Now is the Time...
Children are the Priority,
Change is the Reality,
Collaboration is the Strategy
Promoting Mental Health...
Improving Academics! http://tinyurl.com/MHacademicsVideo
In the increasingly popular fields of student engagement, social-emotional learning, and school climate, educators and researchers sometimes feel like they are working in totally different worlds.
While researchers tout long-term studies that show economic and academic benefits of such efforts, teachers say they sometimes struggle to apply the findings in classrooms.
And while many education leaders and policymakers espouse great enthusiasm for teaching students how to learn through problems and to resolve conflicts, they sometimes fail to see the nuance and limitations in existing research. That means some who buy in to programs pitched as silver bullets may end up without meaningful solutions.
So, when a national organization set out to craft a research agenda for what it calls social, emotional, and academic development of students—which encompasses issues related to students' mindsets, relationships, and engagement in the classroom—organizers sought to build a bridge between the two worlds, inviting both educators and scientists to the table to discuss what excites them, what challenges them, and what should come next.
"Researchers are often quite removed from the actual [school] setting," said Michael McGarrah, a research and policy associate for the Aspen Institute's National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development. "It's difficult unless you're doing the actual practitioner's work day to day to have the full insight into all of their considerations."
While many researchers work with schools to carry out studies on specific interventions, they may be less familiar with how other schools apply the findings after they are published, educators say.
The national commission, made up of current and former leaders from the worlds of education, policy, government, and business, has an ambitious agenda to try to define commonalities in the emerging and overlapping fields of social-emotional learning, deeper learning, mindsets, and student engagement.
Among the commission's projects is the research agenda, which organizers hope will aid academics and philanthropic organizations as they find new directions for the work. The commission convened a panel of scientists who study such issues as engagement, social-emotional development, student attendance, and economics to help draft research recommendations. To ensure that their thinking incorporates classroom-level concerns, the scientists reached out to the commission's panel of educators who are interested in incorporating a more "whole child" approach into their work.
They started small: Over the course of a few weeks, educators and scientists broke up into six pairs and spent an hour on the phone with each other, answering questions and identifying challenges in their work.
For example, Marc Brackett, the director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, called Josh Garcia, the deputy superintendent of the Tacoma, Wash., schools, who has led the effort in his district to incorporate nonacademic factors into its accountability system.
Robert Balfanz, a research professor at Johns Hopkins University and the director of the Everyone Graduates Center, spoke with David Adams, the director of social-emotional learning at Urban Assembly, a network of public schools in New York City.
Recognizing the interest in their work, scientists in these fields are increasingly taking on more public roles to share and explain their insights and concerns, but the phone calls organized by the commission allowed for more personal conversations. The pairs tackled topics ranging from how to ensure that social-emotional learning isn't seen as just a "fad," how to communicate its importance to families and community members, and how schools should measure the results of their work in a way that is accurate, consistent, and useful for teachers.
Researchers have cautioned educators not to lean on using measures of students' social and emotional skills for high-stakes purposes like placement, teacher evaluation, and accountability. They say such measures are still being refined so they won't be prone to bias and inaccurate or inconsistent results.
But some ability to observe, document, and track results would help teachers as they implement new programs in fields that are still developing, Adams said.
Some of his schools track and report teachers' observations of students' relationships and behaviors. While researchers often explore large population changes over time, educators need tools to track smaller changes within a school year so they can see if they are affecting students in positive ways, Adams said.
That might help convince educators that social-emotional learning and student-engagement work aren't trendy programs that are quickly adopted and discarded, he said.
"Every three to five years, there's a new shift in education that really grabs the attention," Adams told Balfanz. "It's difficult to maintain focus on the not-sexy things that really move the needle around achievement."
Other conversations focused on the tendency among researchers to home in on very narrow ideas, such as empathy, persistence, or learning through failure. It's difficult for educators to navigate all that research and chart a path for their own schools and classrooms, participants said.
In her call, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, an associate professor of education, psychology, and neuroscience at the University of Southern California, said social-emotional-learning research also needs to be sensitive to cultural, developmental, and geographic contexts.
"Even when there are things that seem to be working really great, we can't just copy them," she said. Rather, researchers need to help educators devise larger strategies for creating their own approaches that work with their students and schools, she said.
