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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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!

Austin High’s Youth in Government Club Makes SEL Waves at State Conference!

capitol_dome2The weekend of January 30th and 31st, hundreds of high school students descended on the Texas State Capitol to participate in the 69th annual YMCA Youth and Government State Conference. The conference is designed to gather young leaders from all over the state and provide a hands-on, real life government experience, fostering interest in the democratic process and excitement in the potential of political engagement. This year, Austin ISD’s Austin High Youth in Government Club brought a high-impact team to the YAG State Conference, finishing with two distinguished delegates and a State Affairs proposal aimed at improving the Texas high school graduation rate via statewide implementation of freshman MAPS classes.

From hundreds of peer-reviewed proposals addressing 30 pre-selected state affairs topics, Miranda Gershoni and Madison Perry’s MAPS (Methods for Academic and Personal Success) class proposal was ranked among the best in the state by the conference participants, winning a chance to be viewed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott and affect actual state legislation.  That’s right…youth leaders from all over Texas thought Austin High’s MAPS class model, which explicitly teaches freshmen Social and Emotional Learning skills to help set them on a successful path for high school and beyond, should be a state-wide requirement to raise graduation rates!

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Ms. Gershoni and Ms. Perry present their proposal

Ms. Gershoni, who led the development of the proposal, drew upon her freshman experience in the MAPS class at Austin High and the organizational and interpersonal skills it helped her develop. She was also inspired by her participation on a student team that helped to facilitate a workshop on MAPS-style student engagement activities at last October’s National Dropout Prevention Network Conference.  Armed with her passion for helping her peers succeed and her experience with presenting at this national conference, Gershoni led her team in convincing other youth leaders that SEL skills taught in MAPS classes statewide could lead to more Texas high school graduates ready for career and life. District data backs up their proposal’s claim: At high schools with high MAPS class implementation rates, administrators have seen positive indicators like a 50% reduction in suspensions, a 71% reduction in discipline referrals, and a 41% reduction in freshman failures.

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Distinguished Delegates Mr. Symonds and Mr. Smith-Klein

Mr. Steven Wnorozski, Austin High’s sponsor of the Youth in Government Club, was proud of Ms. Gershoni and Ms. Perry’s winning proposal, and the recognition of distinguished delegates Mr. Theo Symonds and Mr. Joseph Smith-Klein. Participating in the club, and preparing for experiences like the district and state-level YAG conferences, help build the Social and Emotional Learning skills of time management, organization, collaboration, and self-efficacy. “Our club is small, but we’ve been before the school board and have been recognized for our achievements,” he says. “It allows students to be active in politics and try to solve problems that really exist.” The Youth in Government club will send delegates to the Youth and Government’s Conference on National Affairs, and is also considering participation in the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life’s Speak Up! Speak Out! event in May.

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Ms. Gershoni said that her experience at the state Youth and Government Conference has inspired her to consider a career in public policy. She also found that just being present at the conference was inspiring in another way: “Sometimes high school just seems like a big swimming pool, with everybody just trying to swim to the top to graduate and get on with their lives like you know you’re supposed to,” she said. “It was great to feel like I was poking my head up out of the water, and seeing all these other young people like me who were poking their heads up too, who are concerned about the big picture-the future of the state and country-and who have big ideas to help affect it.”

Congratulations to Miranda Gershoni, Madison Perry, Theo Symonds, Joseph Smith-Klein, Mr. Wnoroski, and Austin High!  We are sure #AISDProud of these #SELSmart, engaged young people on the fast-track to making big changes in their world!

 

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!

