T.A. Brown Elementary School is a Resilient Education Family!

When our district discovered that T.A. Brown Elementary School’s building was not structurally safe, our leaders had to move quickly to ensure that teaching and learning could continue with as little disruption as possible. Reilly Elementary opened their arms and school to T.A. Brown’s Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten students and staff unreservedly,  and Allan Elementary gladly made space for 1st-5th grades, just like it did for the Palm Elementary community last year. However, change is rarely easy, and big change involving physically moving all the stuff and people away from a beloved building for the rest of the year can cause lots of big feelings!

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T.A. Brown students and staff pulled together as a resilient education family to weather the storm of changing locales, and community partners and district resources rushed to help take care of them. Social and Emotional Learning Specialists partnered with elementary counselors from across the district to lead a special lesson on the first day in all the T.A. Brown classes at Reilly and Allan, working with students and teachers to process feelings, share hopes, and reinforce the strong education family ties that keep the T.A. Brown community together through thick and thin.

leadersThis slideshow features photos from the first day of T.A. Brown at Allan and Reilly. Community partners and district employees enthusiastically helped teachers move their classrooms into the new spaces and provided lunch for them. Students and teachers participated in community circles and created paper name chains of support and connection to decorate their new classrooms. School leaders and collaborators greeted students and teachers at the door with balloons and welcoming signs.  We are so #AISDProud of the T.A. Brown resilient community of learners!

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SEL: It’s a Big (Data) Deal

Austin ISD’s Social and Emotional Learning plan was recently cited in a grant guidance report from the Department of Education. Yes, the national Department of Education, dot gov. Know why? Because research keeps rolling in on multiple levels, showing that what we are doing really, really works for students. From the federal report:

SPOTLIGHT: Many schools are incorporating SEL into their programs and services. For example, the Austin Independent School District (AISD) has succeeded in developing a model for systematic and systemic SEL for all of its 83,600 students focused on four core practices: explicit skills instruction, SEL integration, school climate and culture, and family and community engagement. SEL coaches are deployed throughout the system to support implementation of SEL.  Using a vertical structure, Austin started with two high schools and their feeder schools. As of 2015-16, all 130 schools in the district are receiving professional development in implementing SEL. Evidence-based SEL programs are one important part of AISD’s implementation strategy. Elementary and middle schools are using explicit instructional materials and lessons are generally taught weekly by the classroom teacher and reinforced and integrated into instruction in all areas of the school. In several high schools, ninth-graders attend a Methods for Academic and Personal Success (MAPS) class to develop skills to help with their transition to high school.  Results show those teachers’ ratings of their 3rd grade students’ SEL competencies were positively related to students’ performance in STAAR reading and math. Also, secondary schools with more years in SEL showed greater improvement in attendance and greater reduction in campus discretionary removals than did schools with no years in SEL.

This spotlight highlighting our work appears as an example for educational communities interested in applying for a federal grant to build Social and Emotional Learning programs. Our district’s process and structure for Social and Emotional Learning is held up as a beacon to others wishing to begin or deepen their own SEL journey, because our leadership has had faith in what solid research is starting to show: it is the equal teaching of SEL skills and academic skills that grows students into whole, educated, contributing members of society.

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The faith factor is important, because the field of SEL in education is relatively new, and longitudinal research is only just beginning to show concrete evidence of positive impacts. Of course, teachers teaching Social and Emotional Learning skills to their students is as old as humanity itself. However, defining the nature of social and emotional skills, exploring how to teach them effectively, devoting significant resources to high-quality systemic implementation, and scientifically evaluating that implementation, takes a lot of time. More time, in fact, than the current educational system is traditionally willing to devote to a focus largely considered “non-academic.” While often various educational interventions and initiatives are expected to demonstrate positive student results within a year or two, “Research on systemic efforts in education suggest that this process takes a minimum of 5–7 years to realize impact at the student level (Aladjem et al., 2006; Borman, Hewes, Overman, & Brown, 2003).” Austin ISD is just now getting to our 6th year of SEL implementation, and indeed, we are starting to see positive outcomes.

