately. The past year has represented a massive disruption for so many people. We’ve had to navigate many shifts and changes, both on large collective levels and everyday, individual levels. We’ve also done a lot of this navigation with various levels of grief. Whew! It’s a lot, y’all!

There are hopeful signs that life might start having some more familiar aspects soon, and considering a post-pandemic world on the horizon presents yet another set of adjustments. Therefore, we have so many opportunities to practice our SEL competencies – for example, responsible decision-making skills. [Sometimes known as “adulting,” which is a) often hard under the best circumstances for adults and b) important to teach to young people, so they can practice!]

Responsible decision-making is rooted in having a sense of what we value – we can learn to use our emotions as information to help us make choices grounded in our values. Dr. Susan David offers this TED talk about exactly this idea:

She explains by saying,

“Our emotions contain flashing lights to things that we care about. We tend not to feel strong emotion to stuff that doesn’t mean anything in our worlds. If you feel rage when you read the news, that rage is a signpost, perhaps, that you value equity and fairness — and an opportunity to take active steps to shape your life in that direction. When we are open to the difficult emotions, we are able to generate responses that are values-aligned.”

Dr. Susan David, TEDWomen 2017

Elena Aguilar, president and founder of Bright Morning, offers this activity as part of a process to identify and reflect on core values:

  1. Download Core Values.pdf and read through them.
  2. Circle the ten values that are most important to you.
  3. Narrow that list of 10 down to five – the five that are most important to you.
  4. Then narrow that down to three. These are your top three core values.

Do this annually to see if there’s a change in your core values. Some people’s values change over time, and sometimes in response to the context they’re in or life events. – Elena Aguilar, 2018

When we practice responsible decision-making rooted in our values, we grow our resilience and emotional agility, which in turn increases our ability to make more responsible decisions. This positive feedback loop can help us find our way though the waves of changes and uncertainty, whether in the ripples of daily life, or within a once-per-generation tsunami-scale event.

Responsible Decision-Making in the Classroom

As educators, we have a unique opportunity to deeply consider our choices in our work with learners, and help the young people we encounter process their feelings and tell their stories, even as we process our own experiences. Dr. Ghouldy Muhammad, author of Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy, offers these concrete ideas for making decisions around classroom content and lesson development:

  • Out of all the things in the world why are you teaching this? (know purpose)
  • Are you energized about the teaching and learning?
  • How will your lesson or unit help a child to learn something about themselves or others?
  • How will you make it impossible for students to fail?
  • How will your lesson or unit help a child to learn new skills?
  • How will you change as a result of the teaching?
  • How will your lesson our unit help a child to learn something new?
  • Remote Learning- What family connection can you make?
  • How will your lesson or unit help a child to learn anti-oppression and anti-racism?
  • How will this lesson spread and amplify joy? Do you include joy about people of color?
  • What texts will you layer to support the learning? (texts matter)

How are you practicing your responsible decision making skills lately? How have your values informed your choices, in and out of educational environments? And, what are you looking forward to? Let us know in the comments, and tag us on social media @austinisdsel! Take care y’all.

Second Annual International and Austin SEL Day: Friday, March 26th!

Last year on March 27th, we celebrated the first annual International Social and Emotional Learning day, and Austin Mayor Steve Adler saw fit to officially proclaim the same day as Austin SEL Day. It was especially poignant to receive this recognition at that time: last March, we were just beginning to navigate a whole new way of forging and maintaining relationships in and out of [virtual] classrooms and social spaces. As the disruption of the COVID-19 global pandemic unfolded, and the parallel pandemic of racial injustice was profoundly exposed, our district, our city, and our world quickly became acutely aware of how essential social and emotional competencies are in this new, unsettling context. Skills like self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills, emotional agility, executive functioning, and responsible decision-making stepped to the forefront as we figured out new ways to move through our daily lives while holding collective grief, trauma and uncertainty.

