2018 Cross-Districts Learning Event

  • Chicago, Ill.

    Host: Chicago Public Schools (CPS)

    The 2018 Cross-Districts Learning Event in Chicago, held April 30 to May 2, brought together 264 representatives from 20 large urban school districts, CASEL staff and consultants working with the districts, and leaders from the worlds of philanthropy and educational policy. The theme was “SEL as an Ecosystem: Building a supportive School Community through Practice, Policy, and Partnership.”

    Thank you to the event sponsors: Allstate Foundation, BMO Harris Bank, Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, Pure Edge, Inc., Robert R. McCormick Foundation, and Stuart Foundation.


    • Arne Duncan greets the participants on the first day.
      CASEL President and CEO Karen Niemi presents the Mary Utne O’Brien award honoring the late Michelle Van Ellen to her husband, Clanton Van Allen.Joan Duffell and Tom Roderick, the other O’Brien awardees.
    • Keynote: The necessity of SEL
      In his keynote on the first day, Arne Duncan, formerly CEO of the Chicago public schools and U.S. secretary of education, offered a vision of social and emotional learning as essential to children’s learning and also as a key to maintaining our democracy. “You can’t have academic success, high graduation rates, college attendance, and college success without addressing the needs of the whole child. It’s the foundation,” Duncan said. View a summary of Duncan’s remarks here.

      Mary Utne O’Brien Awards
      CASEL board member and University of British Columbia teacher education specialist Kim Schonert-Reichl presented this year’s Mary Utne O’Brien Awards for Excellence in Expanding the Evidence-Based Practice of SEL, a highlight of the opening dinner. The awardees were Joan Duffell, executive director of Committee for Children; Tom Roderick, executive director of the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility; and Michelle Van Allen, the principal of Chicago’s Marcus Garvey Elementary School, who died at the age of 47 in January 2018 and whose husband, Clanton Van Allen, gave a moving speech as he received the award in her honor. Learn more about the awards here.

    Key Takeaways 

    1. Developing a supportive school climate and culture through schoolwide SEL is a fundamental part of a school’s overall continuous improvement.
    2. A vibrant SEL ecosystem is founded on supportive relationships and includes integrated supports for SEL, restorative practices, multi-tiered systems of support, and trauma-informed practice for adults and young people.
    3. Frameworks and practices for systemic SEL supports must move toward more equitable educational experiences and outcomes.
    4. Strong principals are critical to this work, and, if properly supported, can make significant changes in schools in a short amount of time. That said, the work is ongoing and complex.
    5. Youth voice is a powerful force for improving schools and creating educational opportunities where students and teachers can thrive.

    Other Highlights

    Frameworks for SEL Assessment

    Above, panel discussion about frameworks for SEL assessment. From l. to r., Kim Schonert-Reichl, moderator; Camille Farrington, University of Chicago Consortium for School Research; Rob Jagers, CASEL; and Eric Moore, Minneapolis Public Schools. 

    Three national experts made the case for being more proactive and systematic in using SEL frameworks to improve school climates and student outcomes. Eric Moore (Minneapolis Public Schools) shared how his district is bringing order out of “framework chaos,” ensuring that the frameworks are aligned to the district’s core values around equity, its strategic plan, and its assessment systems. Rob Jagers, CASEL’s new vice president of research, discussed how CASEL is modifying its widely used framework to be more explicit about equity. Camille Farrington (University of Chicago Consortium for School Research) urged educators to make better use of assessments. “We need to be data-driven, identify a performance baseline, and measure growth,” she said.

    CPS School Leaders Share Problems of Practice
    Leaders of six Chicago public schools received practical advice from their peers during a morning-long problem-solving session. Topics includes how to get all staff and students to buy in to schoolwide SEL implementation and how to move from being reactive to being more proactive in implementing SEL strategies and programs? Nicole White, principal of Tanner Elementary School, spoke for her colleagues in summarizing the value of the session: “I feel like I finally fit in. You people in this room get me and our school.” Click here for Tanner’s school profile.

    Supporting Deans and Disciplinarians
    Two of Chicago’s SEL specialists led a session that offered practical and relevant SEL strategies for engaging deans and other discipline decision-makers. This included restorative practices, how to use data-driven conversations to reduce suspension rates, strategies facilitating a monthly dean’s professional learning community, and ways to reduce infractions that can disrupt safety and learning.

    A Tweetstorm to Remember
    As in past gatherings, participants used the hashtag #Partners4SEL to spread the word about the event to the Twitterspere, posting photos and comments throughout the three days. View a compilation of their tweets here.

  • Janice Jackson, CEO of Chicago Public Schools, described how the nation’s third-largest school district has made great strides through a decentralized structure based on networks of schools, PreK-12, that encourage principal leadership and autonomy. 


    Chicago high school student Keonte Brooks spoke about his experiences being bullied at school. Brooks organized his school to combat bullying.


    Each of the participating school districts sent a team of SEL leaders and facilitators. Shown here is the Sacramento team.


    CASEL board chair Tim Shriver teamed up with Chi Kim, CEO of Pure Edge, Inc., to create a real-time video message of thanks and appreciation to Roger P. Weissberg, CASEL’s chief knowledge officer. Weissberg was unable to attend due to illness. 


    Ed Graff and CASEL district specialist Chris Hiroshima. Graff was superintendent of schools in Anchorage and is now superintendent in Minneapolis, where he remains a strong proponent of SEL.


    During a visit to Chicago’s McCormick Elementary School, a student leads his classmates in a morning meeting while the teacher, left, observes. Morning meetings promote understanding of others, communication, listening, and other SEL competencies.