SEL Conference Afterthoughts: Every Classroom, Every Day 2018

By: Tim Dohrer, Director, Master of Science in Education Program, School of Education and Social Policy, Northwestern University; Tom Golebiewski, Consultant, Wolcott School, Adjunct Faculty, School of Education and Social Policy, Northwestern University; Miriam Pike, Head of School, Wolcott School.

Illustration by: Isabelle Richards


On Friday April 27, over 150 educators from across the country gathered at Wolcott School in Chicago to explore best practices for integrating social & emotional skills into classrooms and schools. The goal was to showcase teachers who had developed lessons and units that teach to the SEL skills areas and learning standards.


Two practitioner-based keynote speeches framed the work going on in schools nationally and regionally. Molly Gosline, SEL Coordinator at Adlai S. Stevenson High School, offered an overview of the research on SEL and the SEL framework before describing the professional development she is doing with hundreds of high school teachers at Stevenson to integrate SEL into their curriculums. Gosline uses student perception data with teachers to identify strengths and areas for improvement, then coaches teachers on new strategies the will deepen student learning of the five SEL skills.


Next, Kristin McKay from UMOJA connected SEL skills to restorative justice practices being implemented in schools in Chicago. McKay led participants through several activities that engaged in self reflection about moments when they themselves have felt hurt, harmed another and what was done to repair the relationship and reconnect with each other. She placed honest and open communication at the centerpiece of developing empathetic, genuine and restorative relationships. She challenged participants to think about school as a community that values and builds a climate and culture that infuses SEL skills and practices into the daily experiences and operations in so they become authentic, normalized and expected.


The bulk of the day was spent engaging in small group explorations of specific content areas that experientially illustrated practices and strategies. With a focus upon direct application and classroom integration, three separate workshops on topics related to mindfulness, peace circles, role of play, and measuring SEL skills were held. Specific areas of the building were designed as a Peace Room, Mindfulness Room and Play Room, where participants could experience these approaches. Classroom teachers presented curriculum and strategies that integrated SEL in Math, Science, English, Social Studies, Learning Strategies, PE/Health, and Art.


One from the many examples of integration in the classroom was by Ravi Shah, Lead Teacher of the Math Department at Wolcott School. Ravi presented strategies he uses in his classes with students with learning differences that have helped alleviate the effects of developmental dyscalculia and math anxiety. He provided a neurological explanation for mathematical learning challenges and that often leads to the development of math anxiety in the classroom. Specifically, the math anxiety that develops through repeated negative experiences that holds students back.  In his presentation, he addressed how helping students develop Self Awareness and Self Management skills can lead to positive experiences in managing their anxiety while doing math.


Within each discipline, teachers illustrated innovative approaches that integrated SEL skills in their classrooms. Wolcott specialists, Daphne Sajous-Brady and Wendy Perlin, highlighted an oral history podcast project that enhanced SEL core competencies of self-awareness and relationship skills by helping students understand and communicate the impact of learning differences, overcome their challenges and collaborate with peers. In addition, Claire Walter, Wolcott English Lead Teacher, led a session on centralizing social emotional skills in the research writing process while Ryan Hurnevich, Wolcott Social Studies Teacher, described techniques for social emotional learning through student led discussion. Wolcott Science Lead Teacher, Amy Hicks, shared numerous techniques for integrating SEL strategies into topics from bioethical debates to dissection labs. Throughout these sessions, participants were informed and inspired to innovate in their educational settings.


At the end of the day, participants came together as a large group to debrief the day’s activities and develop plans for further exploration. In honor of the spirit of SEL, these ideas were collected in a creative way with small affinity groups writing their summaries and suggestions on paper in the shape of roots, branches, and leaves which were then affixed to a giant tree trunk. The final “tree of learning” represented the community’s best thinking about the current state of SEL skill integration and incredible energy moving forward to continue the work and to learn together. Some of the ideas on the tree included learning about neuroscience, connecting SEL to equity work and cultural competence and utilize more strategies like “Think-Pair-Share” to explicitly teach and engage students in SEL learning and skill development.


Participants felt the learning at the conference was highly interactive, experiential, and applicable. Several commented that SEL integration was “about practices, not programs” and required a culture shift in teachers and schools to find creative ways to incorporate and internalize SEL skills. Those skills need to be intentionally planned by teachers and made explicit to students so they are partners in the teaching/learning process. Several also pointed to the need for schools to develop better ways of assessing individual student growth around SEL skills, as well as how teachers and schools are doing on the road to full integration and what they may now need to bring back to their schools.


A major takeaway from this conference is that there are growing numbers of teachers and school administrators who are excited and enthusiastic about integrating SEL in their own classrooms, schools, and communities. We also learned that teachers desire more of these kinds of learning opportunities, especially seeing models and examples of teachers collaborating and demonstrating classroom integration of SEL practices. There is a definite interest in creating local and national learning communities and organizations focused on social and emotional skills and related practices.


Planning has begun for the next conference that will built upon the theme “Every Classroom/Every Day” and the feedback received from this year’s program to innovate, integrate and inspire teachers to make this a part of every lesson, every day.


In the following up on this conference and goals of being intentional and explicit, think about your classroom, school or district. Consider your climate, culture and classroom, explore your content area and examine a lesson you teach. Are integrating SEL in that lesson? Do your students know and make the connection? How can you further integrate at least one SEL skill into that lesson? If you’re a school leader, what are the SEL goals for your department, building or district?




Disclaimer: The Assessment Work Group is committed to enabling a rich dialogue on key issues in the field and seeking out diverse perspectives. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Assessment Work Group, CASEL or any of the organizations involved with the work group.

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