The 14 Most Innovative SEL Districts, Part 1

Here's a quick look at how districts are creating safe learning environments that empower students

4. Tacoma (WA) Public Schools
Number of students: 30,000
Number of Schools: 57

Tacoma Public Schools is one of the largest districts in Washington State. The district is dedicated to meeting the social, emotional, and academic needs of students. Tacoma truly operates under a “students first” philosophy. The “Tacoma Whole Child Initiative” strives to help children develop the skills they will need to be socially strong, emotionally resilient, and self-determined. Deputy Superintendent, Joshua Garcia is quoted saying, “The Tacoma Whole Child Initiative is a 4 shift approach that aligns the efforts of school staff, community partners, families and neighborhoods to ensure every child is safe, healthy, engaged, supported and challenged. Across our city we have come together to support the Social Emotional and Academic Development of every child, everyday.” What are the results of this initiative thus far? There have been many notable achievements within the schools that have a social emotional learning focus. There has been substantial decreases in suspension, expulsion, and graduation gaps are closing.

TPS was featured in a Washington Post article that discussed how SEL initiatives have transformed students school experience and created more supportive learning environments. In November 2017, The Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development visited TPS to hear from leaders regarding SEL implementation in the district. This visit was an opportunity for The Aspen Institute to delve deeper into TPS’s mission in supporting the whole child.

Learn more about TPS’s social emotional learning initiatives here.

5. Baltimore (MD) City Public Schools
Number of Students: 80,600
Number of Schools: 171

In 2016, Baltimore City Public Schools began outlining a “Blueprint for Success” based on feedback from hundreds of students, families, staff members and community stakeholders. The result? Three key focus areas for the 2017-2018 school year: student wholeness, literacy, and staff leadership. The overarching goal was to prepare young people for success in college, careers, and the community, both within Baltimore and in cities throughout the world. The blueprint clearly outlined expectations for everyone in the school community, including expectations for school staff and teachers, families and district leadership. All schools were expected to develop student’s five core SEL competencies (as defined by CASEL), implement a professional development plan for educators, and create a safe space in the school for students to visit for additional social, emotional or academic support. All staff were expected to participate in professional development to develop a better understanding of the CASEL framework. District staff were tasked with developing a plan for implementing restorative practices districtwide and providing appropriate funding to support key student wholeness initiatives.

For more information, contact Baltimore City Schools, Prevention and Intervention/Restorative Practice Coordinator, Erik Bandzak.

6. Boston (MA) Public Schools
Number of Students: 56,000
Number of Schools: 125

Boston Public Schools has seen a huge transformation over the past 20 years. BPS, once a failing school district, is now one of most renowned urban public school systems in the country. Social emotional learning has become the foundation of student wellness at BPS. Various departments center around the social emotional needs of students; two of these offices include: SEL Instruction & Support Services and SELWell Operations. The BPS Office of Social Emotional Learning and Student Wellness’ vision for students is “Healthy and supportive schools will prepare all students to learn and thrive.” The office takes a “Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC)” approach, which combines elements of a traditional coordinated school health approach and a whole child framework. The goal is to actively promote social, emotional, and physical health and wellness to advance healthy development and readiness to learn. The SELWell departments collaborate to build a Multi-tiered System of Supports that are needed to implement SEL objectives.. BPS has recently hired an Assistant Superintendent of Social Emotional Learning and Wellness, which is believed to be the first cabinet- level post in a public school district in the nation. In July of 2017, BPS was awarded the Wallace Foundation Grant. BPS is one of six communities in the country to be selected for this initiative based on its efforts surrounding SEL.

Learn more about BPS’s social emotional learning initiatives here.

7. Anchorage (AK) School District
Number of Students: 47,000
Number of Schools: 130

Anchorage School District’s commitment to the social emotional needs of their students began over two decades ago. “Social emotional learning is at the heart of education in the Anchorage School District. We know from research that teacher-student relationships have a meaningful impact on academic growth. When we start by building strong relationships between teachers and students and between students, then we create a safe environment for students to learn and apply SEL skills such as knowing their own strengths, taking another’s perspective, communicating effectively, setting and achieving goals, and persevering. “These skills help us achieve our mission of educating all students for success in life,” says Superintendent, Dr. Denna Bishop. All schools in the district use the SEL Climate and Connectedness Survey and the SEL/Behavior Support Implementation Plan in order to achieve systemic implementation of social emotional learning initiatives. Every school has a leadership team that plans and adjusts implementation of SEL at their school. The district has even embedded SEL instructional strategies into principal training and district leadership meetings. ASD works to implement SEL through: climate, direct instruction and infusion. Climate refers to building safe and respectful learning environments, direct instruction refers to using a variety of programs to explicitly teach SEL skills and infusion refers to the integration of SEL principles throughout instruction. A Multi-tiered System of Supports (MTSS) approach integrates SEL curriculum and strategies to support positive behavior. ASD has also published a K-12 Instructional Practice which describes how to infuse SEL into Positive Classroom Behavior Management.

Learn more about ASD’s social emotional learning initiatives here.

Come back tomorrow for part 2, featuring the other 7 districts.

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