Though we know a lot more about how to “do life” in and out of work and school with a global pandemic a year later, our local, national and global communities still need to prioritize and practice SEL skills in the current socio-political context. So once again, on this 2nd annual International SEL day, the mayor’s office has officially proclaimed Friday, March 26th as Austin SEL Day as well!

Image of the Offical Mayor’s Office Proclamation of Austin SEL Day

On this year’s SEL Day, we can reflect on how our own SEL competencies have grown and developed over the last year, keeping important relationships close for our emotional health and staying physically distant for our physical heath. We can mark and mourn the passing of the lives taken from us by the parallel pandemics of COVID-19 and racial injustice. We can also gaze hopefully into a near future in which we will share physical spaces with important people in our lives, and share in-person affection with our loved ones.

Social and emotional skills facilitate our capacity to experience and express our feelings in healthy ways during these transitions, keeping us in touch with our empathy as we care for ourselves and each other. They also help us define what was important about the pre-pandemic “normal” that we look forward to seeing again, while identifying and working to change the inequities that were considered “normal” for far too long.

What will you do to celebrate International and Austin SEL Day on Friday, March 26? Maybe you could send a text to a person you’ve been meaning to connect with and tell them how grateful you are that they are in your life. Maybe you could try a new mindfulness practice, giving your brain and body some needed space and breath. Maybe you will facilitate or participate in a classroom or community culturally responsive restorative practice community building circle. Or maybe you will share an idea that builds and celebrates SEL skills for the rest of your community to try! Tag us on social media at @austinisdsel and use the hashtags #SELDay and/or #WeAreSEL – We will do a drawing at the end of Austin SEL day, and you could win some most excellent Austin ISD SEL swag!

Thanks for being here with us in our local, national and global community – we are grateful for you today on International and Austin SEL Day, and always.

Mindful Executive Functioning: Marching Forth!

SEL fans, it was one year ago that we looked at executive functioning in our March blog post, *right before* a global pandemic changed how we do school and everything else here in Central Texas. In April, after we knew a little bit more about how our work, education, and lives were shifting, we revisited responsible decision making in this new and challenging context. So now, we’ve had 12 months of practicing our executive functioning skills and responsible decision making as humans navigating unprecedented events – what have you learned about yourself and your world? [Thinking about learning, by the way, is called “meta-cognition,” and is an executive functioning skill!]

One aspect of life during a global pandemic and the associated uncertainty is a heightened amount of worry. Studies show that more people have searched for ways to alleviate feelings of worry and anxiety as a direct result of COVID-19, which makes a lot of sense! Just the act of searching for and trying out different methods of noticing our feelings and calming down is a big part of executive functioning, which our Austin ISD SEL department defines this way:

Finding a mindfulness practice that fits into one’s life is a great way to develop these executive functioning skills, as is engaging in play. Playful, unstructured time, just for fun, is an antidote to worry and anxiety for both children and adults. In fact, Brené Brown offers this “dare” to help grown-ups plan for playtime:

Create a play list. Write down three activities you could do for hours on end. Mine are reading, editing photos on my computer and playing Ping-Pong with my family.

Now carve out time on your calendar. Even when I’m busiest, I schedule unstructured time. It’s important to protect playtime the way you protect work, church or PTA meetings.

Play well with others. When my husband and kids made their own play lists, we realized that our usual vacations, which involved sightseeing, weren’t really anyone’s idea of play. So now we go places where we can hike, swim and play cards — things that make us all our most silly, creative and free-spirited selves.

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/brene-brown-importance-of-play_n_4675625

When we intentionally decide with our executive functioning skills to give ourselves space to play and the grace of self-compassion, we deepen our resilience – our capacity to persevere through difficult, uncertain eras of our lives. Linda Graham, a licensed marriage and family therapist with a focused interest in mindfulness and resilience, offers these researched-based practices to return to the wisdom of our bodies to strengthen our resilience.

