Teachers, We Thank You.

Each beginning of May, at the academic and testing homestretch of the year, communities around the country observe Teacher Appreciation Week (5/2-5/6 2016). It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this, because:

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It’s true.  Plumbers, lawyers, auto mechanics, surgeons, gardeners, rocket scientists all have one thing in common: Someone, at some point, taught them something about their chosen job or vocation, and it’s likely that the teaching and learning happened in some kind of educational environment. So we can also say that:

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because teachers everywhere come to school every day to teach every kid that walks into their classroom, no matter what.  Each child who learns something from a teacher has been given a irrevocable gift: education is one of the few things that cannot be taken away from an individual. Teaching is one of the most literal, actual ways of affecting the future of a person, the future of a community, and the future of humanity.  What do some other influential people say about teaching?

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So we are so grateful for you, all you Austin ISD educators, and we are so proud of you.  And we want you to keep on keepin’ on, because you are doing the best, hardest work in the world.  Remember this post and this post about your colleagues sharing their own ways of doing intentional self-care? Well go back and look at those, and here are some other ideas as well:

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Thank you for your work, thank you for your passion, thank you for your perseverance. Humanity wouldn’t be itself without teachers.

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Much love to y’all! Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

 

 

Campus Highlight: O. Henry Middle School

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“O. Henry places a high priority on Social-Emotional Learning,” writes Peter Price, Principal for the past 15 years. “Yes, academics are absolutely critical. But, at the end of the day, our kids’ social and emotional well-being trump academics. We must shower each and every student with love and affection, so that they feel valued, secure, and confident.”

This quote from Mr. Price of O. Henry Middle School (Sara Marler, West Austin News, November 2013) gets to the kernel of what makes O. Henry an outstanding example of Social and Emotional Learning implementation.  Mr. Price has worked with his faculty and staff to build a campus climate rooted in empathy and trust, and centered on high-quality student learning.

This connected community of learners has created ACES, which stands for Academics, Curriculum, Enrichment and Support.  This advisory structure creates a flexible learning environment in which each individual student receives the most effective learning opportunity tailored to their needs.  Need a little extra reading practice? Join a book club and read The Hunger Games!   Is a bit of extra support in math your cup of tea? Explore real-world math problems and play engaging math games!  Feeling okay about math and reading, but wondering about Quidditch?  Have a burning desire to try out fantasy football?  Need to dig into some hands-on, in-depth, serious business science?  ACES has O. Henry Mustangs covered, and teachers choose and create these enrichment classes based on personal interest and expertise.  But wait! What about explicit Social and Emotional Learning instruction?

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Every other week, in every ACES course across the whole campus, everyone participates in an SEL lesson.  Students and faculty engage with each other around topics like assertive communication, collaboration and group work, empathy, and handling issues like cyberbullying, the focus for the ACES SEL lesson this week.  Lessons are based largely on the evidence-based Second Step curriculum, and often include extensions and supplemental materials presented by teachers to make the topic at hand relevant and engaging for each class.  This commitment to Social and Emotional Learning, coupled with a focus on developmentally appropriate academic and enrichment opportunities, has created a powerful vehicle for rigorous learning and school community.

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This sense of community and engagement permeates O. Henry and contributes to its positive campus culture.  The school has enjoyed high academic success rates and recognition on both state and national levels, in large part due to the focus on meeting each individual learner’s academic, social and emotional requirements. Principal Pete Price and his dynamic staff have been willing to seek out successful structures from other schools and districts, take risks, and implement innovative learning techniques, all in the name of creating the best possible learning environment for the diverse needs of the Mustangs that come to O. Henry.  We are #AISDProud of the faculty, staff and students at O.Henry Middle School for their commitment to SEL and their vision of high-quality academic, social, and emotional learning for all!

Thanks to Sarah Stone, Social and Emotional Learning Specialist, for her contributions to this post.