Peace Through Pie Through Pictures

On Monday, January 25th 2016, Lamar Fine Arts Academy hosted their annual Peace Through Pie event as part of their school-wide No Place for Hate yearly campaign. AVID students and student council representatives helped to put the program together.  They were guided by ELA teacher/NP4H Coordinator Dorothy Winburne, and Social and Emotional Learning facilitator/AVID teacher Constance Ledesma.   Kerren Campa, active parent and member of Lamar’s SEL Steering Committee, took on a leading role as well, getting pizza and pies donated from local businesses and taking care of logistics like cups, plates, water, and pie slicers.  She also managed the mild chaos of middle schoolers serving pie to other middle schoolers with effortless grace.  Check out all the awesome that happened on that peaceful evening!

Beautiful pies created and donated by Lamar parents and community partners–before the peaceful devouring

The devouring begins…peace can come through sharing all kinds of pies, including pizza pie!

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Mr. Andrew Bennett, Assistant Principal and SEL Administrator Extraordinaire, enjoys a peaceful pie piece.

The program for the event

Beautiful mandalas created by 6th grade Lamar art students…

20160125_172853…Encouraging event participants to create their own mandalas for peace.

Student leaders got into peace promotion by wearing, singing, and reading for the theme…

…And performance groups lent their multitude of talents to the evening.

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Parents, teachers and students added the names of famous peace promoters to this banner…

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And Ms. Dorothy Winburne had the last word, sharing Lamar’s dedication to increasing the peace on the planet.

Thanks for another successful, delicious Peace Through Pie, Lamar Fine Arts Academy! We sure are #AISDProud of y’all!

Get Your Gratitude On!

Last year around this time, everyone’s favorite AISD Social and Emotional Learning blog offered up this Ode to Gratitude, a short (and slightly silly) rhythmic rhymer with links to compelling research on the benefits of bringing more gratitude into daily life. More and more studies, even just within the past year, show how an intentional gratitude practice can increase positive feelings, improve physical and mental health, generate heightened awareness (mindfulness), and lots of other concrete good things (Better sleep! Deeper relationships! Better sleep!). “Great!” you say, ” It’s Thanksgiving, and I’m ready to sleep better! How do I start a gratitude practice?”

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In answer to that question, the students, faculty and staff at the Austin ISD Liberal Arts and Science Academy (LASA) have taken on a Gratitude Challenge this season. Inspired by Austin Mindfulness Center’s recent post on gratitude, Wellness Counselors Marissa Rivera and Meagan Butler invited grownups and students at LASA to use a smartphone app (iTunes: GetGratitude, Google Play: Attitudes of Gratitude Journal)  or paper journal with prompts to keep a daily log of gratitude experiences.  Members of the school community are running with it–one English teacher has made it a daily part of her class; another educator plans to share her gratitude observations with family on Thanksgiving Day. And dozens of students have been participating, posting their experiences on the two gratitude trees now growing up the walls of the school.

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“After the first 2-3 days of the Gratitude Challenge, the students actually took a lot of initiative with getting each other involved,” says Ms. Rivera. “As counselors, it’s been a great daily activity to share with our students. In addition to challenging everyone in our community to pause each day and reflect on positive aspects of life, there have been times we’ve witnessed people just stopping for a few moments to read what others had posted to either of the gratitude trees and smiling. Even small moments like that can help foster a more thoughtful community.”

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The responses to the LASA gratitude challenge posted on the trees have demonstrated the wide diversity of gratitude experiences among the staff and students. “Responses have ranged from the expected (family, friends, etc.) to some really touching, personal anecdotes. In between those two ends of the spectrum, there were lots of teacher/counselor shoutouts, some very LASA specific tributes (Robotics, Bruce Wayne the therapy dog, etc.) and some silly ones that brought the laughs (e.g., no more dinosaurs, and Drake’s dancing).”

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Students and teachers at LASA are really walking the gratitude talk.  With this kind of intentional practice, gratitude can physically re-wire the brain to experience more positive feelings and adopt a more hopeful outlook.  LASA is building a more connected, empathetic school culture with their gratitude challenge.  With or without Drake’s dancing, a focus on gratitude can increase personal feelings of happiness and therefore help foster deeper connection within groups of people.

