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!
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.
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!
As strange as it’s been lately, there is a LOT to SEL-ebrate!
For starters, we see you out there growing your SEL competencies! Understandably, we all have had to do a lot of growing in our self-awareness in order to do the self-management necessary to stay socially aware in times of spatial distancing. We’ve also had the opportunity to practice new ways of building and maintaining relationships, while managing work, possible parenting and household responsibilities, all taking our executive functioning to the next level. And, in order to accomplish everything on our plates right now, it’s imperative to make responsible decisions around time, resources and health/safety management.
That’s right, y’all! We are really working the whole SEL wheel right now. And, for some of us, we’re practicing our competencies in ways we may have never explored before. Now, THAT IS WORTH CELEBRATING!
We’re in this together!
When it comes to the foundation of our SEL wheel, our Austin ISD teachers and support staff are out there inventing new ways to create safe, culturally responsive, academically engaging, and equitable learning environments – WITHOUT ACTUAL CLASSROOMS. The district has devised a locally curated AISD Learning At-Home resource, supplemented and supported by our very own department’s SEL At-Home site. We are also distributing printed materials and technology to families, to increase access and help provide continuous learning while we practice spatial distancing. Additionally, district staff, community members, volunteers, and donors from across our city have ensured that families continue to get healthy food and resources.
May is traditionally Teacher Appreciation Month, and this May of all Mays is a unique time to appreciate our teachers and educators who have worked so hard to provide not just innovative academic content, but genuine care, connection and help for students and families. Follow #ThankYouTeacherStories and add your own all week this week [May 4th-May 8th] to celebrate Austin ISD educators!
Of course, May is also the last month of school before summer break, and traditionally time for classrooms full of students and teachers to celebrate their learning and accomplishments over the course of the school year. Sure, 2019-2020 got interrupted in that regard, but teachers and students are always coming up with innovative ways to celebrate and connect with each other!
We encourage you to take a moment to pause, recognize, and appreciate ourselves and those around us.
What are you doing to SELebrate yourself, your students, your school, or anything these days? How have you appreciated an educator lately? Let us know in the comments, and tag us on social media @austinisdsel! Even though we are spatially distanced, we sure appreciate the education journey we are privileged to share with all y’all. Thank you for you!
Responsible decision-making skills, aligned with closely-related executive functioning skills, help us stay grounded in our core values and beliefs as we move through times of uncertainty. For many, many people all around the world, 2020 has been an historic, unprecedented anxious time, filled with disruption and uncertainty.
Rooting Down, Staying Connected
When our department first met to discuss our response and responsibilities around the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Angela Ward, administrative supervisor of AISD’s cultural proficiency and inclusiveness team, suggested that we use “spatial distancing” instead of “social distancing” when we talk about the critical practice of staying physically away from other people during this time. In a time when we might find ourselves feeling quite physically isolated from our friends, families, loved ones, colleagues, and neighbors, meaningful social connection across the safe distances becomes more important than ever. Our human mammal brains are wired to be social, and a forced loss of “togetherness” can result in unique discomfort – indeed, in an interview with the Harvard Business Review, grief expert David Kessler says:
The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.
Responsible decision-making for us as individuals and for our community leaders in the current context compels us to practice spatial distancing from one another in order to slow the spread and damage of the novel coronavirus. As we collectively grieve the loss of our regular routines and movement through life for awhile, another responsible decision we can make for ourselves is to find creative ways to stay socially connected and practice radical self-care.
Luckily, humans – especially educators! – are a scrappy, innovative bunch, and already there are myriad tools and resources available out there to help us maintain crucial social connection while we’re spatially distanced!
Before delving into the content of any kind of organized collective learning experience or meeting, welcoming rituals invite connection and trust building. This can happen online in virtual classrooms and ZOOM meetings too! Check out this Smore full of welcoming rituals to foster meaningful connections across cyberspace.
Lynn Lyons, a psychotherapist and Licensed, Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW), specializes in helping families and children with anxiety. She posted this 22-minute Facebook Video with lots of concrete ideas around managing the worry and anxiety families and young people may be experiencing as a result of COVID-19.
Our Austin ISD Mindfulness Specialist, James Butler, has once again published a timely and engaging newsletter with lots of ways to employ self-care and mindful activities, specifically for observing and coping with our experiences and feelings during this uncertain moment.
What resources and tools have helped you as a person and a professional educator lately? How have you used your responsible decision-making skills to navigate this unprecedented situation? Your experience and expertise are particularly useful to your colleagues and fellow humans during a period that can feel strange and stressful. Let us know in the comments, and tag us on social media @austinisdsel! We are here for you, we are all here for each other. Social connection in a time of spatial distancing grows hope for all of us.
Go ahead and put your index finger horizontally right above your eyes, straight across your brow line. It’s okay, nobody’s looking. Like this:
Got it? Great! Your index finger is less than an inch away from your frontal cortex – the seat of your executive functioning. Think about that for a moment: one inch, 2.2cm, 1/12th of a foot. Then, see if you can count how many windows are in your home by memory. Think for a moment about the last conscious decision you made, or choice to calm yourself down in a heated moment, or to-do list you wrote down, or events on your calendar. Whew! That’s a lot of cognition you just did! [Thinking = cognition] You also just did a lot of meta-cognition. [Meta-cognition = thinking ABOUT THINKING] You did all that in the executive functioning part of your brain!