How are you fostering play, mindfulness, and resilience in your life and/or classroom? How have your executive functioning skills been showing up for you lately? We want to know! Leave us a comment, or tag us on social media @austinisdsel. Keep on Marchin’ on – we are in it together!

Get Curious to Build Empathy in February!

February has traditionally been celebrated as Black History Month, founded by Carter G. Woodson in 1926 as “Negro History Week” and expanded to a whole [albeit short!] month in 1976. Sachel Harris, of The New Teacher Project, writes this in her article “Black History is American History. We Should Teach It That Way:”

Usually, when students learn about Black history in class, their lessons are limited to slavery or the civil rights era. Don’t get me wrong: these are integral parts of our story, and it’s encouraging to read stories that show our strength, perseverance, and ability to overcome so many adversities. I am proud to come from a culture filled with people who were bold and brave enough to fight for our freedom and rights. But in the same breath, I can’t help but feel disappointed that our students are not learning about the vastness of our greatness. After all, we are much more than just an oppressed culture. 

…That’s why Black History Month should not be just a time to celebrate African Americans who have paved the way for us all to thrive. It should be a time to challenge the stubbornly persistent tendency to teach Black History as a footnote to American history. We should commit to telling the complete and vibrant story of a complete and vibrant culture to both students and adults.  

Sachel Harris, Communications Manager, TNTP

Getting curious about stories – sharing stories, seeking out others’ stories, and exploring how our own stories shape our perceptions of our world – is a key path to growing our empathy. Empathy gives us the power to see past our prejudices, biases and filters and connect authentically with the humans around us. In her poem “Turning to One Another,” Margaret Wheatley reminds us to “Treasure curiosity more than certainty” and to “Remember, you don’t fear people whose stories you know.” When we invite and listen deeply to the stories of the children in our classrooms, we grow the empathy and connection of our learning community. When we create systems and structures to encourage story telling and student voice in our schools, we begin to disrupt oppressive systems that silence and marginalize young people.

How do we invite stories into our learning environments and lives?

In her ASCD article “The Power of Protocols for Equity,” Zaretta Hammond lays out five strategies to support the implementation of student talk protocols, and offers resources to find one that fits your classroom environment. In this Education Week article, Michelle Nicola gives examples and anecdotes around her journey of building empowering stories into her classroom practice, drawing on her learning from Hammond, Elena Aguilar, and Chimamanda Adichie. Developing a culturally-responsive restorative practice circle tradition in classrooms promotes storytelling, peaceful conflict resolution, community building, and connection. When implemented with care and intention, culturally-responsive restorative practices can evolve into a system that has the potential to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately affects students of color. Austin ISD even has our very own culturally responsive restorative practice team!

As we move through a uniquely challenging time together, the power of stories to build empathy and connection is of critical importance. Let us use our curiosity and natural human desire for connection to invite in each other’s stories, lift each other up, and heal.

How are you listening to and sharing stories in your life and learning environments? How are you honoring Black excellence and teaching Black history as American history this month and all year long? How do you grow your curiosity and empathy? Let us know in the comments, and tag us on social media @austinisdsel! We wish all y’all a warm, connected February 2021.

January 2021: Renewing our Commitment to Cultivate Compassion

Happy New Year, SEL fans. Already, 2021 has been eventful.

Recently, our country witnessed a shocking and traumatic event in our Capitol city, reminding us of the crucial importance of equity and intentionally cultivating compassion.

As our country struggles through this dark winter of a continuing global pandemic and related economic instability, deep political division, collective grief, and the undeniable reality we face around white privilege, power, and racial injustice, there is so much hope – and that hope starts with each of us, and how we intentionally cultivate connection and compassion, and utilize our SEL competencies to create opportunities for healing.

