By Sam Piha
Social emotional learning (SEL) and character building have increasingly been deemed as important for afterschool programs. At the same time, SEL is becoming more important for in-school classrooms.
Below is an interview with Mary Hurley, Coordinator for Social and Emotional Learning and Leadership in Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) and serves on the Advisory Committee for the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) Collaborating States Initiative. We close the interview with a question of how school and afterschool can work more closely together to promote SEL.
Q. What changes in education brought SEL to the forefront?
A: The focus on SEL is coming to the forefront in districts across the country because we were not successfully educating our students without attending to SEL in the classroom.
For the past two decades the No Child Left Behind Act directed districts to be singularly focused on a particular kind of academic success as demonstrated by high stakes testing. Three things have changed:
• The shift to Common Core State Standards (CCSS) now requires a deeper level of understanding and communicating academic knowledge by our students – not just rote memorization. These CCSS are based on the assumption that students have the SEL skills to engage in this more rigorous academic environment.
• Second, recent brain science research shows the essential role that emotions play in the neurological process of learning for adults and students. Every new learning in every domain has an affective element.
• Finally, the enactment of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) now expands the indicators of how schools and students are determined to be successful to include indicators of social and emotional competency in addition to the academic scores from high stakes testing.
Q. What specifically happened in OUSD to prompt the promotion of SEL? Why is this important to OUSD students?
A: OUSD aspires to be a full service Community Schools District where all of our schools are hubs of learning with resources for the entire community. In turn our community is fully engaged within the schools.
The diversity that makes Oakland such an attractive place to raise families also creates challenges to connect across our differences. In order for us to achieve this vision of becoming a Community Schools District we all need to be in productive and positive relationships with one another. SEL skills enable us to be in relationships with one another, with our students and our families in order to create the conditions for academic and social success for all of our students.
Q. What specifically is OUSD doing to promote SEL and what form is this taking on the ground – things that students and/or families would experience?
A: Oakland’s approach to SEL is three fold:
• The first step is to integrate our own SEL Standards into our performance frameworks for schools, principals, teachers and students. This means that a principal’s evaluation of their growth and development includes how proficient they are as a leader in SEL skills. When students and parents look at our Graduate Profile they will see social and emotional learning skills throughout the Profile. SEL is being integrated into how teachers design their academic lessons and how they teach students across the content areas.
• The second step is to infuse SEL into the school’s climate and culture through The 3 Signature SEL Practices. These Practices help to guide how the adults engage with one another and with students throughout the school including greeting students and families by name and listening to diverse opinions.
• The third step is explicitly teaching SEL skills through evidence-based program such as Engaging Schools, Expeditionary Learning and Caring School Community.
Q. There are a number of terms (non-cognitive skills, growth mindsets, etc.), lists, and frameworks that are synonymous with SEL. Is there a specific list or framework that you use in your work?
A: Yes, we use the CASEL framework. The five SEL competencies in the CASEL framework are: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationships and Responsible Decision Making.
We consider SEL to be an affective dimension of learning. Our Academic, Social and Emotional Learning Department includes Teaching and Learning, Professional Learning, SEL, Special Education and Early Childhood Education.
Q: How are classroom teachers trained and supported in implementing SEL practices?
A: This is a real challenge. Our work plan for the next 3-5 years include:
• In 2017-18 we have 5 SEL Learning Hub Schools (K-12) where teachers, principals and sight leadership teams received SEL leadership and classroom coaching every week. Teachers at SEL Learning Hub Schools were offered the opportunity to participate in an SEL Inquiry Professional Learning Community (PLC) with Mills Teacher Scholars and 28 teacher leaders elected to be part of that district-wide PLC. High Schools were able to send their leadership teams to a 4 day SEL Institute. One Middle School was supported as an SEL Learning Hub School.
• In 2017-18 there will be an additional 8 SEL Learning Hub Schools and Instructional Teacher Leaders and principals will be trained in the 3 Signature SEL Practices as the core of our SEL implementation.
Q: Does OUSD utilize any means of measurement? Who is measured and how is the data used?
A: We administer the SEL module of the California Healthy Kids Survey and collect data on Attendance, Referrals, Suspensions, and Expulsions. In 2017-18 we will be using the DESSA (Devereux Student Strength Assessment) in the Learning Hub Schools to provide data on Student SEL Strengths. Data and measurement is another growth area for us.
Q: OUSD has many afterschool programs. How do you see afterschool programs as being part of the OUSD – SEL effort? Is there an effort to integrate the SEL practices at a school that includes in-school and afterschool?
A: As a result of receiving a Wallace Foundation planning grant we will be linking the school day with the afterschool through SEL implementation. We are very excited about the emerging partnership and the promising practices that will emerge. We hope to receive a full grant, which will enable us to continue the project over a 3 year period.
Mary Hurley is the Coordinator for Social and Emotional Learning and Leadership in Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). Mary was a classroom teacher for 30 years prior to coordinating a district partnership with the Bay Area Writing Project (BAWP) and serving as an OUSD Leadership Coach. She is a Carnegie Fellow, a BAWP Teacher Consultant, and is on the Mills College Teacher Scholars Advisory Board and the Advisory Committee for the CASEL Collaborating States Initiative.