Austin ISD Circles Up!

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This image represents a harm-focused, reactive approach popularized by the Criminal Justice System. Austin ISD is taking a proactive, education-focused whole child, whole adult, whole community approach to Restorative Practices. #RPAustinISD

Austin ISD is planning for a Culturally Responsive Restorative Practices (RP) approach in its schools. The district recognizes  the need to address systemic inequities and improve campus climates and cultural proficiency. The faculty, staff and administrators in the Akins vertical team, for example, have received basic training in Culturally Responsive RP to begin their restorative journey. Other schools around the district are exploring community-building circles in classrooms and with faculty and staff to deepen connectedness and build campus culture.  So what exactly are Culturally Responsive Restorative Practices, and how do they fit into our district’s push to increase student voice, close achievement gaps, and address disciplinary action inequities?

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In Austin ISD, Culturally Responsive RP are rooted in these Core Assumptions for the whole child and whole adult:

THE TRUE SELF IN EVERYONE IS GOOD, WISE AND POWERFUL

The core self may not be reflected in how people behave, but beneath the masks we adopt is a deeper, healthier self.

THE WORLD IS PROFOUNDLY INTERCONNECTED

What we do to others, we are also doing to ourselves although we may not always be aware that this happening.

ALL HUMAN BEINGS HAVE A DEEP DESIRE TO BE IN GOOD RELATIONSHIP

All people want to love and be loved and all people want to be connected.

ALL HUMANS HAVE GIFTS; EVERYONE IS NEEDED FOR WHAT THEY BRING

All gifts are indispensable to the well-being of the whole.

EVERYTHING WE NEED TO MAKE A POSITIVE CHANGE IS ALREADY HERE

There are rich reservoirs of talent and wisdom within our communities waiting to be accessed.

HUMAN BEINGS ARE HOLISTIC

There is a connection between the mind, body, and spirit in all that we do.

WE NEED PRACTICES TO BUILD HABITS OF LIVING FROM THE CORE SELF

We need practices which help us connect to our core self so we can live in alignment with our values and build healthy relationships in families and communities.

Adapted from: “Heart of Hope Resource Guide” Suffolk University, Center for Restorative Justice Carolyn Boyes-Watson and Kay Pranis 2009

 

Because the very nature of Culturally Responsive Restorative Practices is doing it with, rather than to, an individual or community, schools exploring RP are introducing it authentically in ways that best serve that campus. Community circles are generally done with a centerpiece, to focus thoughts and words, and a passed-around talking piece, to hold space for equity of voice. However, circles can look lots of different ways!  Here are some pictures of how Restorative Practices look around our district right now.

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Ms. Polk facilitates a circle with 7th graders in her classroom at Martin Middle School.

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Secondary and elementary staff from the Discipline Alternative Learning Placement campuses debrief a professional development activity in community circles.

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Staff from the Akins Vertical Team model a community circle during an RP training (for the whole vertical team!)

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Ms. DeLaTorre at Walnut Creek Elementary facilitates a circle with her 5th graders.

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Though these pictures are from all around our district, every one of them shows people talking to each other in circles. The circle is the hallmark of Culturally Responsive Restorative Practices, which is rooted in the ancient indigenous tradition of forming circles to communicate effectively in community. Austin ISD is exploring a whole school, whole child, whole adult Culturally Responsive Approach to Restorative Practices. Although circles are the most visible piece of the process, restorative practices is #MoreThanCircles. Restorative practices provides a framework that helps us create a school culture and climate that is safe, welcoming and inclusive. The AISD Social and Emotional Learning team supports Culturally Responsive RP community-building circles. We are excited about the deep Restorative Practice work beginning in Austin ISD, and look forward to seeing it serve the social and emotional needs of all our students and staff! We are #AISDProud that we are continuously working on #AISDEquity!

Check out this Restorative Practices Twitter chat from December 2016 to experience part of the larger, real conversation that is helping to move our Culturally Responsive RP journey forward. For more information about Austin ISD Culturally Responsive Restorative Practices, contact Angela Ward (cultural.proficiency@austinisd.org), who collaborated on this blog post!

 

Post-Election Resources

American election season has always been a highly charged time, and this particular election has brought up a lot of feelings for a lot of people. School communities can feel this very deeply. Students may have many questions and big worries, and school leaders may wonder how to support them and ensure that their campus remains a safe, welcoming and inclusive learning environment.  Students have the right to feel safe at their schools, and it’s the job of the adults on campus to create and maintain that culture of safety.