Skills We Need Now

The Collaborative for Academics and Social and Emotional Learning, in its Reunite, Renew, and Thrive Roadmap for Reopening Schools, offers the SEL Competencies adapted to be relevant to our current sociopolitical context:

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CASEL also just released a Refocus on the SEL Roadmap document to guide schools as they begin the spring semester. Because CASEL serves compassionate educators who know how deeply the socio-political environment affects their students in classrooms at every level, they also suggested these resources for classrooms navigating feelings and discussions around traumatic news events:

Growing Compassion and Connection

Like many skills and capacities, we grow our ability to be compassionate by practicing compassion. Per Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, compassion consists of four components:

Bringing attention or awareness to recognizing that there is suffering (cognitive)

Feeling emotionally moved by that suffering (affective)

Wishing there to be relief from that suffering (intentional)

A readiness to take action to relieve that suffering (motivational)

This article contains the Six Habits of Highly Compassionate People, with concrete ideas on how to address each of these components to cultivate compassion in our lives. And this Edutopia post offers some simple ideas for incorporating more opportunities to grow compassion in classroom environments.

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Intentionally building compassion and connection in our lives and educational communities is actively working against the hate and division that literally attacked our nation yesterday. Educators in particular are uniquely positioned to touch countless young lives with compassionate teaching and practices, modeling and promoting the skills we all need to live together and take care of each other in an ever-changing and interconnected world.

Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we celebrate this month, offers these inspirational quotes:

1. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

2. “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

3. “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

4. “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

5. “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

6. “Not everybody can be famous but everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.”

7. “We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”

8. “Only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.”

9. “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

10. “So even though we face difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.”

Image by Platt College – MLK’s inspirational quotes blog post

May we lean into Dr. King’s vision of peace, equality, compassion and understanding now, more than ever.

Reflection

How do Dr. King’s words resonate for you? How are you inviting more compassion into your life and your classroom? Leave us a comment, and tag us on social media @austinisdsel!

We are so grateful for the local, national, and global community of compassionate educators doing the work of SEL along with us in this new year. Cheers to you!

Strength, Hope, Caring: December 2020

Well, y’all, we made it to the last month of 2020. It’s been quite a year, hasn’t it? We’ve had many opportunities to practice SEL skills of all kinds, move through some big collective trauma, and navigate personal and professional situations that lots of us never imagined. And still the pandemic rages on, and we’re immersed in a holiday season that may feel very different than it has in years past. It is precisely times like this in which humans reach together for the very ideas that holidays around the world generally lift up: Strength, hope, and caring for each other.

The Blanton Museum of Art has worked with Austin ISD in many capacities, including partnering with our SEL department to connect art and SEL ideas. The goal of these collaborations is to increase access to its collection for all students, and reinforce social and emotional learning concepts through examination and discussion of art. This amazing video, and the one below, are opportunities to virtually visit these two pieces in the museum’s collection. We are invited to consider how art can inspire us to think more deeply about our own experiences and connect with the stories of others. Check out these downloadable journal pages for Strength and Hope and Caring for Ourselves and Others to take your SEL art journey even deeper!

Safely Together

If you are looking for ways to stay socially connected to your family, friends, and loved ones while remaining physically distant this season, you sure aren’t the only one! Finding opportunities to intentionally share stories can happen in-person or virtually, and is one of the best ways to keep and grow connections with the people around us. Though being on an internet call with loved ones is definitely different than being together in-person, asking meaningful questions and practicing active listening can help build and deepen relationships.

S.P.A.R.K for Community can help us stay connected with a card game designed to build and nurture relationships through storytelling. S.P.A.R.K has all of their robust sample decks available for download/printing, including a new holiday deck, as well as this guide to playing the game with classrooms, colleagues, family, you name it! Rachel Rosen and her sparky S.P.A.R.K team is planning to host a demonstration of their new digital game play platform on January 5th for all interested educators – find out more from their website! Rachel and her team have been compassionate supporters and partners of our SEL team for awhile, and have especially stepped it up during these challenging times.

