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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.

New Spaces and Community Impact

The opening of school this year introduced an exciting new space to the UPrep community: our transformed Commons. Construction that started last May reached its end just before Labor Day, thanks to the effort and organization of our staff, architect, and construction teams.

Four years ago, the school comprehensively reviewed the campus, created a list of remodel and new construction projects that would improve the student experience, and then rank ordered them. Transforming the Commons rose to the top of the list, because it met several goals.

  • Improve the character of the Commons
  • Use space more flexibly
  • Provide more space for a growing student body
  • Upgrade and grow the kitchen

We improved the character of the space in several ways. When you walk in, you immediately notice a full wall of windows looking onto the Picardo Patch, the original and largest community garden in Seattle. This view was previously restricted to offices located along this wall. The second big change is the lighting: brighter and whiter than other spaces. Finally, enlarging the Commons makes it possible to have many different kinds of furniture: four-tops, long tables, high seating, the above pictured “farm” table, and soft, casual seating.

We also designed the Commons for flexibility, so that the limited space we have can be used for different activities throughout the day. The large room, flexible seating, and versatile displays support hosting events here. The Commons Meeting Room (not pictured) has large, sliding, glass doors so that it can integrate with the Commons during meals and events and close for meetings and classes.

Some features in the new Commons got a big upgrade. The new bathroom block features individual, private, gender-neutral stalls. The kitchen is modern, well-sized, and thoughtfully laid out. The display screens are coordinated and controlled using Raspberry Pi devices and touch pads. Wireless network and video connectivity exists throughout.

Beyond the Commons, we also installed flexible partitions between two pairs of classrooms in another building. Along with the Commons meeting room, these allow us to try three different ways to create a double-sized classroom, to inform how we design such spaces in the future. Larger spaces are essential to support intensive classes, class meetings, and special program days.

These changes did introduce new inconveniences. Since we could not add square footage during this phase of the project, we had to relocate some offices to different parts of the building. The staff room, College Counseling, and Makerspace were all affected. The latter two of these will ultimately gain brand new spaces when we build the second project on our list across the street.

Opening the transformed Commons generated new excitement and momentum, to build on the big changes we made to the school program in the last few years, and look forward to future construction and program development in the future.

Our First Intensives are Complete!

We just finished our first intensives term, the result of two years of planning and collaboration inside our school and with school and organization partners. I have written a blog post for UPrep to summarize how our first intensives began to meet the goals for student experience established for this project.

UPrep’s First Intensives Were a Great Success

 

Assessment for Next Generation Learning

A new article from EdSurge describes a MIT effort to design assessments for next generation learning. “Playful assessment” captures curiosity, creativity and critical thinking within the natural context of student learning activities.”It emphasizes recognizing and reflecting on what works and what doesn’t, and in response, identifying skills to improve on moving forward.”

While such habits of mind are recognized as essential for today’s learners and are frequently embedded in curriculum and lesson design, they are also difficult to systematically and accurately assess. Instruments such as the Mission Skills Assessment and SSAT Character Skills Snapshot have emerged in recent years but are disconnected from classroom curricula.  Effective teacher assessment is needed to both measure and deepen lasting next generation learning for students.

Photo by Plush Design Studio on Unsplash

WorldStrides Summit on Global Awareness & Leadership

globe

Last week, our global programs director Brian and I spent two days at a WorldStrides-sponsored event in Philadelphia, at which we studied questions about optimal program design and student experience. The presenter lineup featured organization and school experts in global travel, providing a rich range of perspectives and wisdom on the topic.

Some highlights:

  • What is the overall purpose of your program? Curriculum, experience, or service?
  • What does your school community value? Is your global program aligned?
  • How much is global education represented in the rest of the school curriculum? Do students see the travel program connected to the rest of their school experience?
  • Has your school thoroughly studied student health and safety preparations and plans?
  • Do groups travel during or outside the school term?
  • Where does student leadership live in your travel program?

We have returned with a decent list of outstanding school travel programs of different types:

At UPrep, we are implementing the first large shift in our signature Global Link program in 10 years. Our new Intensive terms allow Global Link to travel during an intensive term rather than over spring break. So far, two trips have migrated into the January intensive, with plans to continue moving trips next year.