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This article from Teaching Tolerance discusses how teachers can help students process their feelings and concerns regarding the outcome of the election, while maintaining a safe, welcoming and inclusive classroom environment.

Here is Austin ISD’s district anti-harassment and discrimination policy, and our anti-bullying policy. School leaders can use these as a basis to ensure that any kind of hateful acts or language are met with swift and unequivocal administrative action.

Here is a lesson designed with middle school students in mind that can be adapted to class time constraints and needs.  Learning intentions include helping students understand how the three branches of the United States government check and balance each other, and inviting students to share their views, concerns, and voices for the next president in respectful, powerful ways.

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Young people on campuses may be worried about issues surrounding immigration and deportation. Resources that schools might share with students and families include:

American Gateways, which “provides free and low-cost legal services and education to promote justice for immigrants and refugees in Central Texas.”

The Immigrant Legal Resource Center, which also distributes these Red Cards so that families can know their legal rights under the US Constitution, which apply to everyone currently in the United States regardless of immigration status.

The Immigrant Defense Project, which works to protect and expand the rights of all immigrants.

Catholic Charities of Central Texas and Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid also provide free and low-cost legal aid to immigrant families.

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When educators, school leaders and communities pull together for safe educational environments, our children thrive and learn.  Thank you for being safeguards of learning and powerful allies to AISD students and families. We are #AISDProud of all our students, and #AllMeansAll, all the time!

 

T.A. Brown Elementary School is a Resilient Education Family!

When our district discovered that T.A. Brown Elementary School’s building was not structurally safe, our leaders had to move quickly to ensure that teaching and learning could continue with as little disruption as possible. Reilly Elementary opened their arms and school to T.A. Brown’s Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten students and staff unreservedly,  and Allan Elementary gladly made space for 1st-5th grades, just like it did for the Palm Elementary community last year. However, change is rarely easy, and big change involving physically moving all the stuff and people away from a beloved building for the rest of the year can cause lots of big feelings!

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T.A. Brown students and staff pulled together as a resilient education family to weather the storm of changing locales, and community partners and district resources rushed to help take care of them. Social and Emotional Learning Specialists partnered with elementary counselors from across the district to lead a special lesson on the first day in all the T.A. Brown classes at Reilly and Allan, working with students and teachers to process feelings, share hopes, and reinforce the strong education family ties that keep the T.A. Brown community together through thick and thin.

leadersThis slideshow features photos from the first day of T.A. Brown at Allan and Reilly. Community partners and district employees enthusiastically helped teachers move their classrooms into the new spaces and provided lunch for them. Students and teachers participated in community circles and created paper name chains of support and connection to decorate their new classrooms. School leaders and collaborators greeted students and teachers at the door with balloons and welcoming signs.  We are so #AISDProud of the T.A. Brown resilient community of learners!

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SEL: It’s a Big (Data) Deal

Austin ISD’s Social and Emotional Learning plan was recently cited in a grant guidance report from the Department of Education. Yes, the national Department of Education, dot gov. Know why? Because research keeps rolling in on multiple levels, showing that what we are doing really, really works for students. From the federal report:

SPOTLIGHT: Many schools are incorporating SEL into their programs and services. For example, the Austin Independent School District (AISD) has succeeded in developing a model for systematic and systemic SEL for all of its 83,600 students focused on four core practices: explicit skills instruction, SEL integration, school climate and culture, and family and community engagement. SEL coaches are deployed throughout the system to support implementation of SEL.  Using a vertical structure, Austin started with two high schools and their feeder schools. As of 2015-16, all 130 schools in the district are receiving professional development in implementing SEL. Evidence-based SEL programs are one important part of AISD’s implementation strategy. Elementary and middle schools are using explicit instructional materials and lessons are generally taught weekly by the classroom teacher and reinforced and integrated into instruction in all areas of the school. In several high schools, ninth-graders attend a Methods for Academic and Personal Success (MAPS) class to develop skills to help with their transition to high school.  Results show those teachers’ ratings of their 3rd grade students’ SEL competencies were positively related to students’ performance in STAAR reading and math. Also, secondary schools with more years in SEL showed greater improvement in attendance and greater reduction in campus discretionary removals than did schools with no years in SEL.

This spotlight highlighting our work appears as an example for educational communities interested in applying for a federal grant to build Social and Emotional Learning programs. Our district’s process and structure for Social and Emotional Learning is held up as a beacon to others wishing to begin or deepen their own SEL journey, because our leadership has had faith in what solid research is starting to show: it is the equal teaching of SEL skills and academic skills that grows students into whole, educated, contributing members of society.

