Host: Oakland Unified School District
The 2017 Cross-Districts Learning Event, held in Oakland, Calif., March 8-10, was the largest to date. Nearly 200 participants representing 18 school districts attended. The theme was “Creating Conditions for SEL through Partnerships, Practices, and Programs.” The three-day conference included a variety of discussions and sessions addressing SEL topics emerging in the districts; a sneak peek at CASEL’s upcoming District Resource Center, an online tool for planning and implementing SEL in districts and schools; and visits to local Oakland schools. Thanks to the Stuart Foundation and the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation for generously sponsoring this year’s event.
Tim Shriver, CASEL’s board chair and the keynote speaker for the opening dinner, greets longtime CASEL collaborator and urban education expert Janice Jackson.
Members of the Oakland team celebrated the Thursday morning presentation by Zaretta Hammond (third from left), author of Culturally Responsive Teaching & the Brain.
Zaretta Hammond spoke about the need to help students deal with “The Learning Pit”—when learning is challenging but leads to real growth.
Oakland students gave a rousing affirmation of youth voice at the Thursday evening dinner at Oakland’s Scottish Rite Center.
Shriver keynote: “We’re not throwin’ away our shot”
In his opening night keynote, CASEL Board Chairman Tim Shriver offered four key principles: (1) Focus on evidence of what makes a difference for kids. (2) Focus on the key levers of change to help scale our work. (3) Tell the story so people understand it, believe it, and advocate for it. (4) Continue closing gaps in research and practice. The field is eager to learn more about SEL, Shriver said. He closed by channeling the musical “Hamilton”: “And we’re not throwin’ away our shot.”
Hammond keynote: Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain
In a powerful and provocative keynote address Thursday morning, Zaretta Hammond challenged participants to prioritize contextualizing SEL to be responsive to all students. Hammond urged educators to address racial disparities head-on and to avoid “color blindness,” which reinforces the dominant narrative of white privilege and minority inferiority. Strong, trusting relationships are at the center of both SEL and culturally responsive teaching, where “teachers believe that each student brings with them strengths that are rooted in attributes of their learned ‘deep culture.’” It is the teacher’s charge to create trusting environments where each student is respected and nurtured to his or her greatest potential. Hammond highlighted using SEL to help students get through “the learning pit.” SEL creates a high-trust, low-stress environment “so students don’t freak out when learning gets hard,” she said. “Trust gives teachers the permission to help push kids through the learning pit…. You need to get their minds calm enough to do rigorous work.” Otherwise, without a foundation of a trusting relationship, the brain’s amygdala will get “hijacked,” which leads to fear, disengagement, and flight.
The Power of Partnerships
Peter Brunn, vice president and director of organizational learning and communications, Center for the Collaborative Classroom, gave the opening presentation on the first day. Partnerships, he said, are all about building relationships. The same is true of good teaching.
SEL Practices for Adult Learning
To create optimal conditions for adult learning and social-emotional competence, the Oakland district encourages all meetings and professional learning to follow a set of clear principles.
Download the handout.
Creating the Conditions for Student Learning
The Oakland district promotes SEL practices in three main categories to create conditions for growth and learning across all five SEL competencies while using culturally responsive teaching strategies to create harmonious, interdependent, collaborative classrooms.
Download the handout.
Assessment in the California CORE Districts
Noah Bookman, chief strategy officer for the eight California CORE districts, shared examples from the extensive student surveys and teacher ratings that the districts field tested in 2015—focused both on SEL and school climate and culture.
Creating “Relationship-Centered Schools”
Tenth-grader Kweko Power shared her first-hand experience of what “relationship-centered schools” look like during a small-group session on equity. “For me, equity means all students get what they need to achieve,” she said. She also shared a short, powerful video and handout from the Californians for Justice Believe in Me Campaign.
The Role of Demonstration Schools as a Catalyst for SEL Implementation
Sonny Kim of the Oakland Unified School District provided insights into how Oakland’s learning hub schools demonstrate what it means to implement schoolwide SEL. Drawing from experiences at Oakland’s three hub schools, Kim led a discussion of the pros and cons of using demonstration schools, noting that for successful implementation, schools must have full buy-in from the principal. Staffing and curriculum planning for SEL are another key to success.
Download the presentation.
David Yusem, who coordinates the Restorative Justice (RJ) program in the Oakland Unified School District, was co-leader of this session with high school student David Contreras. Restorative Justice is about a building a healthy, respectful community, they emphasized. Rather than a program, it’s a philosophical framework for addressing school problems. Central to school-based RJ is the ability to respond to wrong-doing in a positive rather than punitive way. Supported by a network of trainers and facilitators, RJ in the Oakland schools started in the middle schools and is now being practiced in the high schools.
African American Male Achievement
Christopher Chatmon, deputy chief for equity for the Oakland Unified School District, offered a compelling case for changing society’s often negative stereotype of young African-American males. For starters, Chatmon refers to the youth he works with as “Kings.” He has dedicated his life and work to creating pathways to their success.
View a website about the program.
A Tweetstorm to Remember
Using the hashtag #Partners4SEL, participants regaled their Twitter followers with photos and comments about the event throughout the three days. View a compilation of their tweets
In her welcome to the participants CASEL President and CEO Karen Niemi, shown here (l.) with consultant Sue Keister (r.), emphasized that “When optimism meets action, that’s when things change.” She applauded the collaborating districts for “walking the talk” of their vision statements. “Let’s be more proactive about using what we know to help our children—all our children, the bored and the struggling, the shy kids in the back of the room, the go-getters in the front row, and all the millions in the middle.”
Chief Jeff Godown from the Oakland School Police Department addressed the importance of adult SEL and how he has prioritized it in his department. For the past year Godown has been training his officers in SEL to make sure they have the understanding and information to work effectively in the schools and with students. This has contributed to a significant drop in student arrests and charges, he said.
On Friday morning the participants divided into small groups for visits to a variety of Oakland schools. Afterwards they shared their reflections on the school visits using the “fishbowl” approach shown here.
Roger Weissberg, CASEL co-founder and chief knowledge officer, gave an overview of progress in the field of SEL at the Thursday night dinner.
The participants had several opportunities to meet in small groups, exchange ideas, and plan next steps for implementing SEL.
Retired NBA star and current youth advocate Adonal Foyle offered warmth, humor, and inspiration as the event came to a close.