Doing Hard Things

The holiday season can be stressful under regular circumstances, and this year provides a level of uncertainty that might exacerbate this dynamic for many. Please make sure you do some radical self care this December, maybe including some exploration of mindfulness practices. This excerpt from the work of Glennon Doyle is a call to grace, strength and hope:

We humans have an uncanny ability to learn. We grow. We overcome. We adapt. We rest.

We change our minds. Make amends. Laugh. Blow milk out our noses when laughing. We plan. We cease. We strive.

There is no end to what we can do.

But sometimes it feels too hard to do anything. Breathing seems like hard work and the days seem long and nights bound to infinity.

We can do hard things.

Have you ever watched a kiddo tackle new reading or math and emerge from all of the effort triumphant? No gladiator’s gloat can compare.

When kids learn in school, like the gladiator in the ring, they are fighting for their lives. And  they do hard things.

When a man becomes a dad and learns to become a father along the way, the wonder is real and the triumph is no less hard-won.

As we grapple with this thing of living, encountering the unknown graces and shadow places; still learning to be present, be kind, be “here now”; we are still growing. The hard everyday things of filing taxes, getting the kids to their places on time…fed, forgiving, and hoping for the future can be very hard daily things. We do hard things.

We do hard things because they must be done or we have a hope in doing them, something better and more desirable than the present situation will become.

What are you doing these days to find strength, hope, and caring? What are you celebrating as this year wraps up? What are you looking forward to in the new year? Tag us on social media @austinisdsel, and drop us a line in the comments. We are so grateful that you are on this journey with us. Bring on 2021!

Skills We Need Now: Self-Awareness and Self-Management

As 2020 heads into its final months, most folks would probably agree that it has been a pretty intense year, to say the least:

  • Global pandemic
  • Economic crisis
  • Record-breaking wildfires, hurricanes and other climate phenomena
  • Unprecedented worldwide civil rights and anti-racism movement
  • Massive shifts and re-imaginings in the realms of work and education
  • An election that, as of this writing, remains unresolved

What can educational communities do?

It’s certainly not every year that presents as much uncertainty and history in 11 months quite like this one. As such, we all have been called to navigate collective trauma and anxiety on a scale new to everyone. The social and emotional competencies of self-awareness and self-management are skills we need now, as the Collective for Social and Emotional Learning [CASEL] offers:

COMPETENCY DEFINEDSKILLS WE NEED NOW
SELF-AWARENESS, which is the ability to accurately recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior; and accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations, with a well- grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a “growth mindset.” As we process the current pandemic and racial injustices, self-awareness is critical to identifying and processing our complex emotions when things are uncertain and socially turbulent, reflecting on our strengths; understanding our cultural, racial, and social identities; and examining our implicit biases.
SELF-MANAGEMENT, which is the ability to successfully regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different situations—effectively managing stress, controlling impulses, and motivating oneself; and the ability to set and work toward goals.Self-management is critical now as we cope with grief and loss, develop our resiliency, and express our agency through resisting injustices and practicing anti-racism.

CASEL also points out in their Roadmap to Reopening Schools that these skills “take on deeper significance as we navigate a very different type of [life].” Prioritized into four critical practice areas, this Roadmap guides districts in “…foster[ing] the competencies and learning environments that students and adults need to reunite, renew, and thrive:”

Knowing ourselves, finding balance

In times of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty, it’s crucial that we give ourselves space and time to acknowledge our own feelings and experiences, seek balance and self-compassion, and reach for connection even while remaining physically distant. Mindfulness can be a key aspect of growing our self-awareness, and offers the practice of pausing and choosing a response, rather a reflexive reaction. In the words of Austrian neurologist Viktor Frankl:

As always, our own Mindfulness Specialist James Butler offers his YouTube channel and website full of mindful practice ideas for kids and adults.

It’s a lot. Really.

These are hard and strange times – hard for everyone individually, and hard for all of us collectively. It is important, and can be validating, to simply name that there are many truly absurd aspects to these days, weeks and months that we are moving through. Finding balance, seeking gratitude, avoiding the effects of toxic positivity, and reaching for each other can all help.

