SEL Plays an Integral Role in Culturally Responsive Restorative Practices

In 2010, Austin ISD leadership noticed the distinct differences in the demographics between its staff and students, along with disproportionate rates in both special education and disciplinary referrals. As a result, the district committed to providing ongoing, meaningful professional learning opportunities for staff to engage in critical self-reflection on their interactions with students, staff and families in a manner that considers the diverse needs of all.

In growing our understanding of student needs and learning what evidence-based practices were being used at state and national levels, Austin ISD’s cultural proficiency and inclusiveness team, led by Angela Ward, PhD, Administrative Supervisor for Race & Equity in Austin ISD, began to dive into restorative practices.

Nurturing Identity-Safe Spaces

Restorative practices offers the opportunity to create culturally responsive communities, focusing primarily on building relationships & maintaining positive connections with students and families. In 2017, Austin ISD was awarded an Education Innovation & Research Grant to support whole-school implementation of culturally responsive restorative practices, which took efforts around nurturing identity-safe spaces for staff, students, and families to the next level.

“Over the years, we’ve learned our staff need to develop a critical consciousness, understanding their view of the world impacts those around them,” states Dr. Ward. “They need to understand their role in creating a sense of belonging in their classrooms and work environments for others to feel safe, welcome and included.”

It’s an Inside-Out Approach

Critical consciousness starts with self-awareness, the first of the social and emotional learning competencies. Ultimately, Dr. Ward shares, culturally responsive restorative practices work is at the heart of social and emotional learning. The two work hand-in-hand.

It takes all of us building each of the competencies (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, executive functions and responsible decision-making) to effectively create safe, inclusive, culturally responsive, academically engaging and equitable learning environments.

Dr. Ward concludes with a message for educators to remember:
“Your unique perspective plays a vital role in our ability to all grow as equity-centered social and emotional leaders.”

January 2020: Be a Relationship Skills Visionary

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.

Growing Relationship Skills

Since the core of relationship skills is building trust, this summary of Zaretta Hammond’s ideas for tapping into the brain chemistry of connection are some concrete ways that educators can hone their own practice of relationship-building with students. And, Edutopia’s series of four video interviews with neuroscience researcher Patricia Kuhl addresses various aspects of developing relationship skills in the classroom environment. Further, this collection of practices and resources from ASCD [Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development] provides insight into classroom management, class culture-building and student-family interactions, all with a relationship skills lens.

Relationships = Learning = Human Being

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 Consciousness Leads to Connection

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?

Consciousness is at the core of social awareness, and the ability to be truly present with other people, as well as with the self, can be practiced through mindfulness exercises. Empathy, perspective-taking, and cultural proficiency and responsiveness are all skills which can grow by practicing mindfulness.

Restorative practices are community building structures that support student and adult social awareness skills. Restorative community-building circles encourage deep listening to others’ stories and encourage participants to speak their own truths by creating brave spaces in which to hear and see each other. These practices have ancient indigenous roots, and are currently used in schools and other community spaces around the world to build social awareness and promote listening and healing – including here in Austin ISD!

Check out these fantastic, concrete strategies for creating a classroom practice for social awareness skills. The Parent Toolkit has a whole section dedicated to helping develop social awareness skills for each grade level, great for caregivers and educators! And, don’t miss this list of 8 Steps to Improve your Social Awareness from LinkedIn, for adults out there trying to be social in the world. Because let’s face it, we all are at some point!

Connecting and Self-Caring

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!

Cultural Proficiency and Responsiveness: Know about it in November

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

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

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

So, how do we do it?

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

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

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

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

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

Self-Management is a Practice

Self-management starts with self-awareness. Understanding the state of our body and what energy we bring to a situation helps us to know what we need to manage. Learn more about the first SEL competency of self-awareness in our recent posts.

In this video, Teri Wood, Ph.D., Trust Based Relational Intervention and Brain Development Coordinator for Austin ISD, dives into the importance of self-management in our everyday relationships and tools to help us regulate and manage our energies.

Self-Management in Austin ISD

According to our 2018-2019 student climate survey, data shows that 88% of our students are aware when their feelings change, and 77% of those same students are able to use tools & practices to calm themselves down. These are great self-management results for our student population. Of course, there’s always room for growth, but that goes for people of any age!

As adults and educators, we need to remember that the energy we bring into schools and classrooms impacts the students with whom we interact. Here are a few simple steps to help you manage your energy like a boss:

  • Take a moment to slow down and notice your feelings.
  • Use the tools and practices you need in order to regulate your bodies. This can range from a walk and talk, stretching, breathing techniques, or using a fidget to get your body centered and your mind back to the present moment.
  • Be open and honest with those around you. Let others know when you’re feeling anxious or low energy, etc. This is especially important in the classroom, because students will notice.
  • Don’t forget to practice self-compassion through the process.

Self management is a work in progress because we, as humans, are a work in progress. Don’t forget to practicing self-compassion. Some days will be easier than others!

We are all learning socially and emotionally every day. #WeAreSEL

Motivation for Self-Regulation

Do as the octopus do?

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

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

Self-Managment and the Brain

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

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

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

How do we build self-management brain power?

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

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

Self-Awareness: The Mind-Body Connection

In support of our monthly theme of self-awareness, Meagan Butler, Austin ISD secondary counseling coordinator, shares a brief video to help us build an understanding of how our bodies function and the importance of the mind-body connection. 

Through the video, Meagan describes the role of the vagus nerve and its impact on different areas of the body when we are experiencing different emotions. For example, when we are stressed, we might noticed our stomach feeling upset or our heart rate increase. The Atlas of the Human Body article, shares maps of the body experiencing different emotional experiences. It’s no wonder we would have different bodily sensations with regard to different feelings.

Train Your Brain

Through a few simple practices, you can help your mind understand your emotions and the impact they have on your body.

SIFT
A four step strategy from Dan Siegel called SIFT, encourages you to take a mindful moment to notice your sensations, images, feelings and thoughts related to a particular emotional experience.

BODY SCAN
Doing regular body scan check-ins with yourself throughout the day or during particularly high or low emotional moments are another good way to begin understanding your mind-body connection. Use Meagan’s “Recognizing Body Sensations and Checking in with your Body” checklist to begin your practice.


“Looking deeply requires courage.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

The World of Difference A Breath Can Make

Ultimately, with what we understand about our emotions and the impact they have on the sensations in our body, we can use that information to hack our brains and disrupt negative feelings in our bodies. So, when we are noticing our body react to feelings of stress or nervousness or frustration, we can take a few intentional, deep, slow breaths and introduce a sense of calm back into our bodies. Your vagus nerve will thank you!