The 2020 Cross-District Learning Event was the inaugural convening for the Collaborating Districts Initiative.

The 2020 Cross-Districts Learning Event in Atlanta, held March 2-4, brought together more than 200 education leaders representing 20 school districts to deepen our work in implementing systemic SEL. The event also included CASEL staff and consultants working with the districts, and leaders from the worlds of philanthropy and educational policy. The theme was “I Am, We Are: Building a Culture of Care Through SEL.”

Key Takeaways from the Meeting

This year we lifted up the importance of a positive, supportive culture and climate. We had the opportunity to see how Atlanta Public Schools embodies that every day with the adults and students in their schools. From the training of school-based police as sources of support and connection for students to the efforts of school leaders to build relationships, Atlanta Public Schools created a strong foundation for a supportive environment for student learning by focusing on the adults.

  1. It is critical to build a sense of community that honors the individual while striving toward the collective goal of nurturing the whole child.
  2. SEL empowers students to find their own voices and contributes to a districtwide culture where adults understand the value of hearing and honoring what students have to say.
  3. SEL is central to achieving our shared mission of creating a “choice-filled life” for students in which they are equipped to recognize, explore, and pursue the passions that drive them.
  4. Adult SEL is a top priority and crucial linchpin in our work, not only enabling adults to embrace and model SEL for their students, but also as a starting point to equip them to manage the challenges of this work.

Keynote: Tracy Pendley

2020 Georgia Teacher of the Year, 4th Grade Teacher in Atlanta Public Schools (APS)

Tracey Pendley, a fourth-grade teacher at Burgess Peterson Academy, earned the 2020 Georgia Teacher of the Year award, becoming the first recipient from Atlanta Public Schools in nearly 40 years. At the Cross-Districts Learning Event, Pendley spoke about the importance of teachers’ SEL competencies, citing the lasting impact of her teacher, former Georgia Teacher of the Year Dr. Bobbi Ford. As Pendley put it, “Educators sow seeds that sow seeds. That is one of the most important reasons I wanted to become a teacher.” Pendley’s speech presented SEL as a continual process of caring, passed down through each generation of teacher and student. Lessons shared included:

  • Be Intentional: Have a set structure and take opportunities to celebrate SEL
  • Be Responsive: “We’re not teaching curriculum, we’re teaching children”
  • Relationships Matter: Teachers should connect with their students every morning and every afternoon
  • Focus on Growth: Specific, timely feedback centered in a growth mindset can build trust

Christina D. Rogers

Administrator in Atlanta Public Schools (APS)

Christina D. Rogers serves as Assistant Principal at D. M. Therrell High School in Atlanta. In her speech at the Cross-Districts Learning Event, Rogers recalled traumatic events from her early life that created barriers to her learning. Explaining her success as an adult, Rogers said, “It’s because of the safety in my schools [and] the power I found in my mentors and teachers.” Today, as an educator, Rogers is dedicated to creating a safe environment for her students. She does this both during school hours and after-school in her “Elite Sisterhood” program which offers mentorship to young women.

Other Highlights

Self-Care and SEL. The Self-Care for School Leaders breakout was led by school counselors Aleah Brown and Dr. Lenice Biggins Horton of Atlanta Public SchoolsThey opened the session by sharing stories of an SEL implementation that initially faltered because it did not include the needs of educators. As they explained, teacher stress affects health and well-being, job satisfaction, turnover, and even student outcomes. For this reason, it’s essential that educators take time to prevent burnout, promote health, and protect themselves from the negative effects of stress. The session presented tactics and policies schools might use to promote conscious rest and recalibration for teachers. Participants broke into groups according to the seven domains of self-care (emotional, physical, spiritual, intellectual, social, relational, and safety) to discuss current and future solutions. Learn more about self-care here.

Trauma Informed Care and SEL. Led by Principal Camisha Perry and Clinical Therapist Anne Davis of Deerwood Academy, this session highlighted the necessity of addressing mental health to reach SEL goals. Perry and Davis modeled a supportive SEL classroom complete with a “calming corner,” celebrations, and caring adults. After recognizing that students enter the classroom with varying levels of trauma, Deerwood Academy implemented a policy of SEL that happens “every day for everyone.” This systemic implementation includes relationship building with parents, a visually welcoming environment, intentional daily routines, and even a student-led song, “I Care About Everyone in School.” Learn more about mental health, trauma, and well-being here.

Transformation in Atlanta Public Schools. This event was also significant in that we recognized the inspiring leadership of APS’ Superintendent, Meria Carstarphen, who attributes systemic SEL to the transformation of Atlanta Public Schools’ improved school climate, reduced suspensions, increased graduation rates, and more during her tenure. As the first recipient of the Meria J. Carstarphen award, we celebrated her commitment to children, and her modeling of passion, engagement, and knowledge.


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