As with school everywhere, the pandemic brought a wave of new challenges to our school district which required flexibility and creativity. During the transition to in-person learning this school year, we understood the importance of prioritizing student connection and sought to provide tools for educators so they could support students around their social and emotional needs. Although tools were appreciated, there was a heaviness among many staff, a helplessness as they valiantly dealt with the pressure of addressing student learning gaps among some students.
The recognition of how the pandemic was particularly impacting marginalized students and families was especially evident, bringing home the reality of how social injustice impacts real people in our community. Educators were stressed, some were burning out, and many were experiencing trauma. There was discussion about ways to support staff, but offering suggestions for traditional forms of self-care was just a small slice of what needed to be done.
It was time to think outside the box. We realized that the first step to helping students was to provide healing and empowerment for our adults. We chose to shift gears and focus our efforts on providing support to our educators so they could have the bandwidth for students.
With our renewed focus on adult SEL, we created a three-part professional development (PD) series called “Heal, Empower and Lead,” the brainchild of our district director of whole child education. To launch this professional development series, we’ve invited counselors, family liaisons, and district social workers to come together and press pause so we can reflect on experiences and understand the intersections of SEL, social justice, and the impact of the pandemic. Providing a space to be authentic, we talk about how we have been impacted by trauma and secondary trauma and how this influences us personally and professionally. This work lays the groundwork for healing.
The second session continues the healing process and explores how we can contribute to changing our system to one that prioritizes culturally responsive SEL, beginning with adults. A part of that effort is shifting the narrative from “We are human doings” to “We are human beings.”
The third session will move deeper into how we can each be leaders in our respective roles. Each session includes a morning of interactive experiences and an afternoon of small-group work around applying the morning’s learnings within the context of our specific school or work setting. We anticipate continuing this series into next year and facilitating similar PDs with other stakeholders around the district.
This school year, our shifting of gears toward adult SEL was supported through my participation in the CASEL SEL Fellows Academy. This community brought structure, support, and strategies, but even more impactfully, an opportunity to step back and look at the bigger picture. Collaborating with CASEL staff and others in my Fellows cohort was timed perfectly, given this challenging time. It provided me with a range of lenses with which to see our experience. Stories and useful ideas from peers across the country reminded me that none of us is doing this work alone, and that it doesn’t all have to happen tomorrow. In fact, it can only happen if we move forward thoughtfully and with intention, together.
Consider the question: How can you connect these insights around adult SEL to your own work?
Kris Norelius is the social emotional learning instructional coach in Olympia, Washington. She brings to this role a background in school counseling, social work and community mental health.
The views in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of CASEL.