5 easy ways to get parents involved in SEL

Social-emotional learning (SEL) equips students with the skills to regulate their emotions, build resilience to stress and challenges, make responsible decisions, collaborate well with others, and empathize and communicate effectively with their peers—all the skills needed to live a healthy and productive life.

SEL is becoming the foundation of many schools across the globe. However, building these core social emotional skills takes time. Like all other skills, social-emotional skills need to be nurtured and learning needs to be ritualized.

SEL shouldn’t stop when the final bell rings. It is critical that we involve parents in social-emotional practices so that students can apply these concepts to life outside the classroom and also witness these important behaviors being modeled through their loved ones. How can we help families foster these skills at home?

1. Educate
Educate families on the importance of building core social emotional skills. Many families are fostering these positive behaviors at home already; it can greatly benefit parents to create an infographic or flyer that formally introduces these concepts. Send students home with this information; this can be an important first step in including families and parents.

2. Communicate
Communication is key. After families have the base knowledge of what SEL is, maintaining open communication can give parents the support they need in order to continue encouraging these behaviors and fostering these essential skills right at home. It is important to recognize that one method of communication will not work for all families.

It is also important to understand the families that you are working with—SEL is a communal effort. Think of different methods of support that you can offer: texting, phone calls, parent support groups, video conferences, or assemblies. Find ways to involve families in the school’s SEL initiatives and encourage educators to share their student’s progress with their loved ones.

What works best for the parents in your community? One way you can find this information is by sending home a survey, or by simply giving families a quick phone call.

3. Generate resources
Update parents and families with new social-emotional resources and materials regularly. Send your students home with information and tips for SEL that can be applied at home. Switch it up: Send informative one-pagers one month and home activities the next. Is there a designated individual at your school or district that can handle families’ SEL-related inquiries? Is there anywhere on the school/district website that has SEL-related information? If not, can you create a blog or Facebook group for parents? Think about how you can store and share the rich library of resources you’re building up.

4. Share expectations
When cultivating social-emotional skills in your students, it is important to set expectations. It is necessary to challenge students to apply these positive behaviors to everyday life. For example, when a student is angry, we challenge them to understand why they are angry, and then we encourage them to regulate their emotions and calm themselves down. Encourage families to continue to set clear expectations at home as well.

It’s also crucial for parents to understand what the expectations are at home. How is my child expected to resolve conflict? What emotional-management strategies should they be able to implement? Are there emotional vocabulary words that they already know and understand? By communicating what expectations are being held at school, we give parents the opportunity to carry these expectations into the home as well.

5. Celebrate success
Recognize the work that parents are already doing to support the social and emotional development of their children! In SEL, it is critical that we recognize when we do well. Conversations during dinner, playtime at home, regularly checking in with their child’s feelings, or bonding over an evening television program are just some of the things that parents and caregivers are doing every day with their children.

Also, make sure to celebrate the SEL milestones that are reached at home. When kids are able to apply these important concepts and responses outside of the classroom, this is an accomplishment for the community as a whole.

Lead with equity
When involving families in this process, please lead with empathy and equity. It is important to remember that no family is the same. SEL requires us to challenge our own biases. Consider any and all possible factors that may have an impact, e.g., cultural background, religion, trauma, and life experience. Recognize and acknowledge the privilege of being able to take part in our students’ social-emotional learning.

Involving families in SEL provides school leaders and teachers with the opportunity to authentically connect with the families and caregivers of their students. Encourage families to take ownership over their own SEL. Send home resources that adults can also use, and utilize open communication to validate whatever feelings may arise in the process. Remember, SEL is a vulnerable process.

Encouraging families to participate in their child’s social-emotional learning not only benefits their child, but the parent as well. This contributes to a healthy and happy community.

[Editor’s Note: This article was first published on the Move This World blog.]

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Feeling the midyear slump? Recharge your meetings with MicroPD

As principal of a middle school, I meet weekly with teachers and school counselors to discuss team and department progress of our students. I know that teachers—tasked with helping students achieve and dealing with adolescents—can quickly become energy depleted, even disenfranchised, seeing slow progress for the most at-risk and time-consuming among our students.

At the beginning of the year, when we are euphoric and well-rested and looking forward to helping all children, we establish SMART goals and meeting protocols.

