By Loree Munro
How our district prioritized social and emotional learning by raising the funding for and implementing an SEL curriculum that met our students’ and teachers’ needs.
School counselors and the professional organizations that support them have been advocating for appropriate counselor-to-student ratios for years. When the school shootings happened in Florida and then closer to home in Santa Fe ISD in 2018, our state began to take a bigger interest in identifying and addressing potential concerns before they get to the point of school violence. There was a lot of discussion at the state level about what we’re doing to raise awareness in this area.
That same year, our governor released a report on school safety, and schools began putting a bigger focus on social and emotional learning (SEL). Our superintendent asked our department about making some changes, and about taking a more intentional approach to SEL in our district.
Getting Teachers Involved
Knowing that if we could accurately quantify the need for SEL we might be able to get both funding and backing for the initiative, we conducted our first SEL survey during the fall of 2018. We gathered over 10,000 responses from 3rd through 12th grade to gauge the situation in our district.
The results showed that our student population was facing many deficits when it came to SEL competencies. After presenting the results to the school board, I received the go ahead to find a SEL solution for the district. We lacked the expertise and personnel to develop our own, so we started looking for a strong program that was CASEL-aligned and K-12 in scope.
Ultimately, our goal was to have a common SEL language across the district. We started vetting programs, but they didn’t provide the teacher support that I felt would be critical to a successful implementation. For example, you can’t remove the conduit of information out of the conversation. It would be like telling an English teacher, “Hey, you’re a really great teacher. I need you to teach Calculus next year.”
Making the Choice
We reached a turning point in the SEL curriculum selection process when a few of our teachers attended a conference and learned about 7 Mindsets. We did some research, set up a meeting with them, and then convened a group of 20 stakeholders to evaluate three different SEL platforms. The group unanimously selected this comprehensive SEL curriculum.
Including teacher voice in the decision was important because they’re the ones who ultimately have to use it in the classroom. At the same time that the SEL curriculum selection process was happening, we were also submitting grant applications to a few private sponsors. We wound up receiving financial support from Menninger Clinic and Mental Health America to fund our effort. This allowed us to quickly move into the implementation and training process. It also allowed district leaders to focus on building out a viable SEL model for the students.
We launched our SEL curriculum during the fall of 2019 with five pilot campuses (two elementary, two middle schools, and one high school). When we had to shut our campuses down in March due to the pandemic, each of those campuses was already up and running on our new SEL platform. In February 2020, our deputy superintendent approved a districtwide rollout for the 2020-21 school year based on the program’s success. Today, all 18 campuses are using the SEL curriculum.
The beginning-of-the-year training took place virtually, and our vendor did a good job of tailoring that training to the specific campuses. Today, every campus is working on SEL lessons at least once a week.
Building Perspective, Molding Perceptions
In today’s society, the ability for an individual to self-regulate is critical not only in a classroom, but also in his or her home life, college life, work life, and family life. Using SEL, we’re giving students a foundation to build upon. If we can positively influence the way a child thinks, their internal dialog, if we can build perspective and mold perception, we can help shape their reality. Everyone has their own ideas about who the major influence should be in a child’s life, but from what we know in our own community, for many kids it’s us.
Loree Munro is Director of Advanced Academics and Counseling at New Caney Independent School District in Texas.
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