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!

GRIT–The Story of Marathon High at Dobie Middle School

One goal of social and emotional learning is helping students develop their own true grit–that stick-to-itiveness,  that ability to stay focused on achieving what they want to achieve, even in the face of difficulty and set-backs.  “Grit,” says Mr. Evan Gonzalez, of Dobie Middle School, “is the relentless commitment to a goal.”

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Who is Mr. Gonzalez, you ask?  He is an 8th grade US History teacher at Dobie Middle School, and happens to be the sponsor of that school’s chapter of Marathon High.  Marathon High is a running community that pairs high school and middle school students with elite running coaches from Rogue Running, and works with them for five months, training toward the goal of running a half-marathon–13.1 miles!

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This year, fully THIRTY THREE Dobie students trained with the Marathon High program and completed the Austin Half-Marathon on Saturday, February 15th.  Other schools in AISD were represented by their own grit-ful students as well, but Dobie’s crew had three times the number of participants of any other school!  Watch their story:

The Dobie students, like all the participants of Marathon High, really embody the essence of grit.  They ran on cold rainy days, through sore muscles, through discouragement and through victory.  They juggled their school work, extra-curricular activities, family responsibilities, and training schedule to make sure it all got done.  They formed and maintained positive relationships with coaches, Mr. Gonzalez, and other teachers who supported them (all SEL skills!).  And behold, they Got! It! Done!

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Congratulations to Mr. Gonzalez and all the Marathon High students at Dobie, and all across AISD!  Thanks for being such shining examples of real grit.  Keep on keepin’ on!

SELebrating Success! Creative, Collaborative Conferences!

Greetings SEL Fans!  Remember how important celebration is?  Well, I am so happy to report that this week’s campus facilitator workshops were wildly worthy of SELebration!

Our goal was to get our facilitators together from across the district and honor their expertise and myriad experiences by providing an opportunity to collaborate, network and share.  The elementary specialists held a north and south parfait party to maximize convenience for the large number of campuses they serve, and the secondary coaches invited their facilitators to “taco bout it” at centrally-located Fulmore Middle School.

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photo credit: Lynne Unruh

Elementary level SEL facilitators  traveled through three different interactive stations including: SEL integration, campus problem solving, and a gallery walk of photos and examples from different schools.  The meeting opened and closed with community circles to share and reflect together.

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photo credit: Lynne Unruh

Some of the ideas generated during the workshop include:

  • Train classified staff on SEL
  • Have a rotating SEL bulletin board on campus led by different grade level teams each month
  • Create a peace area make and take for staff with items like squeeze balls and glitter wands
  • Facilitate adult SEL skill builders at staff meetings
  • Teach staff about the Anticipate, Reinforce, and Reflect integration strategy
  • Spotlight teachers’ SEL successes
  • Create peace areas in common areas
  • Lead SEL morning announcements on their campus

It was a real treat to get to learn with all of these amazing educators!

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photo credit: Lynne Unruh

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photo credit: Lynne Unruh

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photo credit: Bobby McLeod

Secondary specialists transformed the Fulmore library into a World Cafe-style “un-conference” around carefully constructed questions.  Facilitators enjoyed tacos with home-made fixin’s (thanks to Kevin, Jason and Jimmi!) and fresh baked salted caramel bars (thanks to Gala!) while going deep about the work of creating positive climates and cultures on their home campuses.  Facilitators rotated through three tables, each with one question and hosted by an SEL specialist. The questions were presented with starting assumptions to encourage rich, expansive thought.

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photo credit: Sherrie Raven

We began with a multi-lingual “Cheers!” to each other, and then all our participants contributed their creativity, practicality and diverse experience to answer these questions:

Assumption: – A positive and safe climate is an important precursor for student learning.

“What does it look and sound like when a student feels like she belongs at school and what role do we, as faculty and staff, play in this?”

Assumption: – Humans are social creatures and as such desire meaningful relationships in their lives where they feel respected, recognized for their effort, and able to contribute.

“How do you know when you are part of a positive community and how can all staff feel this way?”

Assumption – Campuses that develop a common language related to SEL provide the ideal context for students to apply their social and emotional skills in relationships in school and maximize the potential for generalization to other settings.

“What steps and factors are important to consider in building a common language for SEL on secondary campuses and how do you know your efforts are successful?”

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photo credit: Sherrie Raven

All in all, our fall gatherings fostered community, built relationships, and honored the expertise and versatility of the amazing campus facilitators that nurture the growth of social and emotional learning at their schools.  I am so grateful to be part of the AISD Social and Emotional Learning Team!

More Acknowledgements:

Thanks to Aleza, Darla, Amber, Lynne, and the whole Elementary Specialist crew for contributing copy and photos to this article. Thanks to Sarah and Hilary for creating those awesome questions.  Thanks to Sherrie for taking pictures at the secondary gathering, and thanks to everybody for making it possible!

Celebrate Good Times…Come On!

Hello SEL Fans!  Happy Diwali y’all!

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Diwali is a huge and ancient Hindu celebration of light, prosperity, and renewal.  It’s observed for 5 whole days of parties, fireworks, food and revelry. And what a coincidence…this week’s bloffering is all about SELebration!

See what I did there?  Okay, full disclosure: This post will be about celebration in general, not just with regard to Diwali (although what a great celebration!) or to AISD Social and Emotional Learning (which is a lot to celebrate as well!). Celebration is a crucial aspect of social and emotional well-being, and we highly recommend you partake in celebration as soon as possible.  Why? Read/listen to this!

Two Guys on Your Head: Celebration

According to the Two Guys from NPR (and also Austin Texas, baby!), celebrating accomplishments both major and minor activate the pleasure center of our brain.  This pleasure center also happens to play a big role in motivation.  It makes sense, right?  If your brain is working on something, and it gets a little shot of those delightful brain-chemical pleasure makers dopamine and endorphins (among others!), it is likely to want to keep on keepin’ on.

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As the article/broadcast mentions, humans have the great ability to set long-term goals, but we have a hard time actually doing them unless we plan short-term steps to reach the long-term goals.  If I feel like I have a long and arduous road ahead, I’m less likely to see it through to the end, or even get started.  But if I set short term goals to reach my ultimate goal, and I also plan to celebrate my little steps along the way, I am much more likely to get it done!

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Celebration also helps us to increase our level of gratitude, and “perpetuates the positive,” as the article states.  So create your next celebration right now!  Used the stairs instead of the elevator a couple times this week? Treat those feet to a pedicure!  Get your blog post published on time for your job? Go on a picnic! (bwahaha) But truly, whatever little celebration you can fit into your life, give yourself permission to have it and enjoy it. It’s good for your brain and it’s good for the world.

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