The middle of the year is cold, the holidays are over, and we are looking at the high-pressure demands of preparing students for standardized testing. This can feel overwhelming and make the most positive teacher feel less enthusiastic. Against this seemingly insurmountable backdrop, we’ve come up with a way to revitalize teachers: MicroPD!

It’s fairly standard belief that professional development (PD) must go deeper than the one-and-done workshop; it must be more sustained, more relevant, and offer tangible takeaways. That’s why we conduct monthly PD meetings. These 25-minute PD sessions tend to be informative, offer takeaways, and elicit teacher input. Therefore, teachers generally enjoy them. However, as the midyear approached, we seemed to need more.

I decided to try something based on some research I had done on the impact of short bursts of rejuvenating practices. Here’s the premise: Offer a five- to eight-minute invigorating opportunity for teachers to benefit from a practice that helps them bond. Think of this like an infusion to help teachers through the hard parts.

I wasn’t sure how the teachers would respond, but I had to try. If it didn’t work, we would bury it in the worst failures of the Mike Gaskell Graveyard.

The 5-Minute MicroPD
Here’s how it works

  1. Introduce the concept: “Today, we’re going to try something reenergizing, since it’s mid-year and we’re all struggling with ongoing student problems, difficult parents, etc.
  2. Read a team-building quote and have teachers reflect on it for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  3. Next, ask each team member to share how the quote applies to his or her team.
  4. Last, I share my own contribution.
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7 discoveries from an active learning classroom

There is a fair amount of research into the impact of classroom design on student learning. Spaces flooded with natural light that allow for a variety of learning methods and activities, and spaces that let students feel a sense of ownership over the classroom, demonstrably affect how well students learn.

Active learning applies a similar principle, including minimizing institutional barriers like teacher lecterns, fixed and stagnant furniture, and limited student exposure to real-world experiences. Through active learning, the teacher gradually releases control to the students, encouraging them to become independent learners.

Four years ago, I became an inaugural recipient of a Steelcase Education Active Learning Center Grant. The renovated classroom and colorful mobile chairs and desks provided by the grant have literally transformed my practice, my seventh-grade language arts students, and their families. Test scores, homework completion, and grades have soared and parents who had never visited their student’s classroom now volunteer regularly. My research in our active learning classroom (ALC) over the past three years led me to discover seven elements critical to student success.

1. Reflective practice is critical for continued growth.
In our ALC, continuous reflection is critical and expected of both teacher and students, and requires a laser focus on planning, implementation, and assessment. I have learned to look at multiple perspectives in any given situation and I model that practice for my students. We continually revisit our work, looking for connections to prior projects and lessons, hoping to improve the overall learning experience and its application to real-life situations. Through research, students make inferences and draw conclusions but are encouraged to look beyond the obvious from multiple perspectives focusing not only on what is known but what is possible. Failure is recognized, encouraged, and embraced as essential to learning as we all strive for personal improvement, academic tenacity, and success.

2. Social-emotional learning is a huge part of our learning process.
The increase in student absenteeism, bullying behaviors, disinterest in school, and violence has sparked the need for social-emotional learning in the classroom. Students enter my classroom with a plethora of emotional concerns that interfere with learning. Active learning environments provide a unique level of comfort for students, evident in my classroom. Our no-judgment zone encourages risk taking and failure becomes a catalyst for revision and improved design. Students feel free to move, communicate, and collaborate. Learning is a community experience.

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10 major insights on teaching, learning, and STEM

STEM education and social-emotional learning will take precedence in 2019, according to teaching and learning predictions from 100Kin10.

100Kin10 is a national network focusing on improving STEM education by adding 100,000 highly-qualified STEM teachers to U.S. classrooms by 2021.

The report compiles information from 100Kin10’s partner organizations, teachers, researchers, and other STEM leaders, and the 10 reflections serve to direct the group’s work and focus areas for 2019. It offers a look at five trends that impacted STEM teaching and learning in 2018, along with five predictions for 2019.