Whole Child, Every Child Summer Learning Institute

Last week, the Social and Emotional Learning team presented the first-ever AISD Whole Child, Every Child (WCEC) Summer Learning Institute in collaboration with the Creative Learning Initiative, Coordinated School Health, and Cultural Proficiency and Inclusiveness.  With the current district-wide focus on the integration of whole-child classroom practices, this institute engaged some of the most innovative educators and community members in three days of powerful collaborative learning.

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Dr. Paul Cruz, AISD Superintendent, gave the opening keynote address.  He spoke of the essential role that Whole Child, Every Child practices play in re-inventing the urban public school experience, and challenged AISD educators to take full responsibility for educating each unique individual that makes up the district’s 85,000 student base. He thanked the Institute’s dedicated attendees for leading the way!

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Dr. Paul Cruz, AISD Superintendent

The rest of the first day was devoted to learning the importance of physical movement and mental state in the classroom, and how deepening our understanding of the student brain can help improve attention, increase retention, and maintain or bring on engagement.  Dr. Darla Castelli of the University of Texas shared her expertise on the neuroscience of student movement in a dynamic keynote presentation, which underscored new research supporting how important physical activity is to mental health and quality learning.

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Dr. Darla Castelli

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Dr. Teri Wood

After lunch, Dr. Teri Wood (also from UT and AISD) gave an emotionally compelling presentation on creating trauma-informed classroom practices.  After demonstrating how traumatic experiences compromise learning and can negatively affect student success, she shared concrete strategies for improving classroom climate with trauma-informed teaching.  And to wrap up a day of intense learning, the ever-engaging Michele Rusnak and Sherrie Raven duo presented on the physical, psychological and social/emotional benefits of taking brain breaks during classroom learning.  We broke a sweat learning more concrete strategies!

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Michele Ruznak (l) and Sherrie Raven

The second day of the WCEC Summer Learning Institute was dedicated to the Creative Learning Initiative.  Dr. Brent Hasty of MindPop gave the opening keynote, emphasizing the critical importance of using experiential creativity in the classroom to create safety, build community, and increase learning.

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CLI presenters Yesenia Herrington and Ruthie Fisher facilitated drama- and movement – based activities designed to increase engagement and retention for concepts in all four core subjects.  Participants actively practiced strategies like Statues, Build-A-Phrase, and Town Hall Meeting for use in teaching and coaching.  Much learning and laughing was had by all!

Yesenia Herrington facilitating the building of a Friendship Machine

Yesenia Herrington facilitating the building of a Friendship Machine

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Dr. Anthony Brown

On the morning of the final day, we turned our attention to Cultural Proficiency and Inclusiveness.   Dr. Anthony Brown of UT gave an historical rundown of the different narratives told about Black men in the United States, and how they have shaped the policy and design of the education system.  Healing the inequity that has resulted from racist historical narratives is a large, complex and critical challenge–Dr. Brown invited us to ask the right questions in education and change the discourse on a local, state and national level.  His enlightening talk was followed by Dr. Raphael Travis of Texas State University, who guided our thinking about the critical nature of building classroom community.  He spoke about how learning flourishes in classrooms and schools where belonging, connectedness and safety have been intentionally established.  When students feel that their experiences, backgrounds and voices are heard and valued, and that they are seen, known and trusted, strong relationships and rigorous learning take root and grow vigorously. Lunchtime arrived with participants feeling a renewed sense of mission and vision.

Dr. Raphael Travis

Dr. Raphael Travis

The afternoon of day three saw breakout sessions with Social and Emotional Learning coaches presenting sessions on Effective Teacher Language, Growth Mindset, and SEL Curricular Integration, and a teacher team from Covington Middle School shared their expertise in a session on service learning. Participants from different levels and with different interests chose the sessions that were most relevant to them as educators, and everyone had the chance to discuss new ideas and try out new practices that had been offered over the course of the Institute.  Door prizes were awarded, applause was enthusiastic, and we parted ways looking forward to the fast-approaching school year. Thanks so much to our collaborators, to the SEL Professional Development Committee, and all our participants for making such an engaging and enlightening Whole Child, Every child Summer Learning Institute!

