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Tips for Creating a Whole Community Centered Social Emotional Learning Program

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Leslie Anway, Psy.D., NCSP
Dr. Leslie Anway

From Dr. Leslie Anway, Director of Resilient Schools at Pima County School Superintendent’s Office

Creating and sustaining a Whole Community Approach to Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) for your school or district can be challenging.  Leslie Anway, PsyD, NCSP, the Director of Resilient Schools at Pima County School Superintendent’s Office in Tucson, AZ is guided by her values that we must treat the students and the adults in our educational systems as whole humans, that anybody can be a change agent, and that even small changes are powerful.  We had the pleasure of talking with Leslie about creating sustainable system changes within schools. Based on the successes and challenges she faced, here are her top tips for creating sustainable system changes.

Step 1: Assess Your Personal Mission, Values, and Purpose 

Brainstorming what you believe in sets a critical foundation for the next steps. Identifying the values you hold will help paint a clear picture of what you stand for. Most importantly, it will help your team understand your perspective and improve communication. When you are clear in what your purpose is and it aligns with the work you are doing, 

Step 2: Involve Your Community

Come together as a team and identify the organization’s values, beliefs, and intended outcomes for not just students, but the entire educational community. It’s important to include all stakeholders in the decision-making process. By including representatives from the whole community (bus drivers, paraprofessionals, security guards, lunch room attendants, caregivers, students, etc.) all members will feel represented, increasing buy-in and sustainability. For example, bus drivers who interact with students every day may offer a different perspective from that of the principal. With everyone included, all aspects of the system are addressed. 

Step 3: Provide Adult Learning That is Ongoing and Meaningful and Creates Connection and Belonging

Content-heavy, drop-in professional development, which tends to be the norm in our education system, leads to a lack of internalization, retention, and implementation. Ultimately, educators are not bought in and the initiatives are not sustainable. One of the problems with this type of teaching is that it does not align with andragogy, or the science of teaching to adults. Adults bring a broad scope of experience to the table and this should not only be recognized, but incorporated into creating autonomous learning situations where voice and choice are at the forefront. Adults also need to know the purpose of their learning and what will be in it for them. Most critically, our educators need work spaces where they feel seen and heard, spaces where they feel that they are connected to their site, their colleagues, and their students. 

PRISM©: Proactive Restorative Integrated Systems Model

Learning Cohorts, or Communities of Practice, provide a space for meaningful discussions and group activities that allow connections to form. While talking with Leslie, she provided an example that demonstrated the power of creating schoolwide Learning Cohorts. One high school had committed to a year-long focus on Integrating Resilience (i.e., Adult SEL) for all staff members, who were placed in cohorts that met twice a month. At the preliminary all-staff meeting, one of the Science teachers pointed out that he was a science teacher and not an SEL coach. Questions arose as to whether this “social and emotional learning” was even applicable to his curriculum. It was not until several months later while working in his cohort with his colleagues, that he had an “a-ha moment”. The Science teacher insightfully realized that he was already incorporating many social and emotional skills into his teaching. He just needed to “fine-tune” some of his own skills before being able to model and explicitly discuss the skills with his students. His comfort level with recognizing the skills within himself, recognizing his abilities to model the skills, and acknowledging his capabilities to integrate and teach the skills grew exponentially over the course of the year. 

Learning Cohorts or CoPs provided at a community or state level can bring educators (teachers, administrators, school mental health professionals, classified staff) together in the same collaborative and supportive learning space where they are able to learn new content, learn from one another, and connect. Leslie currently facilitates four ongoing cohorts and CoPs through PCSSO: Trauma-Responsive Integration, Integrated Resilience, Adult SEL Train-the-Trainer, and Sustaining Resilience CoP. The Train-the-Trainer model provides a level of sustainability to the Adult Cohort learning model as trainers are trained to implement and lead Adult SEL cohorts across the state. 

Step 4: Choose the Right Measurement Tool

It is crucial to have some kind of a measurement tool to track progress. Using an agreed-upon measurement tool also helps keep the team on track and motivated. Measurement tools can be distal (attendance, referral rates, suspensions, academic, statewide surveys) or proximal (site-based or individual surveys, direct skill attainment assessment), and they can be formal or informal. The most important thing is to make sure that you are assessing the outcomes your team chose in the first place. For example, if your team wants to see an improvement in self-reported levels of social and emotional safety, you should make sure you are measuring that and not attendance or disciplinary data (those that data can provide some corollary insight). If your team wants to see a direct improvement in social and emotional skills, likewise, you should not be measuring attendance. You should use a skill-attainment assessment to measure growth in skills.  If an organization is not making progress toward their desired goals, they can then reflect on their approach and make adjustments where necessary.  

Step 5: Get Student Input

The final step, once dedicated time has been spent on meaningful learning with the adults, is to include student input. Once staff begin to model their ability to cultivate resilience and to integrate social emotional skills into their content, students can provide first-hand knowledge of how the system might be changing from their perspective. Students can also be counted on to envision dynamic ways to tweak the system even further. Without buy-in from students, the system changes will probably not be sustainable for years to come.

Implementing a system-wide change can be challenging. Trying to make the system sustainable adds another layer of difficulty. Creating a learning environment that facilitates belonging and connection can lay a solid foundation. These crucial steps will provide a solid framework to help guide you through establishing that foundation. And remember, anybody can become a change agent, including you.

Resilient Schools - Pima County Superintendent's Office

Find out more about Leslie Anway here.

See how the Institute for Social and Emotional Learning can help you develop or improve a SEL Program with a Whole Community Approach here.

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Leslie Anway, Psy.D., NCSP

Tips for Creating a Whole Community Centered Social Emotional Learning Program

Leslie Anway, Psy.D., NCSP

Preschool

K-3

3 - 6

Middle School

High School

Adult

Creating and sustaining a Whole Community Approach to SEL for your school or district can be challenging. We had the pleasure of talking with Leslie Anway, PsyD, NCSP, the Director of Resilient Schools at Pima County School Superintendent’s Office in Tucson, about creating sustainable system changes within schools.

Learn More

Tips for Creating a Whole Community Centered Social Emotional Learning Program

Leslie Anway, Psy.D., NCSP

Preschool

K-3

3 - 6

Middle School

High School

Adult

Creating and sustaining a Whole Community Approach to SEL for your school or district can be challenging. We had the pleasure of talking with Leslie Anway, PsyD, NCSP, the Director of Resilient Schools at Pima County School Superintendent’s Office in Tucson, about creating sustainable system changes within schools.

Learn More

Tips for Creating a Whole Community Centered Social Emotional Learning Program

Leslie Anway, Psy.D., NCSP

Website

Article

Podcast

Book

PDF

Research

Video

Preschool

K-3

3 - 6

Middle School

High School

Adult

Creating and sustaining a Whole Community Approach to SEL for your school or district can be challenging. We had the pleasure of talking with Leslie Anway, PsyD, NCSP, the Director of Resilient Schools at Pima County School Superintendent’s Office in Tucson, about creating sustainable system changes within schools.

See More
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