Here are five 2018 trends that shaped 100Kin10’s focus:

1. Teacher shortages continue to grow, alongside stop-gaps and even some innovative solutions

Leaders at 100Kin10 say they’ve continued to see an increase in states using emergency credentials to fill teacher shortages, but these stop-gap solutions raise concerns about the sharp rise in under-qualified teachers. There are some innovative solutions to this challenge, however, including teacher residencies and strategic solutions to help teacher prep programs and school districts identify their areas of need.

2. Teachers crave more NGSS resources

Nearly 20 states have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards–standards that are meant to transform science education. But teachers tell 100Kin10 that progress is slow, because teachers and districts have the massive task of finding high-quality materials to support the standards. 100Kin10 partners are working to find innovative tools and resources to help educators find access to high-quality NGSS instructional materials.

3. Bringing the M back to STEM

100Kin10 Teacher Forum members note that math is frequently omitted from STEM conversations and opportunities, sometimes due to a focus on tech. 2019 will highlight efforts to shed light on math as an integral part of STEM learning, including active learning, complex problem-solving, and creative approaches to helping students and teachers understand math’s importance in and relevant to daily life.

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5 things standing between K-12 schools and innovation

Sustaining and scaling innovation is one of the top hurdles K-12 district leaders face as they strive to bring new and bold ideas to education, according to a new CoSN report.

Hurdles are more than just “pesky obstacles” to innovation, the authors note in Driving K-12 Innovation: 2019 Hurdles. These challenges slow down progress and force educators to make sure they’re prepared for the leap to innovation.

The report is the first of three in a series focusing on hurdles, accelerators, and tech enablers that spur K-12 innovation. The series, which will culminate in a toolkit to inform strategic planning and tech integration, honors the legacy of the Horizon K-12 reports.

CoSN convened an advisory board of more than 100 ed-tech experts to identify and rank broad issues, along with the implications of and solutions to those issues, to form a better picture of where K-12 innovation, equity, and other priorities stand today.

“Visionary, strategic technology leadership is critical for creating a systemic, digital ecosystem and preparing every child for the world of today and tomorrow. Making smart technology decisions in education is becoming more difficult, however,” writes CoSN CEO Keith Krueger in the report’s introduction. “Technology is changing at breakneck speed—and the pace is accelerating. The Driving K–12 Innovation series responds to this challenge.”

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5 steps to successfully run a student-led tech team

One-to-one device initiatives have exploded in popularity and have dramatically changed the classroom environment. Dedicated device access doesn’t just benefit students through improved educational outcomes, but also benefits districts by enabling innovation and providing a clear return on educational investment. IT teams, however, can struggle with the greatly increased burdens of managing fragmented device platforms, and the increased staffing that 1:1 initiatives often demand can limit funding for other important initiatives.

In 2016, Lafayette (IN) Catholic School System was preparing to make our entire system 1:1 by adding grades pre-K through six to the middle and high school program already in place. We’re a relatively small system, with 1,100 students across four school buildings. Our technology department manages those buildings, as well as two parish offices and one central office, containing a mix of MacBooks, iPads, and other desktop devices.

Streamlining device management
With a rollout set to double the number of devices we managed to 1,300 across five campuses, we knew we had to find a way to control costs. To optimize our endpoint management with remote capabilities, we turned to FileWave. It was when we began to dive deeper into its user-based permissions and other key functionalities that an innovative solution began to take shape.

What would it take for us to create a student-led tech team for all Tier 1 support? Apart from saving the costs of hiring new permanent and temporary staff members, this strategy would free up our staff to focus on larger projects. It would also empower our digital native students to pursue their passions.

Securing buy-in was challenging, and the implementation of our student-led tech team has been a continual learning experience, but in the two years since its inception, we’ve seen incredible growth. Graduates of our student team have joined university tech departments, secured prestigious full-ride scholarships, and carried their passions forward to pursue careers in IT. We’ve seen students turn around their overall academic performance as a result of joining our tech team. And we’ve come in under budget for the last three years while accomplishing expanded projects and tech pushes.

Implementing this program was a large undertaking full of missteps that informed how we grew and where we focused our efforts. If your school system decides to implement a student-led support team, what worked for us may not be a concrete answer for you. However, these core tips were pivotal for our implementation and may help you in your efforts.