The panel of scientists will continue to meet, using their conversations with educators as they make recommendations for the commission about exactly what questions they should be asking in the future.
Decades of research have shown that students' emotional and social development is tied to their success in the classroom, McGarrah said, and there is building enthusiasm for social-emotional learning. The commission, he said, hopes a research agenda will help build on that momentum.
"There's a lot of confidence about where we stand," McGarrah said, "but saying where we need to go is a tall order."
Coverage of social and emotional learning is supported in part by a grant from the NoVo Foundation, at www.novofoundation.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
Change is hard…like really hard. When was the last time you arrived at work and you were enthusiastically greeted by staff members that were asking for change? Chances are that it has been a while. Let’s face it, many folks are creatures of habit and moving change forward, even with its staff driven, can be a challenge. Just like in the classroom we have the folks that pick it up new ideas and run while others watch off to the side and others that are the little turtles that just need additional time. All of this remains true when you talk about leading and developing a positive school culture. It is hard work. From my experience, leading and developing a positive school culture is a long challenging process and it has its ups and down. Even with the guidance on school climate from experts in the field implementing it is another story as each building, staff, and community has different characteristics that make the implementation process slightly different. Considering all of this, here are the points I focus on and offer as advice for those seeking to develop and lead a positive school culture.
Rome wasn’t built in a day! I understand this statement but it still makes me cringe as I think about the lost time in moving slow when it comes to doing the right work for kids. However, I do understand the importance of having patience and that culture takes a while to develop. In fact, changing the culture of a building takes multiple years, especially if you are making a large shift in practice. If you have teachers that have been there for 10+ years, this process tends to take longer than if you had a large number of new teachers. As much as I would like, culture takes time as staff, students, and families need to spend a significant amount of time together to get used to each other and the new set of expectations. It is through time that the new expectations will start to become engrained in the daily work everyone does and it becomes accepted. So if you find yourself wanting to rush the process of having a deeply engrained culture of serving the whole child with high expectations…take a deep breath as you need to be ready for the long haul.
You can’t change a culture of a building through emails and by hanging out in your office. Leaders must get out and be present in the building. The same goes when it comes to committee meetings, data team conversations, and professional development that staff attend. You have to be involved so you can help connect the work being done back to the culture shift going on within the building. When you opt out of these opportunities to be present and involved in the building, you are missing out on opportunities to help reinforce the direction everyone is working towards.
Elementary teachers love to talk and connect with each other. Even if you aren’t at the elementary level, I would still highly recommend communicating continuously about the culture of the building and the direction the building is going. Just like the old art of storytelling, sharing the story of your building and how these new cultural norms impact students makes an incredible difference. One of my favorite ways to help bring the conversations to life is by highlighting a particular student and the positive impact the changes have made on them.
As a new building culture is being developed, it has to be at the forefront of the conversation and focus of all staff. This is something that has to be visited throughout the year, particularly in the beginning of the year as you work to acclimate new staff to the building. During these times, I would also encourage you to share the why the need for and the direction of the culture shift. One of the exercises we did with staff at the start of the year was to create a large timeline of the history of our building. This allowed the new staff members to see firsthand the changes and needs for a culture shift within the building.
As with anything, you need to stop and reflect to examine if your actions match with the words and actions of the building. Over the past few years, my staff have become really good at this. They have even become skilled at calling me out if my actions or words don’t align. While some individuals might shy away from this accountability or blunt conversation, I really appreciate it as it holds me to our common agreements and the hard work we are doing to move students forward.
Finally, I encourage folks to be mindful of the daily climate of the building. While climate is very different than the culture of a building, you can get at reinforcing the culture of the building by addressing the climate. A simple climate survey will help one examine the climate and perhaps identify some underlying culture issues. For example, an unhealthy climate characteristic or belief a building has can become rooted into the culture if left unchecked.
Rachael George is a member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2015 and currently serves as the principal of Sandy Grade School in the Oregon Trail School District. Prior to serving as an elementary principal, George was a middle school principal of an “outstanding” and two-time “Level 5: Model School” as recognized by the State of Oregon. George specializes in curriculum development and instructional improvement as well as working with at-risk students and closing the achievement gap. Connect with George on Twitter @runnin26.