The 2018 Cross-District Learning Event was the inaugural convening for the Collaborating Districts Initiative.

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.

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.

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

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.”

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.

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