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Our district’s most recent internal evaluation of our innovative SEL work has shown several important improvements.  For example:

–Secondary schools (middle and high schools) have experienced a reduction in the number of official disciplinary actions taken on students (like suspensions in-school or out-of-school, or removals to an alternative campus);

–Both elementary and secondary schools experienced a reduction in the number of students who are absent 15 or more days during the school year (chronic absenteeism);

–Students on all levels have self-reported feeling safer at school on district-wide surveys;

–Schools with high levels of SEL implementation have seen significant improvements in math and reading standardized test scores.

Check out the research brief and full report for even more SEL data on the good work we’re doing!

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These results are consistent with recent findings on the national level. Transforming Education, an organization devoted to supporting Social and Emotional Learning at district, state and federal policy levels, recently published a working paper giving the “Research Case for Education Policy Action on Non-Cognitive Skills.” (‘Non-cognitive skills’ is another term for Social and Emotional Learning, akin to ‘soft skills,’ or ’21st Century skills.’ Transforming Education refers to these skills as “MESH,” or “Mindsets, Essential Skills, and Habits.”) They posit the following nine assertions, supported by data from several large national longitudinal studies:

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With national data to back up each one of these compelling statements, Transform Education offers a look at the larger picture supported by our own local data: teaching SEL skills puts students on track to positive adult outcomes.

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The Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) keeps tabs on national research around SEL, and recently cited a report from the American Enterprise Institute and and Brookings Institution about the impact of Social and Emotional Learning on Equity and Poverty:

This report was developed by a group of bipartisan experts who agreed to set aside their differences and create a detailed plan for reducing poverty and increasing economic mobility. The authors noted that major educational and school reforms over the past few decades have not sufficiently focused on the SEL factors that are necessary to education, employment, and family life. The report also recommends an effort to scale up high-quality, evidence-based SEL programs as a core component of education for children. It made three recommendations to the federal and state governments:

(1) scale evidence-based SEL practices and policies;

(2) implement high-quality state SEL standards, preschool through high school; and

(3) establish SEL centers of excellence.

Our very own Austin ISD has done concrete work on each of those three recommendations so critical to improving economic equity and addressing the national poverty crisis, according to this bipartisan report. We already use evidence-based SEL curricula and practices, and we are exploring even more. We wrote high-quality SEL standards in collaboration with teachers and stakeholders that are already being incorporated into district core content curricula and exemplar lessons. And we established a “SEL Demonstration School” designation, inviting schools who have truly adopted SEL as a campus culture and driving force to show off their structures within the district and around the country. We are truly on the leading edge of transformative SEL work!

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Due to Austin ISD’s dedication to broad high-quality implementation of Social and Emotional Learning, we are using the most recent data-driven findings to serve our 86,300 students. We are also contributing to the growing body of research on how SEL skills taught in public school positively affect individuals and society as a whole. We are #AISDProud to be leaders in the national Social and Emotional Learning movement!

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Other references and research articles of interest:

CASEL/NoVo Collaborating Districts Initiative: 2015 Cross District Outcome Evaluation Report: Executive Summary

Previous Blog Post: Data Backs our SEL Movement

Previous Blog Post: New Year SEL Research Round Up

 

 

 

 

#AISDProud of #AISDPride

Last week (Oct. 10th-14th), Austin ISD celebrated its annual AISD Pride Week, timed to coincide with National Coming Out Day on October 11th. Once again, schools from all over our city showed up to celebrate and honor the LBGTQ+ faculty, staff, students and families that are members of our vibrant education community!

The Akins High School Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA-formerly Gay Straight Alliance) started mass producing ally stickers and buttons for distribution across the entire campus!

Reagan High School teachers and students filled the #AISDPride photobooth in the library.

Consuelo Mendez Middle School students created a pledge committing to help generate a safe, respectful, and welcoming environment for all, and got as many of their peers to sign it as possible–resulting in hundreds of signatures collected and courtyard lunch privileges! 8th Grader Corey collected 74 signatures just by himself.

Cowan Elementary made a welcoming billboard full of love for the school community…

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And Patton Elementary had their own bilingual display of love and welcome!

These four schools are just a few glowing examples of how AISD showed our pride!  Twitter blew up with all kinds of celebrations of AISD Pride Week:

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We are #AISDProud of our school district working to serve and celebrate our whole community in all its beautiful diversity…#AllMeansAll!

News! …and the Return of the Blog!

Hello again, Austin ISD SEL fans!  Happy October! We’ve been hard at work on SEL 2.0, with new team members, new opportunities, and a refreshed commitment to helping build a district where truly #ALLMEANSALL!

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This summer on June 16th, McCallum High School hosted the first-ever SEL Summer Symposium, with presenters and participants from all over our district and city.  With over 40 break-out sessions and a dedicated leadership strand, 325 members of our AISD community learned and shared together about the most cutting-edge topics in Social and Emotional Learning.  Sessions topics ranged from “Frank Lloyd Wright and Restorative Classroom Management” to “The Neuroscience of Mindfulness;” “Color Blind or Color Brave?” to “SEL in Children’s Literature.” The sheer number of folks who showed up for the inaugural SEL Summer Symposium demonstrates how deeply Austin ISD educators believe in Social and Emotional Learning.

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(Photos by Eli Roberts)

Another significant first for the SEL Team was presenting at the Leadership Institute for about 400 administrators before school started.  With the focus on the overarching SEL theme “All Means All,” SEL Specialists presented a workshop on creating trauma-sensitive schools. The level of commitment from district leadership for Social and Emotional Learning work is the highest it has ever been!

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(L-R) James, Angela, Lynne and Darla presented at the Leadership Institute.

In fact, SEL was the topic of the 10/7 “News from Dr. Cruz.”  Our superintendent had this to say about SEL 2.0:

Resiliency, positivity, grit and determination—these are just some of the skills that are foundational to Social and Emotional Learning. Now that AISD has implemented SEL at all of our schools, we’re moving on to SEL 2.0. This next iteration includes new practices that are integral to ensuring student success.

Mindfulness activities like breathing exercises help kids focus. Restorative practices counter old discipline techniques that don’t work and replace them with a relationship-based approach. Moreover, trauma-informed care is helping staff support students who are suffering from intense negative experiences.

Students need to learn about the five SEL competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationships skills and responsible decision making. They have been described as soft skills, but I see them as essential skills.

Transitioning from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset is a major tenant of SEL 2.0 and one we need to embrace. A fixed mindset is the approach that individuals have “fixed” skills—that their capabilities are limited and finite. A growth mindset takes into account that the brain is constantly evolving, and that individuals can develop all kinds of new talents. This approach helps us reframe a student’s potential.

I’m proud of the positive, resilient people on our team who are preparing our students to excel. Thank you for the amazing work you’re doing now and for your exceptional commitment to our students.

Finally, our team is happy to welcome our new members, each of whom bring their unique experiences and gifts to support Social and Emotional Learning all over our district:

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Theresa Garcia

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Elena Rodriguez

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Alonzo Blankenship II

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Emily Hoaldridge-Dopkins

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James Butler

Stay tuned…our blog is BACK!  See you soon with more Austin ISD SEL news!

 

SELebrations Newsletter May 2016

Congratulations Social and Emotional Learning fans, we made it to the last week of school! Don’t forget to appreciate all the amazing teachers that make our district an incredible learning environment, and take these trusty summer sanity tips with you into these next few months.  Oh yes, and enjoy our latest SELebrations newsletter, featuring our first 11 SEL model schools, some solid SEL science, things to think about for School Year 2016-17, and lots more! Read it below, or click each page to be taken to the “live” version for links and zoomable pictures. (Use ‘Ctrl + ‘ to zoom in here or there for easier reading!)

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Thanks so much for reading!  See you soon!

Students Working to End Bias and Hate All Over Our District!

It so happens that Austin ISD is the largest Anti-Defamation League No Place for Hate district in the entire country. All 130 schools have planned, completed, and documented intentional student-led activities designed to raise awareness around bias, bullying, and prejudice, and to build a positive school culture of inclusiveness and safety. Students from pre-kindergarten through high school seniors have participated in these opportunities to increase the peace.  Here are just a few examples of how some schools have declared themselves No Place for Hate!

Kealing and Lamar Middle Schools have both created lessons to bring attention to bias and microaggressions.  Their work to bring attention to these issues on a local, campus level is the first step toward addressing bias, prejudice and racism on a societal level.  Here’s a video from Lamar Middle School with AVID student-generated examples of microaggressions that was included in an SEL lesson for the entire campus:

Kealing Middle School asked students to think of microaggressions they had heard or experienced as well, and then invited students to think of assertive ways to address the microaggression:

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At Zilker Elementary, students participated in a March Forth for Peace on…you guessed it! March 4th! The parade was a culminating event organized by the Zilker counselor, Ms. Vreeland, celebrating lessons that the students had learned about friendship, empathy, and being an ally.  The whole Zilker community sang a special peace song led by music teacher Ms. Garcia, and students decorated t-shirts and posters to show their spirit of peace!  Every single teacher, student, and hundreds of parents Marched Forth for peace that lovely spring day.

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McCallum High School had a week-long “No Hate” campaign involving a t-shirt logo contest, a “just be you” photo booth, No H8 face painting at lunch, and the reading of a student-generated play about issues faced by LBGTQ+ students for the whole faculty (in partnership with Creative Action‘s Outside the Lines project). In one way or another, every student and faculty member participated in building and celebrating McCallum’s welcoming culture!

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Travis High School students planted a peace garden in a courtyard, and had everyone on campus sign the ADL Resolution of Respect.  They created a visual symbol of the Resolution using hundreds of handprints and posted it on a long window in the cafeteria, showing off the solidarity of their learning community with panoramic stained glass effects!

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They also hosted a Peace Through Pie event (and pie eating contest!), and this year it was attended by the founder of the Peace Through Pie movement!  Like Lamar Middle School’s similar Peace Through Pie evening, it commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and seeks to build peaceful community ties through sharing pies of all kinds.

AISD Short Peace Thru Pie 2015 from Austin ISD TV on Vimeo.

Finally, Bowie High School planned and carried out their own No Place for Hate parade, and a student documented the campus-wide event in this inspiring video…

Jillian Bontke, the Anti-Defamation League’s Austin Education Project Director, shared feedback from educators around the district about the impact Social and Emotional Learning and No Place for Hate has had on their campuses:

No Place for Hate, in combination with SEL lessons, positively impacts our campus by raising awareness of biased behavior, increasing ally behavior, and decreasing name calling.

–O.Henry Middle School Teacher

Our campus has worked hard to create a positive climate through social emotional learning and explicit teaching about self regulation and the brain.  However, No Place for Hate has brought our climate to a new level of acceptance in and around our community.  Our focus this year has been on empathy.  I knew our school had very strong skills in providing empathy to our peers and teachers; however, I had not anticipated such growth in empathy for our community, including dispelling stereotypes in our community and developing empathy for those in our community experiencing homelessness.

–Cunningham Elementary School Teacher

Students have been exposed to SEL for several years now and the additional activities they are involved in for No Place for Hate enhance so much of the learning that goes on through SEL. It actually gives them more hands on opportunities to practice skills.

–Mollie Dawson Elementary School Counselor

No Place for Hate reminds student of what they are learning during their SEL lessons and counselor lessons. The activities reinforce kindness and inclusiveness and have the ability to impact the entire school – reinforcing the same message across grade levels.

–Zilker Elementary School Counselor

No Place for Hate is a good supplement to SEL and both are really supported by our administration this year.  Kids are reminding each other to be kind, be positive, breathe deeply, support each other.

–Pillow Elementary Counselor

I feel that NPFH has really benefited Dobie, and I truly even feel that it has improved our students writing skills! The thought provoking topics the students talk about and  the Social Emotional Aspect and writing about their feelings, really helps them to express themselves through words.

–J. Frank Dobie Early College Preparatory Academy Counselor

No Place for Hate, in combination with SEL lessons, positively impacts our campus by raising awareness of biased behavior, increasing ally behavior, and decreasing name calling.

–O.Henry Middle School Counselor

[We have seen a] decrease in name calling and teasing report, [and an] increase in kind acts and helpfulness, we were designated as a SEL Model Campus due to the positive social and emotional skills our students consistently show.

–Robert E.Lee Elementary Counselor

Students and teachers have reported feeling more like a family. Our staff and student body is closer than even and there is a feeling of pride and excitement as you walk the halls in our school. Some of our 5th graders have reported having new friends and talking to more peers in their classroom – not just those peers who were previously in their “cliques.” Every 3rd Friday of the month, we now recognize two students from each grade for demonstrating their SEL skills because we have noticed that students are showing respect, kindness, and responsibility around the school. We connect these acts of maturity to SEL and No Place for Hate because these two programs have educated students and helped them become better members of our school community.

–Edward L. Blackshear Elementary School Counselor

 

We are sure #AISDProud of our district’s national No Place for Hate status.  Teachers, administrators, parents, community members, and students are working hard to create welcoming, inclusive learning environments every day. Onward to an increasingly peaceful future!

Austin High’s Youth in Government Club Makes SEL Waves at State Conference!

capitol_dome2The weekend of January 30th and 31st, hundreds of high school students descended on the Texas State Capitol to participate in the 69th annual YMCA Youth and Government State Conference. The conference is designed to gather young leaders from all over the state and provide a hands-on, real life government experience, fostering interest in the democratic process and excitement in the potential of political engagement. This year, Austin ISD’s Austin High Youth in Government Club brought a high-impact team to the YAG State Conference, finishing with two distinguished delegates and a State Affairs proposal aimed at improving the Texas high school graduation rate via statewide implementation of freshman MAPS classes.

From hundreds of peer-reviewed proposals addressing 30 pre-selected state affairs topics, Miranda Gershoni and Madison Perry’s MAPS (Methods for Academic and Personal Success) class proposal was ranked among the best in the state by the conference participants, winning a chance to be viewed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott and affect actual state legislation.  That’s right…youth leaders from all over Texas thought Austin High’s MAPS class model, which explicitly teaches freshmen Social and Emotional Learning skills to help set them on a successful path for high school and beyond, should be a state-wide requirement to raise graduation rates!

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Ms. Gershoni and Ms. Perry present their proposal

Ms. Gershoni, who led the development of the proposal, drew upon her freshman experience in the MAPS class at Austin High and the organizational and interpersonal skills it helped her develop. She was also inspired by her participation on a student team that helped to facilitate a workshop on MAPS-style student engagement activities at last October’s National Dropout Prevention Network Conference.  Armed with her passion for helping her peers succeed and her experience with presenting at this national conference, Gershoni led her team in convincing other youth leaders that SEL skills taught in MAPS classes statewide could lead to more Texas high school graduates ready for career and life. District data backs up their proposal’s claim: At high schools with high MAPS class implementation rates, administrators have seen positive indicators like a 50% reduction in suspensions, a 71% reduction in discipline referrals, and a 41% reduction in freshman failures.

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Distinguished Delegates Mr. Symonds and Mr. Smith-Klein

Mr. Steven Wnorozski, Austin High’s sponsor of the Youth in Government Club, was proud of Ms. Gershoni and Ms. Perry’s winning proposal, and the recognition of distinguished delegates Mr. Theo Symonds and Mr. Joseph Smith-Klein. Participating in the club, and preparing for experiences like the district and state-level YAG conferences, help build the Social and Emotional Learning skills of time management, organization, collaboration, and self-efficacy. “Our club is small, but we’ve been before the school board and have been recognized for our achievements,” he says. “It allows students to be active in politics and try to solve problems that really exist.” The Youth in Government club will send delegates to the Youth and Government’s Conference on National Affairs, and is also considering participation in the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life’s Speak Up! Speak Out! event in May.

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Ms. Gershoni said that her experience at the state Youth and Government Conference has inspired her to consider a career in public policy. She also found that just being present at the conference was inspiring in another way: “Sometimes high school just seems like a big swimming pool, with everybody just trying to swim to the top to graduate and get on with their lives like you know you’re supposed to,” she said. “It was great to feel like I was poking my head up out of the water, and seeing all these other young people like me who were poking their heads up too, who are concerned about the big picture-the future of the state and country-and who have big ideas to help affect it.”

Congratulations to Miranda Gershoni, Madison Perry, Theo Symonds, Joseph Smith-Klein, Mr. Wnoroski, and Austin High!  We are sure #AISDProud of these #SELSmart, engaged young people on the fast-track to making big changes in their world!