Get Curious to Build Empathy in February!

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

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

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

Sachel Harris, Communications Manager, TNTP

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

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

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

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

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

January 2021: Renewing our Commitment to Cultivate Compassion

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

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

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

Skills We Need Now

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

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

Growing Compassion and Connection

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

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

Feeling emotionally moved by that suffering (affective)

Wishing there to be relief from that suffering (intentional)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Strength, Hope, Caring: December 2020

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

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

Safely Together

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

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

Doing Hard Things

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

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

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

There is no end to what we can do.

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

We can do hard things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can educational communities do?

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

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

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

Knowing ourselves, finding balance

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

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

It’s a lot. Really.

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

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

School Year 20-21: Bring It On!

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

Creating Virtual Space for Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEL Seed Model Campuses Shared at Symposium 2020!

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

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

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

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

SEL Symposium 2020

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

Growing a Symposium

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

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

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

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


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

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

Virtual Symposium Reality: 6/11/2020

Dr. Ault

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

Riders Against the Storm

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

Biggest Symposium Ever

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

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

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

May Oh My: Time to SELebrate!

As strange as it’s been lately, there is a LOT to SEL-ebrate!

For starters, we see you out there growing your SEL competencies! Understandably, we all have had to do a lot of growing in our self-awareness in order to do the self-management necessary to stay socially aware in times of spatial distancing. We’ve also had the opportunity to practice new ways of building and maintaining relationships, while managing work, possible parenting and household responsibilities, all taking our executive functioning to the next level. And, in order to accomplish everything on our plates right now, it’s imperative to make responsible decisions around time, resources and health/safety management.

That’s right, y’all! We are really working the whole SEL wheel right now. And, for some of us, we’re practicing our competencies in ways we may have never explored before. Now, THAT IS WORTH CELEBRATING!

We’re in this together!

When it comes to the foundation of our SEL wheel, our Austin ISD teachers and support staff are out there inventing new ways to create safe, culturally responsive, academically engaging, and equitable learning environments – WITHOUT ACTUAL CLASSROOMS. The district has devised a locally curated AISD Learning At-Home resource, supplemented and supported by our very own department’s SEL At-Home site. We are also distributing printed materials and technology to families, to increase access and help provide continuous learning while we practice spatial distancing. Additionally, district staff, community members, volunteers, and donors from across our city have ensured that families continue to get healthy food and resources.

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay 

May is traditionally Teacher Appreciation Month, and this May of all Mays is a unique time to appreciate our teachers and educators who have worked so hard to provide not just innovative academic content, but genuine care, connection and help for students and families. Follow #ThankYouTeacherStories and add your own all week this week [May 4th-May 8th] to celebrate Austin ISD educators!

Of course, May is also the last month of school before summer break, and traditionally time for classrooms full of students and teachers to celebrate their learning and accomplishments over the course of the school year. Sure, 2019-2020 got interrupted in that regard, but teachers and students are always coming up with innovative ways to celebrate and connect with each other!

We encourage you to take a moment to pause, recognize, and appreciate ourselves and those around us.

What are you doing to SELebrate yourself, your students, your school, or anything these days? How have you appreciated an educator lately? Let us know in the comments, and tag us on social media @austinisdsel! Even though we are spatially distanced, we sure appreciate the education journey we are privileged to share with all y’all. Thank you for you!

Making Responsible Decisions in Uncertain Times

Responsible decision-making skills, aligned with closely-related executive functioning skills, help us stay grounded in our core values and beliefs as we move through times of uncertainty. For many, many people all around the world, 2020 has been an historic, unprecedented anxious time, filled with disruption and uncertainty.

Rooting Down, Staying Connected

When our department first met to discuss our response and responsibilities around the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Angela Ward, administrative supervisor of AISD’s cultural proficiency and inclusiveness team, suggested that we use “spatial distancing” instead of “social distancing” when we talk about the critical practice of staying physically away from other people during this time. In a time when we might find ourselves feeling quite physically isolated from our friends, families, loved ones, colleagues, and neighbors, meaningful social connection across the safe distances becomes more important than ever. Our human mammal brains are wired to be social, and a forced loss of “togetherness” can result in unique discomfort – indeed, in an interview with the Harvard Business Review, grief expert David Kessler says:

The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.

Responsible decision-making for us as individuals and for our community leaders in the current context compels us to practice spatial distancing from one another in order to slow the spread and damage of the novel coronavirus. As we collectively grieve the loss of our regular routines and movement through life for awhile, another responsible decision we can make for ourselves is to find creative ways to stay socially connected and practice radical self-care.

