The 14 Most Innovative SEL Districts, Part 1

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

[Editor’s Note: This article was first published on the Move This World blog on November 1, 2018. Come back tomorrow for part 2.]

In this article, we will be highlighting districts that have shown tremendous commitment to the well being of their students and staff. These 14 districts are being recognized for their efforts in social emotional learning (SEL) and their dedication to creating safe learning environments where individuals feel empowered to express themselves, and where effective teaching and learning can occur.

What is SEL? As defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), social emotional learning is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Why should SEL be implemented in the classroom? Studies show that supporting students’ social and emotional development produces an 11-percentage point gain in grades and test scores. Sustaining a focus on social and emotional growth through adolescence is crucial for improving achievement and outcomes beyond school.

The best way to foster social emotional skills is through daily practice: in our classrooms. These 14 districts recognize the importance of both academic achievement and the social and emotional skills that lead students to become healthy and productive adults.

1. Hawaii Department of Education
Number of Students: 185,000
Number of Schools: 283

The Hawaii Department of Education is dedicated to the social emotional needs of their students and has an established commitment to the “Comprehensive Student Support System (CSSS).” According to the Hawaii DOE website, “CSSS ensures that ALL students achieve to their greatest potential when school administrators, students, teachers, staff, families, and school communities work together in compassionate, nurturing, and efficient partnerships.” The district has undergone a transformation by adopting a new school performance system, internationally-benchmarked standards, updated assessments, and more intense diploma requirements. So, where does social emotional learning come in hand? Social emotional learning approaches complement the districts commitment to CSSS and many Hawaii teaching standards address SEL principles. The Hawaii DOE believes the root of students’ success lies in social emotional learning. The district presents the annual “Schools of the Future Conference” alongside Hawaii Association of Independent Schools and the Hawaii Community Foundation. This collaborative event highlights best practices for social emotional learning in classrooms and schools. The district also offers teachers a “Social and Emotional Learning”course in order to help staff gain a better understanding of SEL.

Learn more about HDE’s Comprehensive Student Support System here.

2. Naperville (IL) Community School District
Number of Students: 16,600
Number of Schools: 22

Naperville Community School District began thinking about how to prioritize student’s social and emotional needs in 2014. At that time, district staff began to conduct research and identify needs of the students and educators; identifying a SEL core team to take ownership of this work, and developing professional learning opportunities for staff. Over the next four years they increased their dedication. They developed their own SEL curriculum, developed a parent and community committee, and implemented professional learning for staff as well as an education series for parents. NCSD achieved full K-12 SEL implementation in the 2017-2018 school year. In 2018, NCSD’s Education Foundation awarded grants for 13 teacher projects in the SEL and STEM categories to continue their work. They are currently focused on gathering feedback on current initiatives and revising plans as needed. NCSD is optimistic that they will see increased academic achievement, positive school climate, rising student attendance and better use of appropriate coping skills from more kids. Additionally, the district provides SEL snapshots to parents to encourage students to apply these skills at home.

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

3. Washoe (NV) County School District
Number of Students: 64,192
Number of Schools: 98

Washoe County School District’s main goal is no secret, you can find it directly in the districts motto: “Every Child, By Name and Face, To Graduation.” This goal was one of the main reasons that WCSD prioritized social emotional learning. WCSD strives to to ensure safe, secure, supportive and welcoming environments in schools. WCSD has a 3-pronged approach to SEL: climate and culture, integration and infusion into existing curriculum and direct instruction. The district has established clear social and emotional learning standards for its students. These standards are based on the 5 core competencies of social emotional learning as defined by CASEL. WCSD is using SEL is to raise graduation rates and it is a key strategy in the districts “90 by 20” plan- the goal is to increase the graduation rate to 90% by 2020. Since the implementation of SEL in 2012, WCSD has seen the graduation rate raise 20 points to 75 percent.

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

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