What are you doing for yourself, your family, your educational community, or for society that is helping you “just keep swimming” these days? We want to know, and we love to hear from you. Tag us on social media @austinisdsel, or drop us a comment. Take sweet care out there, SEL fans.

School Year 20-21: Bring It On!

School would have started August 18, but it didn’t, and we all know why: Covid-19, the novel corona virus that has wreaked havoc and taken lives and livelihoods across the globe, is still in full swing. For the safety of everyone, and to give educators and district leaders the chance to organize high-quality virtual learning experiences for every single student, school will now start on September 8.

Creating Virtual Space for Community

Austin ISD has publicly committed to creating safe, inclusive, culturally responsive, academically engaging, and equitable learning environments, and now we’re navigating the logistics of doing that virtually. Luckily, as we highlighted back in April, educators are some of the most resourceful and creative people in the world. Teachers and school leaders all over our district have been working literally to around the clock get ready to welcome students back virtually, and are finding novel, intentional ways to foster connection and community in their learning spaces:

Ultimately, as we all move through this historical moment together, the goal is to create space in our learning environments to encourage story telling: building community creates brave space in which learners can tell their stories, and hear the stories of others. In the article “Strengthening Resilience Through the Power of Story,” the author discusses how

Stories — both sharing our perception of experiences and listening to those of others — are at the heart of working this [resilience] muscle, and not just for kids. Through story, we can come to terms with, and make meaning of what happened and must be faced, and this applies to people of any age.

Though it was written in 2017, the concept of using story-telling to help each other make meaning of what is happening in our world right now has never been more relevant. The article also shares some rich ideas for story-telling in the learning environment for both students and adult learners, with the ultimate goal of building resilience, increasing empathy, and deepening communal connection.

The richest resource we have to navigate this uncharted educational territory is the lived experiences, expertise, and compassion of the talented professional educators in our district. How are you making space for stories in your learning environment? How are you building community during distance learning? What stories are giving you hope? We want to hear how you’re doing out there, as we move through this shared reality. School Year 20-21, bring it on!

Leave us a comment here, or tag us on social media @austinisdsel! #WeAreSEL #InThisTogether

SEL Seed Model Campuses Shared at Symposium 2020!

Congratulations to our 72 Seed Model Campuses who presented at our SEL Symposium 2020: Creating Everyday Brave Spaces! Being a Seed Model Campus means setting concrete SMART goals and working toward deeper, systemic Social and Emotional Learning implementation, hosting tours from leaders and educators from around Texas and the nation, and presenting at the annual SEL Symposium.

Seed Model status means being open to vulnerability, and showing the process of deepening social and emotional learning through integration and implementation on a campus – in all its sometimes messy, sometimes frustrating, always transformative glory. Check out the Seed Model Campus Symposium 2020 BLEND Course to see some of the incredible work from these schools!

Even though school year 2019-2020 got interrupted in a most unprecedented way by novel virus COVID-19, Seed Model Campuses pivoted with agility to apply their SMART implementation goals to suit a new virtual learning environment. They applied these new skills to their presentations at our Symposium too, showing up with live, facilitated sessions and panels, EdTalks, and written statements exploring their challenges and successes. We are so happy to recognize the incredible 2020 Seed Model Campuses!

Thank you all for all your hard work – you rocked it, even under such strange circumstances. Are you a member of one of these Seed Model Campus educational communities? What has your experience been? Leave us a comment, and tag us @austinisdsel on social media! Thank you for your essential role in helping move equity-centered Social and Emotional Learning work forward in Austin ISD!

SEL Symposium 2020

The idea of hosting an SEL-focused peer-to-peer collaborative learning experience formed from a small but meaningful, collaborative summer gathering of SEL-focused leaders and educators in June of 2015, known as the Whole Child, Every Child Summer Learning Institute. Held at Sadler-Means Young Women’s Leadership Academy, the team who gathered in the cafeteria to debrief after the nascent event only dreamed of what the Symposium would become over the next five summers.