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Thank You Teachers

Teachers have been infusing Social and Emotional Learning into their curricula and classrooms far longer than we’ve been calling it “Social and Emotional Learning.” Indeed, teachers are really the ones who invented it.  The relationships that teachers build with their students, from day 1 in August to the last day in June, are the catalysts that cause academic knowledge and understanding to take root and grow in the minds of young people.  Let’s just take a moment to mentally thank a teacher that has influenced our lives.

Listen up teachers,

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You are doing that, amazing advocates!  Also,

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dear teachers, you are truly touching the future of the world.

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Futhermore,

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that whole thing about educating young people to function in jobs that don’t exist yet?  YOU ARE DOING IT.

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All those hours spent crafting questions, generating lesson plans, differentiating, creating just the right experience to allow each student to find the knowledge and meaning in his or her unique way: teachers are masterful architects of learning.

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You are teaching whole people, and these whole people deeply appreciate your far-reaching influence on their lives.

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Thank you, teachers, for your strength, creativity, dedication and love of your craft.  Thank you for being the champions.

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We are #AISDproud and truly grateful for our teachers.  Have a most spectacular summer!

SEL Strong to the Finish!

For the past few weeks we’ve been blog-sploring how sports and other extracurricular activities present natural Social and Emotional Learning experiences, particularly in the hands of the right teacher-coaches and mentors.  We now interrupt this series to remind everyone that, though the school year is winding down, SEL in AISD schools is going strong until that last bell rings! Campuses are already setting the stage for next year as well!

SimsolympicsAt Sims elementary, students and parents participated in an end-of-year Sims Olympics day, which saw SEL resources for families promoted alongside active sporting events like awesome hallway broom curling!

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Note the opportunities for practicing turn-taking, perspective taking and self management skills! Not to mention just having some good ol’ hallway fun.

Cunningham Elementary dedicated a whole bulletin board to reflect on growth mindset, and celebrate the growth that third graders have made this year!

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Check out how students and staff alike are encouraged to consider not only what new skills they’ve gained this year, but also how keeping a growth mindset has allowed those beautiful brains to expand.

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Speaking of bulletin boards, check out the Hart Elementary SEL bulletin boards that feature Social and Emotional Learning strategies in three different languages!

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Middle schools are taking their Social and Emotional Learning to the very last minute as well.  At Gus Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy, real live young male leaders are honing their 21st Century SEL skills by hosting campus budget meetings.  Talk about dress for success!

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Over at Lamar Fine Arts Academy, students participated in an end-of-year SEL lesson to practice and refine their ever-important and relevant group work skills.  Each member of the group had a different challenge to overcome during the group tower-building project, opening up the conversation about natural challenges that arise in group work situations and how to handle them effectively.  They will be using these skills for the rest of their lives!

lamarSELWebb Middle School has created a beautiful bulletin board celebrating the students’ commitment to building and maintaining a peaceful school environment.  Each leaf holds a peaceful, positive message written by a student.

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Social and Emotional Learning flows through our district from elementary to high school, and there is amazing SEL happening at the high school level.  Check out these Travis High School Rebel football players giving their time and energy to the children at Dell Children’s Hospital.

travisdellchildrens These students are applying all the perspective-taking and empathy skills that we talked about in our first post about SEL and football, and making positive waves in their community.  And how about the Mr. Maroo challenge at Crockett High School, inspired by Archer Hadley and his campaign at Austin High?  Students and staff are working to raise money to install push-button wheelchair-accessible doors at Crockett!

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As a final example of how SEL skills are part of academic and personal growth over the course of a school year, MAPS students at Reagan High School use a Venn diagram to compare their mindset at the beginning of the year to how they feel now about their school and themselves:

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These examples show just a fraction of the Social and Emotional Learning and growth experienced by AISD students over the course of the 2014-2015 school year.  The explicit SEL instruction, curricular integration, and culture and climate built and maintained by schools all over our city are truly helping students prepare for higher learning, careers, and life in the 21st Century world.  Just think: next year, every single school in the Austin Independent School District will have intentional Social and Emotional Learning on campus!  We are truly #AISDproud and #SELsmart!