Tip #1: Find the right tools and failsafes
It takes a lot of trust to give students access to your school system’s device management, and rightly so. It wasn’t enough for us to have a lengthy training process and code of ethics for student team members—we needed a way to restrict what they could access, as well as a means to revert any changes implemented in bad faith. We found what we were looking for with FileWave’s user-based permissions and the ability to revert changes should a student user go rogue. The fact that we could use our already selected endpoint management solution as a pedagogical tool was even better.

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FETC 2019: Day One

Not the driving rain or 50-degree temperatures could keep edtech enthusiasts from the opening day of FETC 2019 in Orlando. Wearing winter coats and braving the harsh Florida weather, lines formed early for the 8 am workshops.

Because this is my 13th FETC, I confidently walked into the conference center as a tour guide for an FETC first timer. However, in its usual manner, FETC changed it up for the better. Though I do miss seeing Hawaiian shirts and skateboards at the Surf conference that shared the south side of the Orange County Convention Center, the extra space taken over by FETC makes the conference workshops more accessible, convenient, and right in the heart of the main concourse. The new and improved conference registration location is an upgrade from its previous place in the corner of the Expo floor.

The Expo floor did not open until 4:30 pm on Monday, but educators and administrators were able to choose from 100 workshops, Apple and Microsoft concurrent sessions, and an all-day Blueprint for Technology in Education Summit. The FETC Experience, in its second-year, models personalized learning with tracks that identify attendee relevant workshops and sessions. The edtech administrators, information technology, educator, early learning, and inclusion and special education tracks ensured that there was something for everyone.

Student Data Privacy

Edtech administrators and Edtech information technology administrators have many sleepless nights contemplating student data privacy and cybersecurity challenges in their districts. These challenges were addressed in the Future of Edtech Administrator and the Future of Edtech Information Technology workshops. During these sessions, presenters and attendees discussed concerns, best practices, and implementation strategies on data privacy, digital citizenship and understanding the new generation of learners. The all-day Blueprint for Technology in Education Summit sessions focused on the future of edtech and how it is no more extended curriculum or IT–it is both!

STEAM and STEM

Not surprising is the continued focus on STEAM, STEM, coding, and robotics. Not only was there a plethora of workshops on these topics, but there was also a wide range of grade-specific targeted options in both the Future of Edtech Educator and the Future of Edtech Early Learning tracks.

Assistive Technology

A student does not need to be on an IEP or 504 to benefit from assistive technology. This message was loud and clear in the Future of Edtech Inclusion and Special Education workshop sessions that focused on inclusion and high expectations for all learners. These workshops highlighted the unlimited assistive technology apps and software programs by providing insight and best practices that will ensure rigor while supporting all learners struggling with reading and writing.

Day one has my head spinning already with networking opportunities, amazing workshops, and energizing vibes. So regardless of whether the sun comes out or the rain continues, there is no better place than FETC19 to get your edtech jam on!

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5 Big Ideas for Education Innovation in 2019

Over the last year, education innovators around the country continued to pursue expanded definitions of student success, personalized approaches, and wholly new models of school. For many, the very real challenges of change management and discovering ways to promote scale with quality dominated 2018. But for those conversations to go a level deeper, we can’t assume that these new measures and new models are fully baked or that everything deemed “new” is at it seems. Looking ahead, here are five big ideas I’ll be watching for in 2019:

1. ‘Unbundle’ what we mean by SEL.
Social-emotional learning. Soft Skills. Habits of mind. These critical but sometimes elusive ideas have gotten their fair share of love over the past year. But pulling back the curtain on the research base, the paltry supply of reliable SEL assessments can make the current energy around SEL interventions feel anemic at best, and hollow at worst. Like personalized learning, “SEL” now connotes a bundle of concepts and aspirations that may need to get unbundled in order to be useful. In that vein, in 2019 I’m most excited to watch emerging SEL point solutions targeted at specific, narrow skills or dispositions. These innovations are focused on doing a few things really well. For example, GiveThx, the brainchild of Leadership Public Schools’ teacher-entrepreneur Mike Fauteaux, plucks off one particular emotion and skill: gratitude. In a similar vein, Kind Foundation’s effort, Empatico.org, focuses on experiences that inspire empathy across classrooms. I’ll be watching models like these that offer narrower on-ramps to more rigorous measurement and targeted interventions within the exceedingly broad SEL landscape.