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The faith factor is important, because the field of SEL in education is relatively new, and longitudinal research is only just beginning to show concrete evidence of positive impacts. Of course, teachers teaching Social and Emotional Learning skills to their students is as old as humanity itself. However, defining the nature of social and emotional skills, exploring how to teach them effectively, devoting significant resources to high-quality systemic implementation, and scientifically evaluating that implementation, takes a lot of time. More time, in fact, than the current educational system is traditionally willing to devote to a focus largely considered “non-academic.” While often various educational interventions and initiatives are expected to demonstrate positive student results within a year or two, “Research on systemic efforts in education suggest that this process takes a minimum of 5–7 years to realize impact at the student level (Aladjem et al., 2006; Borman, Hewes, Overman, & Brown, 2003).” Austin ISD is just now getting to our 6th year of SEL implementation, and indeed, we are starting to see positive outcomes.

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Our district’s most recent internal evaluation of our innovative SEL work has shown several important improvements.  For example:

–Secondary schools (middle and high schools) have experienced a reduction in the number of official disciplinary actions taken on students (like suspensions in-school or out-of-school, or removals to an alternative campus);

–Both elementary and secondary schools experienced a reduction in the number of students who are absent 15 or more days during the school year (chronic absenteeism);

–Students on all levels have self-reported feeling safer at school on district-wide surveys;

–Schools with high levels of SEL implementation have seen significant improvements in math and reading standardized test scores.

Check out the research brief and full report for even more SEL data on the good work we’re doing!

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These results are consistent with recent findings on the national level. Transforming Education, an organization devoted to supporting Social and Emotional Learning at district, state and federal policy levels, recently published a working paper giving the “Research Case for Education Policy Action on Non-Cognitive Skills.” (‘Non-cognitive skills’ is another term for Social and Emotional Learning, akin to ‘soft skills,’ or ’21st Century skills.’ Transforming Education refers to these skills as “MESH,” or “Mindsets, Essential Skills, and Habits.”) They posit the following nine assertions, supported by data from several large national longitudinal studies:

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With national data to back up each one of these compelling statements, Transform Education offers a look at the larger picture supported by our own local data: teaching SEL skills puts students on track to positive adult outcomes.

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The Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) keeps tabs on national research around SEL, and recently cited a report from the American Enterprise Institute and and Brookings Institution about the impact of Social and Emotional Learning on Equity and Poverty:

This report was developed by a group of bipartisan experts who agreed to set aside their differences and create a detailed plan for reducing poverty and increasing economic mobility. The authors noted that major educational and school reforms over the past few decades have not sufficiently focused on the SEL factors that are necessary to education, employment, and family life. The report also recommends an effort to scale up high-quality, evidence-based SEL programs as a core component of education for children. It made three recommendations to the federal and state governments:

(1) scale evidence-based SEL practices and policies;

(2) implement high-quality state SEL standards, preschool through high school; and

(3) establish SEL centers of excellence.

Our very own Austin ISD has done concrete work on each of those three recommendations so critical to improving economic equity and addressing the national poverty crisis, according to this bipartisan report. We already use evidence-based SEL curricula and practices, and we are exploring even more. We wrote high-quality SEL standards in collaboration with teachers and stakeholders that are already being incorporated into district core content curricula and exemplar lessons. And we established a “SEL Demonstration School” designation, inviting schools who have truly adopted SEL as a campus culture and driving force to show off their structures within the district and around the country. We are truly on the leading edge of transformative SEL work!

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Due to Austin ISD’s dedication to broad high-quality implementation of Social and Emotional Learning, we are using the most recent data-driven findings to serve our 86,300 students. We are also contributing to the growing body of research on how SEL skills taught in public school positively affect individuals and society as a whole. We are #AISDProud to be leaders in the national Social and Emotional Learning movement!

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Other references and research articles of interest:

CASEL/NoVo Collaborating Districts Initiative: 2015 Cross District Outcome Evaluation Report: Executive Summary

Previous Blog Post: Data Backs our SEL Movement

Previous Blog Post: New Year SEL Research Round Up

 

 

 

 

News! …and the Return of the Blog!

Hello again, Austin ISD SEL fans!  Happy October! We’ve been hard at work on SEL 2.0, with new team members, new opportunities, and a refreshed commitment to helping build a district where truly #ALLMEANSALL!