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So give it a shot! Since it’s called Thanksgiving, let’s all come up with one way we can bring awareness to our gratitude.  Thanks for the inspiration, LASA!  And thanks to you, Dear Reader, for your precious time and attention given here…have a relaxing holiday!

 

 

 

 

 

Keeth Matheny and His Austin High School MAPS Students Were Stars at a National Conference!

Wouldn’t it be cool if a group of Austin ISD students got to share their Social and Emotional Learning experience with educators from all over the country–even the world?  Say, at a national conference dedicated to defining and refining the kinds of educational practices that keep kids in school and prepare them for career and life success?  Picture it: high-level professionals dedicated to figuring out what works best for young people in schools, listening to actual young people talk about what works best for them and their school.  And the whole topic is Social and Emotional Learning.  Sounds good right?

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Well guess what…IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED.  On Tuesday, October 27th, Mr. Keeth Matheny of Austin High School took a group of 23 AHS students to facilitate a session with 180 educators at the National Dropout Prevention Network‘s annual conference. Mr. Matheny has been an active participant and frequent presenter at many NDPN conferences in years past; however, the national events have been held in places like Kentucky, Minnesota and Florida.  When the 2015 conference was slated to be held in San Antonio, Mr. Matheny recognized a unique opportunity–it was time to get student voice in on the national education conversation!

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Current and former MAPS students interact with educators during the session, called “School Transformation Through a Social and Emotional Learning-Based Seminar Course.”

The National Dropout Prevention Network paid for the transportation and registration of the 23 current and former MAPS students for that Tuesday.  They attended plenary and break-out choice sessions alongside teachers and administrators, social workers and superintendents.  Then, from 1:30-3:00, those students sat at the round tables among 180 adult participants from all over the country and world, and facilitated activities and discussions while Mr. Matheny led the presentation.  The session was designed to provide educators with concrete student engagement strategies and authentic class experiences from the freshman seminar MAPS (Methods for Academic and Personal Success) course. This course has enjoyed such success at Austin High, other high schools in Austin, and even several in other parts of the country.

Mr. Matheny has been instrumental in designing and implementing MAPS, which uses a research-based Social and Emotional Learning curriculum to prepare freshmen for the personal and organizational challenges associated with high school and beyond. The AHS students represented cutting-edge Austin ISD Social and Emotional Learning tactics by facilitating activities from the MAPS class itself with the session participants. They also shared ways they have personally benefited from the course.  This kind of student voice and involvement embedded in the session gave attendees an unprecedented and informative experience at the NDPN conference.

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Many of the students who participated in and facilitated activities at the conference had been out of MAPS for years, but still could teach the lessons and speak to the impact that the course has had on their lives.

It takes a special kind of educator to recognize how valuable student voice would be in this national venue, and Keeth Matheny is a special kind of educator.  In fact, as if getting students to the National Dropout Prevention Network conference wasn’t awesome enough, there is another reason why the 2015 conference was particularly exciting–Mr. Matheny received the highly prestigious National Dropout Prevention Network’s Crystal Star Award of Excellence.  According to their website,

“The purpose of the National Dropout Prevention Network (NDPN) Crystal Star Awards of Excellence in Dropout Recovery, Intervention, and Prevention is to identify and bring national recognition to outstanding individuals who have made significant contributions to the advancement of the mission of the NDPN.”

The fact that Mr. Matheny received this award that morning in the presence of his family, colleagues, administrators and students represents the best of Austin Independent School District.

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(l-r) Amy Taylor, AHS Principal; Keeth Matheny; Julea Douglass, School Connect representative; Aaron Vohl, AHS Asst. Principal. Diana Trimino, the AHS graduation coach, also attended the conference and awards ceremony.

Student voice at a national education conference? Prestigious awards of excellence?  Just another Tuesday in October for AISD.  We sure are #AISDProud of Mr. Matheny and his #SELSmart MAPS students!