You may now feel free to take your finger off your forehead.
These are considered the kinds of brain functions that are unique to humans; the “higher order” cognitive activities that represent our capacity to actively make decisions based on data synthesized from our senses, emotions, and experiences. When we feel like we are thinking really hard, or when we practicing self-management, we are using our executive functioning skills; and these skills can be developed in both adults and young people!
How can we grow executive functioning functionality?
Adults can facilitate the development of a child’s executive function skills by establishing routines, modeling social behavior, and creating and maintaining supportive, reliable relationships. It is also important for children to exercise their developing skills through activities that foster creative play and social connection, teach them how to cope with stress, involve vigorous exercise, and over time, provide opportunities for directing their own actions with decreasing adult supervision.
If you need a super concrete, quick guide to classroom systems and structures that support executive functioning, here’s a great list of 10 tools from Edvocate. And, if you’re sitting there, maybe with your finger still stuck to your eyebrows, wondering how you personally handle various aspects of executive functioning, don’t worry – here is a self-assessment that breaks it down, so we might gain some insight on our own strengths and growth areas.
[A personal aside from your devoted SEL blogger – Bullet Journaling has helped me get my own executive functions in better order! My brain needs systems, and this is a system that works for me! PLUS it gives permission to doodle, which can help some folks, like me, with focusing attention, which is – you guessed it! – an executive functioning skill.]
How do you plan to March into executive functioning this month, for your students and yourself? Let us know in the comments, and/or tag us on social media @austinisdsel! In closing, we offer the musical insight of that international expert on executive functioning, Cookie Monster, to help summarize our topic:
But for all this scholarly emotional intelligence talk, it’s February after all: the month associated with expressions of appreciation and care. How about printing a set of affirmation cards to hand out to students and colleagues? Or, you could show appreciation for the world and check out Nice Things to Do, a site full of free or inexpensive ideas for to just generally doing nice things!
But Wait, There’s More!
Part of developing emotional intelligence is understanding how we move through layered perspectives, cultures and stories in a diverse society with complex socio-political and racial dynamics. That goes way beyond just commemorating black heroes and reviewing history lessons during a single month out of the year!
How will you discover and grow your own emotional intelligence this month, and show appreciation for your students, colleagues, and world? Let us know in the comments, and tag us on social media @austinisdsel! We appreciate y’all!
Welcome to the 2020 Spring Semester, SEL fans! Coming back into the classroom community in January after the holiday break is the perfect time to consider our next core competency: Relationship Skills. Per CASEL:
Social Beings Learn Relationship Skills
Since humans are hard-wired to be social animals, the idea that we have to intentionally learn and practice relationship skills might seem a little bit counter-intuitive. I mean, aren’t we just in relationship naturally? Well, truth is, we participate in relationships for better and for worse! But, growing our relationship skills purposefully via our self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness can help create meaningful connections with important people in our lives. In the context of education, cultivating and modeling relationship skills in the classroom is a crucial aspect of building a safe, inclusive, culturally responsive, academically engaging, and equitable learning environment.
Learning is an essential element of being a human, as is connecting with other humans. Therefore, teachers continue to be the visionaries for humanity, exploring how learning and relationship skills are intricately enmeshed. How will you work on your own relationship skills in 2020 and help your students to build relationships among each other? Let us know in the comments, and tag us on social media @austinisdsel! Happy New Year!
Social Awareness is important for December social outings.
Happy December SEL fans, and welcome to the Fall 2019 homestretch! We invite you to explore Social Awareness with us this month, as it is perhaps the most party-full time of the year. Cultures all over the world have celebrations and festivals around the Winter Solstice and to mark our next trip around the sun. Practicing our social awareness skills can help us navigate these gatherings and prepare us for yet another year of interacting with each other!
What are these social awareness skills?
The definition from CASEL above frames our district’s work to build social awareness capacity for students and staff, and these skills are crucial in creating culturally-responsive learning environments where all students feel seen and welcome. Even beyond the classroom, social awareness skills are increasingly the most valuable professional skills around. According to Forbes, fully six of “The 12 Most Important Skills You Need to Succeed at Work” are directly related to social awareness. More than ever, companies are hiring based on capacities like leadership, communication, negotiation, and empathy. In an age where many jobs are becoming automated, it’s the people-to-people skills that require – well, highly-skilled social humans!
How can we build student and adult social awareness?
If we can grow our own social awareness, and then teach and model social awareness skills for young people, we help ourselves and each other build a strong foundation for essential human connection.
How do you plan to work on social awareness skills through December and into 2020? Let us know in the comments, and tag us on social media @austinisdsel! Happy, merry everything! We encourage you to practice radical self-care this season. See you in the new year!
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.
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:
Here and here are CASEL’s lists of resources for equity in education!
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!
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.
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:
Because self-management is rooted in self-awareness, intentional mindfulness practice is a great way to grow our capacity to choose how we handle the emotional information our brains and bodies convey to us.
Discovering and reflecting on one’s core values, and planning to base one’s behavior on those core values, gives adult educators another opportunity to explore self-management skills. Check out this article‘s ideas and resources!
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!