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This summer on June 16th, McCallum High School hosted the first-ever SEL Summer Symposium, with presenters and participants from all over our district and city.  With over 40 break-out sessions and a dedicated leadership strand, 325 members of our AISD community learned and shared together about the most cutting-edge topics in Social and Emotional Learning.  Sessions topics ranged from “Frank Lloyd Wright and Restorative Classroom Management” to “The Neuroscience of Mindfulness;” “Color Blind or Color Brave?” to “SEL in Children’s Literature.” The sheer number of folks who showed up for the inaugural SEL Summer Symposium demonstrates how deeply Austin ISD educators believe in Social and Emotional Learning.

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(Photos by Eli Roberts)

Another significant first for the SEL Team was presenting at the Leadership Institute for about 400 administrators before school started.  With the focus on the overarching SEL theme “All Means All,” SEL Specialists presented a workshop on creating trauma-sensitive schools. The level of commitment from district leadership for Social and Emotional Learning work is the highest it has ever been!

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(L-R) James, Angela, Lynne and Darla presented at the Leadership Institute.

In fact, SEL was the topic of the 10/7 “News from Dr. Cruz.”  Our superintendent had this to say about SEL 2.0:

Resiliency, positivity, grit and determination—these are just some of the skills that are foundational to Social and Emotional Learning. Now that AISD has implemented SEL at all of our schools, we’re moving on to SEL 2.0. This next iteration includes new practices that are integral to ensuring student success.

Mindfulness activities like breathing exercises help kids focus. Restorative practices counter old discipline techniques that don’t work and replace them with a relationship-based approach. Moreover, trauma-informed care is helping staff support students who are suffering from intense negative experiences.

Students need to learn about the five SEL competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationships skills and responsible decision making. They have been described as soft skills, but I see them as essential skills.

Transitioning from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset is a major tenant of SEL 2.0 and one we need to embrace. A fixed mindset is the approach that individuals have “fixed” skills—that their capabilities are limited and finite. A growth mindset takes into account that the brain is constantly evolving, and that individuals can develop all kinds of new talents. This approach helps us reframe a student’s potential.

I’m proud of the positive, resilient people on our team who are preparing our students to excel. Thank you for the amazing work you’re doing now and for your exceptional commitment to our students.

Finally, our team is happy to welcome our new members, each of whom bring their unique experiences and gifts to support Social and Emotional Learning all over our district:

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Theresa Garcia

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Elena Rodriguez

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Alonzo Blankenship II

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Emily Hoaldridge-Dopkins

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James Butler

Stay tuned…our blog is BACK!  See you soon with more Austin ISD SEL news!

 

SELebrations Newsletter May 2016

Congratulations Social and Emotional Learning fans, we made it to the last week of school! Don’t forget to appreciate all the amazing teachers that make our district an incredible learning environment, and take these trusty summer sanity tips with you into these next few months.  Oh yes, and enjoy our latest SELebrations newsletter, featuring our first 11 SEL model schools, some solid SEL science, things to think about for School Year 2016-17, and lots more! Read it below, or click each page to be taken to the “live” version for links and zoomable pictures. (Use ‘Ctrl + ‘ to zoom in here or there for easier reading!)

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Thanks so much for reading!  See you soon!

Students Working to End Bias and Hate All Over Our District!

It so happens that Austin ISD is the largest Anti-Defamation League No Place for Hate district in the entire country. All 130 schools have planned, completed, and documented intentional student-led activities designed to raise awareness around bias, bullying, and prejudice, and to build a positive school culture of inclusiveness and safety. Students from pre-kindergarten through high school seniors have participated in these opportunities to increase the peace.  Here are just a few examples of how some schools have declared themselves No Place for Hate!

Kealing and Lamar Middle Schools have both created lessons to bring attention to bias and microaggressions.  Their work to bring attention to these issues on a local, campus level is the first step toward addressing bias, prejudice and racism on a societal level.  Here’s a video from Lamar Middle School with AVID student-generated examples of microaggressions that was included in an SEL lesson for the entire campus:

Kealing Middle School asked students to think of microaggressions they had heard or experienced as well, and then invited students to think of assertive ways to address the microaggression:

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At Zilker Elementary, students participated in a March Forth for Peace on…you guessed it! March 4th! The parade was a culminating event organized by the Zilker counselor, Ms. Vreeland, celebrating lessons that the students had learned about friendship, empathy, and being an ally.  The whole Zilker community sang a special peace song led by music teacher Ms. Garcia, and students decorated t-shirts and posters to show their spirit of peace!  Every single teacher, student, and hundreds of parents Marched Forth for peace that lovely spring day.