Adding a specific subject’s curriculum to the trip is a new feature of Intensive Global Link. Our first three examples are Human Rights in Colombia, Global Link American South, and Storytelling in Samoa. As a result, schools that have established strong curricular connections for global travel are of specific interest to us right now. From the above list, these include Ideaventions, Lawrenceville, and Trinity Palmer, at a minimum.

Finally, Global Education Benchmark Group (GEBG) Executive Director Clare Sisisky presented three times on insights gleaned from GEBG’s 250 member schools, including broad perspectives on global program outcomes, school partnerships, conceptual frameworks, assessment instruments, and examples from model schools.

[Photo by Juliana Kozoski on Unsplash]

The Busy UPrep Blog

The UPrep blog has been very active in the past week, thanks to the great work of student and staff authors and the Communications team. Check out these recent titles, including one by yours truly.

Developing Our Best Ideas

Originally published in the Leadership+Design Monthly Recharge.

“How do we provide students with the most powerful, lasting learning opportunities? Where do we do this well? Where might we do more?” A learning organization is always asking these questions. Today at University Prep, fully half of our faculty and staff voluntarily serve on research and design teams that produce our best new ideas for enhancing the students’ educational experience. How did we get here?

To develop our new strategic plan, we asked the school community to answer these questions and thereby set our course for the upcoming years. We held focus group discussions, conducted internal research and design workshops, administered community surveys, and consulted with national experts. Along the way, we found that the seeds for UPrep’s future had already been laid. We just needed to create the conditions to help them flourish.

This is one example of what Ito and Howe term “emergence” in their book Whiplash. They write, “emergent systems presume that every individual within that system possesses unique intelligence that would benefit the group.” Doesn’t that perfectly suit a school? One of our teachers commented, “I have had ideas for student learning for years. Now, I feel invited to share them, because they actually get adopted!”

The ideas collected during this listening phase coalesced around five themes. We may have predicted some of these in advance, but others were unanticipated. In emergent systems, Ito and Howe write, “decisions aren’t made so much as they emerge from large groups of employees or stakeholders.” As an added benefit, each project started with the advantage of existing community support, because the community had generated the ideas.

Next Generation Learning at University Prep

New Models of Time

Social and Emotional Learning

Social Justice and Educational Equity

Interdisciplinary Learning

U Lab: Student-Directed Learning Connected to Community

We then invited leaders from outside the administrative team to facilitate each team. Ten teacher leaders and program directors stepped into this leadership role. John Kotter describes this as “a dual operating system” in his book XLR8 (Accelerate). The first operating system, hierarchy, is expert at efficiently managing ongoing operations but also tends to maintain the status quo. The second, network operating system, is creative, divergent, and connects ideas across disciplines and departments. In the organization with only the hierarchical operating system, decisions are made at the top and handed down to uninspired employees. With a dual operating system, both the hierarchy and network play to their respective strengths.

Ubox, a product of the student-led Social Entrepreneurship class

By inviting many voices and broadly distributing leadership, we created a dynamic innovation engine that continues to create great ideas, promote involvement, and cultivate its own support. Within the first year, we designed and adopted a new school schedule, added social and emotional learning activities to advisory, ran our first Senior LaunchPad (an enhanced senior project), launched the first two entirely student-led courses (no teacher needed), and committed to design intensives (single courses that run full-time for a three-week term, borrowed from Hawken School). We have also joined other national networks that uphold emergence, such as Independent Curriculum Group, Mastery Transcript Consortium, and Global Online Academy.

How does UPrep prepare students for a world that values emergence over authority? It’s easy when we value the ideas of every individual. Students serve on research and design teams, propose new courses and independent study projects, take risks when designing their Senior LaunchPads. Valuing emergence means supporting student voice, choice, and leadership in the classroom and school life. Community partnerships create opportunities for students to pursue their passions through online study, internships, social activism, and entrepreneurship. The principles that have made Next Generation Learning a successful strategic initiative have also made the school more responsive and celebratory of student needs, wishes, and dreams.

Explore, Question, Develop: Next Generation Learning Initiatives

Originally published in UPrep Magazine

“A rolling stone gathers no moss.” — proverb

This ancient saying admonishes wanderers to settle down and establish themselves. But perhaps some wanderlust is good for you. The Rolling Stones evidently felt so, inspired by a Muddy Waters song of the same name. Wandering is not so aimless when we call it “exploration” and give it purpose: to experience broadly, appreciate difference, and try new ideas.

