Austin ISD Circles Up!


This image represents a harm-focused, reactive approach popularized by the Criminal Justice System. Austin ISD is taking a proactive, education-focused whole child, whole adult, whole community approach to Restorative Practices. #RPAustinISD

Austin ISD is planning for a Culturally Responsive Restorative Practices (RP) approach in its schools. The district recognizes  the need to address systemic inequities and improve campus climates and cultural proficiency. The faculty, staff and administrators in the Akins vertical team, for example, have received basic training in Culturally Responsive RP to begin their restorative journey. Other schools around the district are exploring community-building circles in classrooms and with faculty and staff to deepen connectedness and build campus culture.  So what exactly are Culturally Responsive Restorative Practices, and how do they fit into our district’s push to increase student voice, close achievement gaps, and address disciplinary action inequities?


In Austin ISD, Culturally Responsive RP are rooted in these Core Assumptions for the whole child and whole adult:


The core self may not be reflected in how people behave, but beneath the masks we adopt is a deeper, healthier self.


What we do to others, we are also doing to ourselves although we may not always be aware that this happening.


All people want to love and be loved and all people want to be connected.


All gifts are indispensable to the well-being of the whole.


There are rich reservoirs of talent and wisdom within our communities waiting to be accessed.


There is a connection between the mind, body, and spirit in all that we do.


We need practices which help us connect to our core self so we can live in alignment with our values and build healthy relationships in families and communities.

Adapted from: “Heart of Hope Resource Guide” Suffolk University, Center for Restorative Justice Carolyn Boyes-Watson and Kay Pranis 2009


Because the very nature of Culturally Responsive Restorative Practices is doing it with, rather than to, an individual or community, schools exploring RP are introducing it authentically in ways that best serve that campus. Community circles are generally done with a centerpiece, to focus thoughts and words, and a passed-around talking piece, to hold space for equity of voice. However, circles can look lots of different ways!  Here are some pictures of how Restorative Practices look around our district right now.


Ms. Polk facilitates a circle with 7th graders in her classroom at Martin Middle School.


Secondary and elementary staff from the Discipline Alternative Learning Placement campuses debrief a professional development activity in community circles.


Staff from the Akins Vertical Team model a community circle during an RP training (for the whole vertical team!)


Ms. DeLaTorre at Walnut Creek Elementary facilitates a circle with her 5th graders.

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Though these pictures are from all around our district, every one of them shows people talking to each other in circles. The circle is the hallmark of Culturally Responsive Restorative Practices, which is rooted in the ancient indigenous tradition of forming circles to communicate effectively in community. Austin ISD is exploring a whole school, whole child, whole adult Culturally Responsive Approach to Restorative Practices. Although circles are the most visible piece of the process, restorative practices is #MoreThanCircles. Restorative practices provides a framework that helps us create a school culture and climate that is safe, welcoming and inclusive. The AISD Social and Emotional Learning team supports Culturally Responsive RP community-building circles. We are excited about the deep Restorative Practice work beginning in Austin ISD, and look forward to seeing it serve the social and emotional needs of all our students and staff! We are #AISDProud that we are continuously working on #AISDEquity!

Check out this Restorative Practices Twitter chat from December 2016 to experience part of the larger, real conversation that is helping to move our Culturally Responsive RP journey forward. For more information about Austin ISD Culturally Responsive Restorative Practices, contact Angela Ward (, who collaborated on this blog post!


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!


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!


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.


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

hart2 hartelembulletin

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!


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.

webb middle school

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!


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:


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!

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.


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.


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!


photo credit: Lynne Unruh


photo credit: Lynne Unruh


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.

photo 5

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?”

photo 3

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!

Brain Break Wednesday: Ball Toss

Today’s Brain Break is adapted from a Responsive Classroom greeting idea. We used it as a brain break during our last SEL team meeting!

Ball Toss:

1. Have participants stand or sit in a circle.

2. Take a ball (or if you don’t have one, wad up a scratch piece of paper) and tell students you will say someone’s name and toss him/her the ball.

3.  Ask participants to remember who threw them the ball and who they threw the ball to. Toss the ball around the room until everyone has had a turn.

4. Repeat the toss in the exact same order as the first round and don’t say the person’s name before you throw the ball.

Added challenges and variations!

A. When you toss the ball, say something positive about the person you are throwing it to.

B. Repeat the toss in the same order and add a second ball going in the same order.

C. Repeat the toss going in reverse order (throw it to the last person first).

D. Repeat the toss, but say the person’s name backwards (Say “Xela” instead of “Alex”).

E. Start one ball in the original order and a second ball going around the circumference.

F. Start one ball in the original order and a second ball going in reverse order.

What other variations have you tried?

Brain Break Wednesday – Trading Places

This brain break not only gets students up and moving, it also builds community and helps students identify what they have in common with their classmates as well as what makes them unique.

Trading Places:

1. Have students stand behind their pushed-in chairs.

2. Call out a trait and everyone who has that trait must change places with someone else (students who do not have the trait stay where they are). Examples: “Everyone with a brother.” “Everyone who ate cereal for breakfast.” Everyone who is wearing stripes.” 

3. Have students take turns being the leader!

You can also add a literature component to this brain break by reading the book “Same, Same but Different” by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw.