An Exchange of SEL Ideas from Research and Practice

I recently attended the CASEL SEL Exchange conference in Chicago. This is the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, the defining national organization on which most social and emotional learning programs I have encountered are based. Our SEL Coordinator Emily invited me to attend with her. Going in a team is the best way to attend a conference! Social and emotional learning is one of five projects in the learning portion of our current strategic plan.

Attending to students’ emotional being and social skills have long been an informal part of independent school programs, often embedded in the culture of kindness and genuine relationships that characterize independent schools. In recent years, three things have changed to elevate the need for SEL in schools. First, brain science has caught up to conventional wisdom, deepening our understanding of how much emotional state inhibits cognition. Second, the world has become fraught with uncertainty and tragedy that hits close or directly to home. Third, students feel more anxious due to the immediate, unfiltered view that social media provides of their social standing and the world in which we live.

This was CASEL’s first national conference! With 1,500 attendees, 500 on the waitlist, and dozens of presentations and papers, the field has matured in a way that makes the path to school SEL integration stronger. In the past, I experienced SEL as a standalone field, a new world of student support to enter and learn. I first experienced SEL through wellness programs, light meditation, yoga, emotion thermometers, collaboration games, and getting in touch with one’s senses. It had value, but the road to full adoption in school would be long and challenging. This conference was nothing like that.

Dozens of sessions explored applications of SEL to many existing fields and types of teaching. The path to integration was well-defined and interdisciplinary. Here is the full program, and this is a list of sessions that caught my eye. The conference must have encouraged everyone to share, because I downloaded the presentation files and handouts for all of these, in addition to attending as many as possible.

Best Practices for Providing Professional Development to Build Classroom and School-Wide SEL Capacity and Collaboration
Molly Jordan, Boston Children’s Hospital)
Shella Dennery, Boston Children’s Hospital

Choosing and Using SEL Frameworks: Challenges, Opportunities, and Tools
Dale Blyth, University of Minnesota and Strategic Consulting
Stephanie Jones, EASEL Lab
Teresa Borowski, CASEL
Clark McKown, xSEL Labs

Embedding Social and Emotional Learning in High School American History: Teaching the Reconstruction Era
Dennis Barr, Facing History and Ourselves
Heather Frazier, Facing History and Ourselves

Embedding Social and Emotional Learning in Secondary Classrooms
Michele Tissiere, Engaging Schools

The SEL Integration Process Through Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment: A Schoolwide Approach
Molly Gosline, Adlai E. Stevenson High School
Tony Reibel, Adlai E. Stevenson High School

Integrating SEL Into Leading and Coaching
Wendy Baron

Reimagining Leadership to Create Equitable and Socially Intelligent Organizations and Teams
Kathleen Osta, National Equity Project
Linda Ponce de Leon, National Equity Project

Racial Equity in our Schools: SEL Is Necessary But Not Sufficient
Tala Manassah, Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility
Cassie Schwerner, Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility

Social Emotional Learning Skills in the Sex Education Classroom
Teagan Drawbridge-Quealy, Planned Parenthood League of MA
Jennifer Hart, Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts

Harnessing the Power of Action Civics and Youth Voice to Support SEL and Academic Goals in the High School and Middle School Classroom
Brian Brady, Mikva Challenge Chicago
Michelle Morales, Mikva Challenge Chicago
Molly Andolina, DePaul University
Hilary Conklin, DePaul University

The Evidence Base for SEL: Current Status and Future Directions
Roger P. Weissberg, CASEL
Joseph A. Mahoney, University of Wisconsin, Superior
Ruth Cross, CASEL

Teaching the skills of civil dialogue also featured strongly in the conference. I leave you with this quote:

Debate is empathy and evidence coming together.

– Linda Darling-Hammond

Finally, we were pleased to learn that our SEL project has a contemporary focus. CASEL’s strategic priorities, as shared by Robert Jagers, Vice President of Research, look very similar to our current growth areas.

  • Equity
  • Adult SEL
  • Integration with academics

Attending the SEL Exchange equipped us with research and projects to better prepare students for their present studies and future lives.

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