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McCallum High School had a week-long “No Hate” campaign involving a t-shirt logo contest, a “just be you” photo booth, No H8 face painting at lunch, and the reading of a student-generated play about issues faced by LBGTQ+ students for the whole faculty (in partnership with Creative Action‘s Outside the Lines project). In one way or another, every student and faculty member participated in building and celebrating McCallum’s welcoming culture!

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Travis High School students planted a peace garden in a courtyard, and had everyone on campus sign the ADL Resolution of Respect.  They created a visual symbol of the Resolution using hundreds of handprints and posted it on a long window in the cafeteria, showing off the solidarity of their learning community with panoramic stained glass effects!

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They also hosted a Peace Through Pie event (and pie eating contest!), and this year it was attended by the founder of the Peace Through Pie movement!  Like Lamar Middle School’s similar Peace Through Pie evening, it commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and seeks to build peaceful community ties through sharing pies of all kinds.

AISD Short Peace Thru Pie 2015 from Austin ISD TV on Vimeo.

Finally, Bowie High School planned and carried out their own No Place for Hate parade, and a student documented the campus-wide event in this inspiring video…

Jillian Bontke, the Anti-Defamation League’s Austin Education Project Director, shared feedback from educators around the district about the impact Social and Emotional Learning and No Place for Hate has had on their campuses:

No Place for Hate, in combination with SEL lessons, positively impacts our campus by raising awareness of biased behavior, increasing ally behavior, and decreasing name calling.

–O.Henry Middle School Teacher

Our campus has worked hard to create a positive climate through social emotional learning and explicit teaching about self regulation and the brain.  However, No Place for Hate has brought our climate to a new level of acceptance in and around our community.  Our focus this year has been on empathy.  I knew our school had very strong skills in providing empathy to our peers and teachers; however, I had not anticipated such growth in empathy for our community, including dispelling stereotypes in our community and developing empathy for those in our community experiencing homelessness.

–Cunningham Elementary School Teacher

Students have been exposed to SEL for several years now and the additional activities they are involved in for No Place for Hate enhance so much of the learning that goes on through SEL. It actually gives them more hands on opportunities to practice skills.

–Mollie Dawson Elementary School Counselor

No Place for Hate reminds student of what they are learning during their SEL lessons and counselor lessons. The activities reinforce kindness and inclusiveness and have the ability to impact the entire school – reinforcing the same message across grade levels.

–Zilker Elementary School Counselor

No Place for Hate is a good supplement to SEL and both are really supported by our administration this year.  Kids are reminding each other to be kind, be positive, breathe deeply, support each other.

–Pillow Elementary Counselor

I feel that NPFH has really benefited Dobie, and I truly even feel that it has improved our students writing skills! The thought provoking topics the students talk about and  the Social Emotional Aspect and writing about their feelings, really helps them to express themselves through words.

–J. Frank Dobie Early College Preparatory Academy Counselor

No Place for Hate, in combination with SEL lessons, positively impacts our campus by raising awareness of biased behavior, increasing ally behavior, and decreasing name calling.

–O.Henry Middle School Counselor

[We have seen a] decrease in name calling and teasing report, [and an] increase in kind acts and helpfulness, we were designated as a SEL Model Campus due to the positive social and emotional skills our students consistently show.

–Robert E.Lee Elementary Counselor

Students and teachers have reported feeling more like a family. Our staff and student body is closer than even and there is a feeling of pride and excitement as you walk the halls in our school. Some of our 5th graders have reported having new friends and talking to more peers in their classroom – not just those peers who were previously in their “cliques.” Every 3rd Friday of the month, we now recognize two students from each grade for demonstrating their SEL skills because we have noticed that students are showing respect, kindness, and responsibility around the school. We connect these acts of maturity to SEL and No Place for Hate because these two programs have educated students and helped them become better members of our school community.

–Edward L. Blackshear Elementary School Counselor

 

We are sure #AISDProud of our district’s national No Place for Hate status.  Teachers, administrators, parents, community members, and students are working hard to create welcoming, inclusive learning environments every day. Onward to an increasingly peaceful future!

Amplify Austin ISD SEL and Whole Child Education!

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Today is the day!  Amplify ATX is 24 hours (March 8th 6pm-March 9th 6pm) of community giving to local non-profits all over the Austin area, and once again Austin Ed Fund is participating to raise funds to support Austin ISD’s innovative whole-child education initiatives!

From Austin Ed Fund:

Help us support excellence and innovation in Austin Independent School District (AISD)! Your investment in our urban district, serving more than 83,000 amazing students at 130 campuses, ensures that every student has access to innovative opportunities and enriching experiences.