In 2015, UPrep set out to explore, question, and further develop intellectual courage, global citizenship, and social responsibility. First, the UPrep community identified the most promising opportunities for enhancing the student experience. Then, volunteer Research+Design teams surveyed literature, visited schools, presented at conferences, and wrote proposals. As you can see below, we are well on our way toward implementation of our Next Generation Learning Initiatives, which should be fully in place by 2020.

New Models of Time

Completed: A new daily schedule that is easy to follow, supports deeper learning and independence, and
makes time for social and emotional development.

Upcoming: Intensives (our working title), in which students take a single course for two-and-a half weeks to think deeply across disciplines, study contemporary topics, and learn in the community.

ULab

Completed: Senior LaunchPad, in which all seniors design and engage in an off-campus passion project,  and present it to the community. Social Entrepreneurship and Feminism, two new courses that are entirely student-conceived, designed, and delivered. Global Online Academy, in which students have registered for 50 fully online courses for next year.
Upcoming: Construction of a dynamic new center to support entrepreneurial thinking and connection to community. The building will feature flexible spaces for independent, group, and class work and house global programs, the Makerspace, college counseling, mentorship, and other student leadership programs.

Social Justice and Educational Equity

Completed: A comprehensive review of justice and equity practices in and beyond the classroom. New courses that include social justice topics or represent many cultures. Coordination among teacher leaders, the Board of Trustees, and the Diversity and Community program.
Upcoming: Further development of culturally responsive classroom practices, course curricula, student leadership opportunities, and enhanced collaborations among different parts of the school.

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)

Completed: A detailed review of SEL programs and UPrep needs, multiple surveys assessing students’ emotional health and social skills.

Upcoming: SEL curriculum built into the new schedule, Advisory for Advisors, and SEL classroom practices.

Intensives/Immersives Design

Upcoming: In 2018-2019, a new school calendar that includes intensive terms in January and June. New courses specially designed for these terms in which students deeply immerse themselves in different ways of thinking, study contemporary topics through multiple lenses, and learn in the community
and through travel.

 

While much of the UPrep program is consistent from year to year, Strategic Plan 2020 allows us to shake off a little moss and develop exciting new opportunities for powerful learning, which will equip our students to wander with purpose into a complex and ever-changing world

 

Progressive Education and Democracy

I appreciated reading the title of the summer edition of Catlin Gabel’s school magazine The Caller. “Educating for Democracy” was splashed across the front cover. Although John Dewey identified participation in civic society as a goal of progressive education in 1916, progressive schools have tended to focus more on experiential learning and school community and rarely enshrined democracy as a core value.

In four articles, Catlin Gabel staff explore the history of Dewey and educating for democracy, the requisite skills, knowledge, experiences, and dispositions, and examples of the work in action. This issue stands as a clear and detailed expression that teaching young people to participate in society is an essential component of primary and secondary education.

The school is also reacting to contemporary events, another principle of progressive education. Students experience school within the context of their daily lives. Leaning into the political upheaval taking place at all levels better equips students to navigate and ultimately shape the future of American democracy. Head of School Tim Bazemore write, “Our goal is not to educate students to be Republicans, Democrats, or Libertarians; it is to prepare them to be informed political citizens, capable of forming reasoned opinions and acting on their beliefs.”

College prep schools in particular struggle to break the hold of content and skills within their programs. College preparation remains synonymous with college admission preparation, although the two are quite different. When I interviewed a handful of college instructors and program directors, they reported that incoming students largely lacked necessary skills in critical thinking, independence, collaboration, and creativity. Content preparation, they said, was less important for success in college. Yet, college admission is still largely determined by course requirements in traditional subject areas, SAT and ACT scores, and achievement as measured by letter grades.

Educating for democracy is one way to teach critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and empathy within the context of urgent contemporary issues. There are other ways to apply such thinking skills, for example UPrep’s growing focus on research, advocacy, and entrepreneurship. It is vital that school’s consider their purpose in educating students to survive and thrive in today’s world. College preparation is no longer enough.

 

 

Tradition or Innovation?

Tradition and innovation are commonly portrayed as opposites. Tradition is said to inhibit innovation, and innovation replaces traditions. Is this always the case? Here is one school that embraces both tradition and innovation. What do you think of this?