Growing a Symposium

2016 was the inaugural SEL Summer Symposium at McCallum High School, with 325 participants, facilitators and school leaders in attendance. We did ourselves better with even more attendees in 2017 [Akins High School] and 2018 [Austin High School], and then in 2019 [McCallum again] we topped out at around 500 participants. Amazing! Unprecedented! So many educators positively impacted by systemic social and emotional learning!

As 2020 started, we were planning for our biggest Symposium yet, once again at McCallum – SEL Symposium 2020: Creating Everyday Brave Spaces! The theme this year represented our district’s growing awareness that educational equity is central to social and emotional learning for all. Investigating how we make sure we’re creating classroom communities where all our students can show up with all their identities, and be seen, heard, and welcome, we wrote an article to crystallize our Symposium philosophy:

A brave space is not a risk-free “safe” zone; instead, it is an intentionally crafted educational environment in which learners feel both physically safe and identity safe. These are classroom and school cultures in which students can view taking learning risks as opportunities to stretch their capacity. Mistakes are welcomed as growth, and each child feels heard and seen for the unique, talented, and capable learner they are.

In other planning, we were trying to figure out how parking would work, and snacks, and technology, and all the normal stuff that you organize in preparation for an event.

AND THEN… THINGS CHANGED.

The COVID-19 novel coronavirus shut down schools and the city. Shortly thereafter, the largest civil rights anti-racism movement in human history began, in the wake of gruesome videos and revelations demonstrating fatal police brutality, highlighting the systemic racism that has plagued America for 400 years.

We knew our Symposium had to go on. With the theme of Creating Everyday Brave Spaces, we publicly commit to creating anti-racist, anti-biased learning environments, which are identity-safe containers for risk-taking and learning for our students and adults. So, we made our Symposium a virtual experience.

Virtual Symposium Reality: 6/11/2020

Dr. Ault

Dr. Stacey Ault, our electrifying keynote speaker, inspired us from her home in California as we launched our day; and, powerful local artists, Riders Against the Storm, engaged us in interactive storytelling as our optimistic closing. The three hours between Dr. Ault and RAS held live, synchronous learning sessions facilitated by over 60 professional educators from our district and beyond, including sessions from our Seed Model Campuses. All sessions centered around creating learning environments in which learners can show up as their full selves in identity-safe, brave spaces.

Riders Against the Storm

In the afternoon, a self-paced online course offered more than 10 modules to continue the Symposium learning through the weekend, with content from Seed Model Campuses, SEL Specialists, and a diverse group of teachers and school leaders. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive for both the live sessions in the morning and the asynchronous sessions in the afternoon, even with the occasional ZOOM glitch or technology hiccup.

Biggest Symposium Ever

Even though pivoting to an online format was not the original plan, over ONE THOUSAND educators participated in our equity-centered SEL professional learning event! Fully one-sixth of Austin ISD teaching professionals gathered to share their experiences and expertise, pushing the capacity of the Symposium to positively impact the students and families in our district beyond our wildest imaginings. Victoria Birkeland and Angela Bailey, with support from the Symposium development team and the rest of the SEL department, pulled off a massive online undertaking in under two months.

As a department, we are humbled to get to work with the incredible equity-centered educators in our district and community. We are proud that Austin ISD is taking an unequivocal stand against racism and systems in education that oppress and silence. Together, we are working to “…[remove] the predictability of success or failures that currently correlates with any social or cultural factor” in our district, and the 2020 SEL Symposium moved that work forward in a tangible, exciting way.

Did you participate? What did you think? Have ideas for the future? Leave us a note in the comments! Also, check out the tweets from #EquityCenteredSEL and #SELSymposium to see reactions and reflections from that day. See y’all at the SEL Symposium in 2021!