Your generous contribution will:
• Fund teachers’ creative project ideas for their classrooms or campus through our Innovation Grants program
• Expand AISD’s nationally-recognized Social and Emotional Learning program, which teaches students the skills to resolve conflict, manage emotions, and succeed in the classroom, career, and life
• Fund economically-disadvantaged and first-generation students through our Student Opportunity Fund.

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AISD’s Social and Emotional Learning team works with every single campus in the district to create safe and welcoming learning environments, foster meaningful relationships between students and teachers, and teach 21st century skills like collaboration, communication, time management, and self-efficacy. Funding that supports AISD’s Social and Emotional Learning comes largely from individual donors, partners in the Austin community, and national donors and foundations, so your Amplify AISD donation really does make a huge difference!

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Schedule your donation now, or participate today (March 8th) starting at 6pm through 6pm tomorrow (March 9th) , by visiting:

Austin Ed Fund’s Amplify Overview Page

Katie Cameroneil’s Amplify Whole Child Education Page

Caroline Newman’s Amplify Our Students, Our Teachers, Our Future Page

Thanks so much for being a part of AISD’s Whole Child, Every Child education movement!

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Follow along on Twitter too: @AustinISDSEL @AustinISD_OID (Office of Innovation and Development) @AustinEdFund and keep up with the hashtags #AmplifyATX and #InvestinAISD!

 

Real Teachers Talk Part II: Spring Semester SEL

Austin ISD is chock-full of passionate, compassionate, talented educators bringing Social and Emotional Learning to their students in every part of our fair city, every single day. Last time on the blog, two amazing teachers from Bedichek shared their insight on the importance of intentional self-care during the stresses of the spring semester.  Today, seven more outstanding teachers lend their thoughts and practices from around the district.  They are all at different schools in different capacities, and they have this in common: they know their students, and they know SEL!

Mr. Howard, 6th-8th Grade Math Teacher, Learning Support Services

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Mr. Howard works one-on-one with students experiencing long-term in-school suspension, teaching math and being a strong, positive, compassionate adult connection. He works hard to engage with each student authentically, so that their relationship facilitates lasting learning. He says that he does his best to stay relaxed and focused on one task at a time, so that he doesn’t get overwhelmed.  “I try to know about and anticipate obstacles and challenges, so that I can make a response plan,” he says.  “You can’t always predict what’s going to happen, but thinking through some possible responses to challenges that may arise helps me avoid feeling worried and reactive. This allows me to stay calmly focused on my students.”

Ms. Williams, 3rd Grade ESL Teacher, Linder Elementary

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Ms. Williams is a big fan of the Peace Area, a special place in classrooms where students can choose to go to manage strong emotions, resolve interpersonal conflicts, or just take a self-care break.  Many teachers like Ms. Williams have experienced professional development dedicated to the creation and effective use of Peace Areas in the classroom environment, and she even has one she can take with her wherever her students might end up!  “The Peace Area is a great tool to use in de-escalating and problem solving. I grab it and take it with me as I’m walking out the door with the kids. Since it’s portable I can bring it to recess or other places. It’s just a wonderful tool for me to use when modeling [social and emotional skills] for the kids.”

Peace Areas often contain soft stuffed animal friends, squeezy stress-balls, “calm down” bottles full of slow-settling glitter to watch, pictures of faces for emotion identification, paper and art supplies for self-reflective writing or drawing, and many other creative ideas for peace-making.  Many include a “peace path” and conflict resolution script for students to practice interpersonal assertive communication.  

Mr. Light, 9th-12th Grade English Language Arts Teacher, Alternative Learning Center

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Mr. Light covers his desk and classroom in quotes from famous folks addressing kindness, self-efficacy, and inspiration for learning. One in particular, from Oscar Wilde, serves as an important daily reminder: “Life is far too important to be taken seriously.” He builds and draws on his sense of gratitude as a self-care practice. “When the everyday drudgery settles in, when students become ‘snarky’ and push the buttons they know so well, when the work seems to keep piling up and you might wonder, What am I doing here? . . . These are the times to remember to set your mind on the bigger pictures (your dreams, your passions) and not merely what is in front of you. It helps you remember to enjoy life and to be thankful. It helps you remember to enjoy your students and to be thankful for them. It helps you. It helps them.”

