Event Recap: Coming Together to Expand SEL

Educators know that teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic is simply not enough to prepare young people for success—students need to learn communication, cooperation, and compassion, too. Because these and other social and emotional skills are linked to improved academic performance and lifelong health and wellness, many teachers have long taught these skills in their classrooms. However, our education system as a whole has lagged behind in putting in place policies and practices to make social-emotional learning (SEL) a part of every classroom and every lesson.

Over the last several years we’ve watched this start to change in Massachusetts. We’ve seen the interest in expanding SEL grow exponentially, with district and state leaders joining educators in committing to making SEL a priority. This commitment has never been more clear to us than on May 1st at our conference focused on the past, present, and future of SEL in Massachusetts. The event—Social-Emotional Learning: Lessons Learned and Opportunities for Massachusetts—was sold out, drawing a crowd of 350 participants who were eager to engage in the topic.

We teamed up with Transforming Education and the Social Emotional Learning Alliance for Massachusetts (SEL4MA) to put on this event for educators, district leaders, community organizations, and others interesting in promoting SEL. The day began with a keynote address from Dr. Stephanie Jones, a member of the Council of Distinguished Scientists for the Aspen Institute's National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development and Professor of Early Childhood Development at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Dr. Jones shared findings from the Commission's recent report, From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope, and discussed what it means for Massachusetts. She then led a panel discussion looking at implementing SEL at the district, state, and community levels with Dr. Sheldon Berman of Andover Public Schools, Rachelle Engler Bennett of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and Thuan Nguyen of Sportsmen’s Tennis and Enrichment Center.

Further illustrating the growing commitment to SEL in our state, we had 50 speakers join us throughout the day, leading 15 breakout sessions that provided a variety of perspectives on SEL. Topics ranged from equitable SEL expectations to supporting new teachers in developing culturally responsive SEL skills to practices community organizations use to support SEL outside the school day. (View a full list of sessions and speakers).

Many of the sessions highlighted lessons learned from districts in our Excellence through Social-Emotional Learning (exSEL) Network. Along with Transforming Education and the exSEL Coalition (whose members include the Massachusetts Association of School CommitteesMassachusetts Association of School SuperintendentsMassachusetts Organization of Educational Collaboratives, and Massachusetts School Administrators Association), we launched the exSEL Network in 2017 to help districts integrate SEL more deeply into classroom and school practice. The network began with nine districts and grew to 19 the following year. By working together these districts amplified their knowledge and resources, learning from each other as they explored different practices and policies. This event gave the exSEL districts a chance to share their lessons learned with an even larger group. They led sessions on how to choose social-emotional frameworks, develop an SEL implementation plan, and leverage SEL data.

With the commitment to SEL continuing to grow across the state, we are offering all districts the opportunity to apply to join the exSEL Network next year. In the 2019-2020 school year, we will host multiple cohorts, including a learning group for districts new to the exSEL Network and a launching group for returning teams. Participating district teams will build knowledge and understanding of how best to support the development of specific social-emotional skills and mindsets.

Is your district ready to make social-emotional learning a critical part of every school day? If so, APPLY NOW to join the exSEL Network! All Massachusetts districts are eligible to apply. Applications are due June 14.