Concrete Connections

Luckily, humans – especially educators! – are a scrappy, innovative bunch, and already there are myriad tools and resources available out there to help us maintain crucial social connection while we’re spatially distanced!

  • Before delving into the content of any kind of organized collective learning experience or meeting, welcoming rituals invite connection and trust building. This can happen online in virtual classrooms and ZOOM meetings too! Check out this Smore full of welcoming rituals to foster meaningful connections across cyberspace.
  • Lynn Lyons, a psychotherapist and Licensed, Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW), specializes in helping families and children with anxiety. She posted this 22-minute Facebook Video with lots of concrete ideas around managing the worry and anxiety families and young people may be experiencing as a result of COVID-19.
  • Our Austin ISD Mindfulness Specialist, James Butler, has once again published a timely and engaging newsletter with lots of ways to employ self-care and mindful activities, specifically for observing and coping with our experiences and feelings during this uncertain moment.

What resources and tools have helped you as a person and a professional educator lately? How have you used your responsible decision-making skills to navigate this unprecedented situation? Your experience and expertise are particularly useful to your colleagues and fellow humans during a period that can feel strange and stressful. Let us know in the comments, and tag us on social media @austinisdsel! We are here for you, we are all here for each other. Social connection in a time of spatial distancing grows hope for all of us.

SEL is Key

Intentionally growing together, today and every day.

March 27, 2020 is the first International social and emotional learning (SEL) Day and has been proclaimed Austin SEL Day by Mayor Steve Adler. During this time of social distancing due to COVID-19, we have an opportunity to reflect on the value of SEL for our children and ourselves.

Image of Austin SEL Day proclamation letter from Austin, TX, Mayor Steve Adler

Human beings engage in social and emotional learning every moment of every day, either intentionally or unintentionally. As social beings, we have the capacity to be aware of our and others’ emotions, manage our emotions, build meaningful relationships, and make responsible decisions; or, we may struggle with these skills, depending upon the experiences that shape our worldview. This starts the moment we are born and continues until our last breath.

Our brains are wired to learn through social interaction. We internalize expectations that are taught with or without intent through our relationships with our parents, family members, friends, teachers, co-workers, and partners over the course of a lifetime. Depending upon those individuals, we will learn attitudes, behaviors and dispositions that may contribute to our long-term health, happiness, and goal achievement or not. When SEL is not an intentional and consistent practice, those long-term outcomes are not as predictable and equitable as they might otherwise be.

Austin Statesman Article: How Social Distancing is Bringing Families Together

From the board room, to the classroom, to the living room.

Over the past decade, school districts and communities have come to understand and value the power of intentional social and emotional learning for children and adults throughout the United States and across the globe. Austin ISD was one of the first urban school districts to embrace and prioritize SEL. Over the past nine years, we have built a system of intentionality for school environments that seeks to create common language for learners of all ages to support growth and resilience. Additionally, data indicates that strong implementation of SEL improves test scores, reduces discipline rates, and increases pro-social behavior.

Each campus community in Austin ISD engages in SEL in a way that is informed by its own data, setting goals to create processes that support both academics and SEL. Adults learn together so they can model the skill-sets students need to achieve their own goals. By creating shared agreements for the ways in which members of the community engage with one another and approach their learning, students and adults are able to feel the sense of belonging that comes with embracing their own identity and honoring the unique gifts each person brings. This creates an environment of collaborative learning and resilience that builds academic tenacity over time.

Recognizing the enormous role families serve in building their children’s social and emotional competencies and engaging them in the intentional practices the campus is putting in place is imperative. This process enables children to see the connections between different aspect of their lives, transferring skills into multiple environments while honoring the teachings and customs of their own families and cultures. At a time when schools are closed in order to keep everyone safe, families’ ability to engage in social and emotional learning with their children is paramount.

Austin ISD’s SEL department offers resources for families to engage in SEL at home:

Austin ISD’s SEL At-Home

The human brain cannot access learning without a feeling of safety and belonging. SEL is key to ensuring environments are created for optimal teaching and learning. In this way, we build strong communities that radiate out to the city at large. Today is International SEL Day and has been proclaimed Austin’s first SEL Day: let’s celebrate the beauty of our diversity and the many ways we intentionally grow our next generation, together.

Authored by Caroline Chase, assistant director of Austin ISD’s SEL department