Ms.Gandomi, 2nd Grade Teacher, Blackshear Elementary Fine Arts Academy

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Ms. Gandomi has found ways to weave her Social and Emotional Learning knowledge straight into challenging learning experiences for her scholars. “Subtraction with regrouping was really frustrating my students. I needed to find a way to teach my students to be kind and patient with themselves,” she says. “I created a lesson to teach them a more positive approach toward learning. First, we had a class discussion about neuroplasticity and my students learned how neurological pathways develop in the brain as we learn something new. This was a game changer! My students got excited when a lesson or strategy was difficult because they knew their brains were growing. I have overheard my students say, ‘This is hard! It’s okay because I’m creating a new neuropathways in my brain!'”

Neuroplasticity is the process by which the brain physically grows and changes in response to learning new information and trying new things.  Many teachers in AISD have participated in professional development around neuroplasticity and growth mindset, helping their students foster intellectual resilience and positive self-talk to help work through challenging learning experiences.

Mr. Sikes, 8th Grade Math Teacher, Fulmore Middle School

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Mr. Sikes makes sure his students feel safe and welcome in his classroom by teaching about stress management, and also by helping each student feel heard and seen. “I like to show my kids what types of stress triggers I have during second semester and how I know to read my bodies warning signs. We can’t avoid stress, but how can we cope with it when it arises?”  Mr. Sikes teaches from all parts of his classroom, checking in and reinforcing connections with each young person as he moves between the groups of seated students. “There is a lot of [student change and movement] as well at the beginning of a semester, so we take time every week to reintroduce ourselves and share things about ourselves that makes us unique, so that all students feel heard and valued no matter how ‘new’ they are to the school, or city, or state.”

Mrs. Roberts, 4th Grade Science Teacher, Widen Elementary

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Shown here among emotion identification words and steps for calming down in her classroom, Mrs. Roberts takes time each day to take care of Social and Emotional Learning business before getting down to the business of learning science. “SEL allows me to internalize and model emotional management skills throughout the school day, and transfer those to the kids,” she says. Like many teachers throughout AISD, Mrs. Roberts is skilled at using SEL concepts and practices to maximize learning time. “I love the rituals of Morning Meeting and breakfast in the classroom and the sense of community it instills. Words can’t describe how beautiful it is and the impact it has on our community.”

Mrs. Lozano-Studstrup, 6th Grade English Language Arts, Mendez Middle School

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Mrs. Lozano-Studstrup works hard every day to create a warm, engaging, culturally-relevant, connected learning environment.  Student work and drawings adorn the walls, and each class’ social contract is prominently displayed. A large portion of her classroom is dedicated to a cozy space with a bookshelf full of diverse books, a colorful floor lamp, and a comfortable area rug primed for the unhurried enjoyment of reading for fun. “I love my students, and I try to connect with each one of them every day they are with me,” she says. “I try to make sure each of them feels seen and heard and valued. When students feel safe and connected, that’s when authentic learning takes place.”

These amazing educators represent how Social and Emotional Learning is infusing lessons, classrooms, practices and schools across our district. To all seven talented teachers who shared their faces, expertise and insight for this post, thank you! With your dedication, compassion, and unique style, you are demonstrating the very best of SEL and Austin ISD!

REAL TEACHERS TALK: Second Semester Self-Care

Let’s be real: Teachers know Social and Emotional Learning.  Teachers have been creating safe classrooms, welcoming students, building in 21st-century skills, and modeling healthy adulthood since schools were invented.  We invited teachers from around the district to share their best SEL tips and advice for managing the stressful second semester, and so this post and the next one will be dedicated to showcasing the voices of competent, compassionate educators from our Austin ISD. For this one, dynamic duo Hannah Vaugh and Jenna Conde of Bedichek Middle School guest blog on the crucial topic of Teacher Self-Care.

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Treat yo’ Self – brunch, happy hour, baths.

In our line of work, it’s easy to let your emotional well-being fall to the wayside. We give everything we have to our kids, and by the weekend we’re faced with mounds of papers to grade (why did I give this many short-answer questions?!), seating charts to re-arrange (there’s got to be SOME place to put Billy where he won’t be a vortex of chaos!), and bureaucratic nonsense filled with so many acronyms that by this point we don’t even remember what all those jumbled letters stand for. We are convinced that our work will never end, and with good reason: it doesn’t.

That’s why we need to make it a point to purposefully carve out our hard-earned “me time.” Put down the pen, close your laptop, and give yourself a second to grab half-priced appetizers (and other delicious things!) at happy hour on Friday. Give yourself a few hours to grab brunch with your long lost friends. When is the last time you soaked in the tub with your favorite record playing in the background? If you absolutely MUST do work, bring it with you to your favorite coffee shop for a change of scenery and a guaranteed morale boost. Look at you, grading those papers with your chai tea latte and a mouthful of eggs benedict, you rock star!  It’s time to turn some of that unconditional love you’re always doling out back onto yourself. You deserve it!