2. Commit to threading the coherent curriculum needle.
Speaking of the murky waters of personalized learning, rumblings (and occasional shouts) about the fragmented state of curriculum to support personalization have been building for years. One of the fundamental tensions we hear articulated is whether a coherent, evidence-based, off-the-shelf curriculum is better than a potpourri of lessons that teachers and leaders assemble—and in some cases build—themselves. Although these debates are not unique to personalized environments, personalization hinges on a commitment to tailor learning experiences to individual students. But the more varied those experiences and resources are, many worry the less rigorous and coherent curriculum becomes. Through the lens of our own Modularity theory, these tradeoffs aren’t unique to curriculum per se: across industries, a modular approach can be more affordable and flexible, while integrated solutions are pricier but better at pushing the frontier of performance. In 2019, I’ll be keeping an eye on how districts and schools manage to strike a balance between the tradeoffs of modular and flexible versus integrated and coherent approaches to curriculum.

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6 reasons why immersive speech-language classrooms work

There’s a classroom in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Penn., where the kids play and sing with the friends they have made. Laughter echoes off the walls adorned with artwork. They read stories aloud, have table time, engage in the latest STEAM activities, and follow the general curriculum.

It all sounds so familiar, doesn’t it? Well, this classroom is unlike any other. It’s a place where students enter the program unable to communicate and leave as little chatterboxes.

While immersive learning spaces are becoming a must-have for school districts, the Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s (AIU) Speech-Language program has been doing it for two decades. The Primary Expressions classroom is an intensive K-1 program in a very small class-size setting. The all-day endeavor is guided by a speech-language pathologist and follows the standard curriculum across all subjects with the added dimension of persistent speech treatment therapy. After they complete the program, students ideally transition back to their class in second grade to be with their peers. It’s a turnkey solution to unlocking the speech challenges of young students.

We believe an immersive speech-language environment is the best way to treat students with moderate-to-severe speech issues. Here are our top six reasons why:

1. All-day communication support.
The biggest difference between an immersive environment and traditional pull-out sessions is the time spent treating the students. Having a nationally certified, highly-qualified speech language pathologist leading the intimate class ensures that no matter what course is being taught, speech-language is always a priority. There’s no rush, either. A half-hour session twice a week is not a lot of time and things can fall by the wayside. An immersive environment enhances students’ opportunities to blossom by learning and practicing techniques at an accelerated rate under the guidance of a professional.

“We often see students whose communication has limited their interaction join a community where that difference is understood,” says Eileen Cirelli, AIU speech-language supervisor. “Within weeks, those who stood shyly in the corner are front-and-center at morning group, talking up a storm.”

2. Students are not isolated from their classmates.
Social interaction among young students is still imperative. In fact, peer interaction in real-world settings can be the best way to work on those communication skills. You can create a balanced educational and social environment by integrating students into art, library, gym, lunch, recess, and school-wide events. This also allows them to lay the foundation for lasting friendships once they integrate back into their class.

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9 innovation tips from pioneering schools

Stories about innovation seem to be everywhere, and with good reason–educators are searching for groundbreaking strategies to inspire and improve education for every student in every classroom.

Because innovation is topmost in many educators’ minds, eSchool News put out a call for innovative educators, schools, and districts across the U.S. through the inaugural Distinguished Innovator Awards program. (Read more about our winners here!)

Our panel of judges chose one winner per category, but we received so many inspiring nominations that we decided to share some of our finalists with you.

Perhaps you feel your school has stalled on its own journey to an innovative learning space. Or maybe you’re looking for a good starting point to refresh your school and your approach to teaching and learning.

This question, which we asked as part of our awards nomination progress, might give you the inspiration you need to identify more innovative practices for your school:

What advice would you give to other schools seeking to try new things and redefine teaching and learning?

1. The Village School (Houston, TX)

Here are five tips:

  1. Take it one step at a time and start small if you need to.
  2. Start by building a lesson plan or project.
  3. Be open to feedback from your peers.
  4. Work with teachers in the same department to collaborate and build upon each other’s ideas.
  5. Don’t be afraid to start the cultural change at the leadership level.
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