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Mentors/Cohorts

Everybody needs a hero. Even us heroes. A teaching mentor is a wonderful resource for both classroom and personal needs. A mentor is your go-to person on campus who can answer all your questions, provide classroom support, and comfort you when that lesson you planned so hard for fell flat on its face (you turned your back for one second…)

A group of trusted amigos on campus is another invaluable resource for emotional refreshment and well-being. Finding a person or group of people you can trust can be difficult in a workplace setting, but we promise that it’s worth investing time in the good ones. Knowing you’re not alone on those tough days, with people who will genuinely empathize with you, makes the struggle less real. Having a group of people to celebrate your accomplishments with, who will be genuinely happy for you when you are rocking it, leaves you feeling on top of the world.

Find people who will build you up, and who you can build up in return. It’s a beautiful thing!

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You can say no sometimes.

This one goes out to all the first-year teachers, but it’s applicable to teachers of all experience levels.

It’s going to happen. You’re going to be minding your own business, probably in the middle of teaching a lesson, when an administrator or teacher will walk through your door. “Sorry to interrupt but…” Now they throw out a compliment, appealing to your vanity. “You did such a good job with x,y,z, and…” Here it comes. It’s a thing, and they want you to do/join/spearhead/tackle/organize. Sometimes you’ve got the energy, in which case FANTASTIC! Grab your clip board and get to work, you magical unicorn of a person!

But here’s the deal: if you don’t have the energy, or you can’t focus on whether or not you think you could handle it, or if you are already on six other committees and you don’t think you’d be productive on another one, IT IS OK TO SAY, “NO.”

Allow me to repeat myself.

IT IS OK TO SAY, “NO.”

And yes, they may try to persuade. “Well, you have to do SOMETHING.” (Guess what? You’re dedicating your time to molding the minds of children. You ARE doing something!) or “Oh, we just want to hone your leadership skills.” (Since when did you say you wanted to be a leader?) Don’t give in.

Somewhere along the road, our occupation became more than just teaching. Not only are we educators, therapists, moms and dads, advocates, social workers, and a whole other slew of emotionally exhausting professions, we are also expected to be superhuman. At some point a line has to be drawn, and you’re the only one who knows when to draw it.

By the way, saying “yes” can be amazing sometimes. It can be especially fun if you say yes and then drag someone into it with you, so you have all kinds of fun while you plan together.

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 Want to remember why you teach and make a bunch of people’s day? Positive Parent Phone Calls.

95% of our students are darlings. 95% come in, ask questions, have their binder, agenda, ISN, pencils, every single day—and yet, we spend the majority of our energy on our 5-10 challenging students that require frequent parent contact, one-on-one relationship building time, bargains, rewards, and unfortunately, consequences.

Look at your rosters and put some dots next to the students you forget to worry about—they’re so self-sufficient! Self-motivated! Next, of those, pick out the ones that are in the middle of the pack—grades, behavior, everything. Call those parents one after the other with a short and sweet “I appreciate your child’s hard work EVERY day. I am so impressed with their [participation in discussion/organization/perseverance when things get difficult].” The parents are so appreciative, excited, and grateful that they got some news from school that their student rarely warrants. Not only will this amp up your parent support and involvement, it will also remind that student that you NOTICE their effort, and possibly, keep them from turning to the dark side in May. On top of that, you feel great.

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 Laugh often and let it happen.  Make like an improv class: Embrace your failures and literally have your class clap for you.

One of the first exercises that you do at an improv class is an exercise where you stand in a circle. Whenever you feel so inclined, you shout out to the group a recent failure of yours (i.e., last night I dropped an ENTIRE carton of eggs on the kitchen floor), and take a deep bow as everyone claps for you ecstatically. Then, someone else shares. It is no surprise how cathartic and humorous this practice is.

Next time you forget to make a set of copies, forget to project the Essential Question on the screen and then get mad when no one is writing it down, or call a student by the wrong name, just take a deep breath, say “I’m so sorry guys. I’m only a human.” Take a bow and have a round of applause.

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Thanks, Ms. Vaugh and Ms. Conde, for your fabulous ideas, engaging writing, and rockin’ pictures! Stay tuned next week for more great thoughts and tips from even more amazing AISD teacher super heroes!