SEL, SEL, SEL… social-emotional learning! Kids need it! All kids, not only marginalized youth– for some reason people think that (duh)! But all kids need it… rich, poor, students of color, white kids, urban, rural, and suburban kids, indigenous, affluent, English Learners, deprived traumatized kids, special needs, and seemingly normal kids (whatever that is). There’s this HUGE push for educators to implement social-emotional learning into classrooms and in expanding learning organizations and now there’s even federal funding for it!
There’s something missing though… There is a systemic discussion/question that isn’t being broadcasted as loudly as it needs to be. It lives in corners, it is swept under the mat and pushed aside. It is … how are the leaders modeling and supporting SEL within their schools and organizations? Something we are seeing over and over again is that if an administration isn’t ‘doing as I do’, engaging themselves and supporting staff with the same SEL practices that they are expecting, the chances for success when implementing SEL is going to be monumentally less successful than when leadership is actually trained with their staff, walking the walk and talking the talk. SEL isn’t just for the instructors, it’s for everyone, all stakeholders! From the student all the way up the ladder to an executive director or principal, and then including parents, bus drivers, receptionists, and lunch workers, you get the idea.
As I was pondering how I wanted to write this blog, I decided to ask some of our peers in the field for a contribution on how they work with and support their staff from a leadership perspective. I asked them “What are your favorite SEL practices with staff?” Below are some golden tips. Enjoy!
“From a leadership perspective, be the behavior/experience you want young people and staff to see. Model self-awareness in challenging situations by walking through the experience and process to help them build the skills around healthy decision-making – explain what it looked and felt like for you both in the moment and in hindsight. Explain why you made a certain decision based on the information you had at the time. Explain who you considered and what the consequences would/could be when making that decision. Then what did you learn from the experience? I call it STCD.
Stop – take a breath.
Think – why am I or so I want to do this
Consider – the consequences and people impacted or effected by my decision
Decide – understand and accept that whatever you do, there are consequences
The choice is yours.” – Tiffany Gipson, CAN (California Afterschool Network)
“At meetings, we all (including me) go around the room and share one big mistake we made that week so that we reaffirm that making mistakes is part of the job and the only path to improvement. We cannot just talk about a growth mindset; we must reinforce it.” – Brad Lupien, President, and CEO, arc
“Compassionate Leadership. Lead with love and compassion. While this might seem aspirational and vague, there are specific actions a leader can take that will lead to compassionate leadership.
That starts with managing feelings and situations by seeking to understand first by practicing deep listening. When situations/issues emerge with staff, managers can tend to start by calling out the decisions or behavior that the leader/manager viewed as problematic and give corrective direction. That usually leads towards an emotional reaction and the conversation goes “south” from that point on, or the staff person just shuts down and becomes defensive.
I work daily at CDE to practice “deep listening.” I have learned this from Otto Scharmer and Peter Senge. Start with inquiry. Simply state what I observed and ask questions rather than stating my opinion. Please note that inquiry is not the same is inquisition! The inquiry is a journey towards understanding. If you can, suspend your own ideas and even beliefs about how things work, you can open yourself to hear and learn something that can change the way you view the circumstances or even the organizational structure, practice or even the beliefs/values of the organization holds. (Artifacts and Mental Models)
From the Theory U book and the web site:
I am also involved deeply with the Center for Systems Awareness. https://www.systemsawareness.org/who-we-are/#seniorpractitioner
I have worked with both Peter and Otto and to do so has been a “bucket list” thing for my life. I have used Peter Senge’s work starting over 20 years ago in San Francisco. It has changed how I lead my staff at the state level, and we are working to move this approach through the Expanded Learning ecosystem and now, the K-12 ecosystem. A new assignment and challenge with and that I embrace.
These are not my ideas. But as I learn from some of the best on the planet, I try to employ those ideas in real-time during emotional and stressful circumstances here in CA.” – Michael Funk, Director, CA Department of Education, Expanded Learning Division
“ I really like the question because we do actually have some standard practices that we do with staff to support their development of SEL. One of our “go-to” practices happens during team meetings. A typical meeting can start out with PRAISES and CELEBRATIONS!
We like to do this because it sets the team up to move in a positive direction. Staff get a chance to say aloud and complete the sentence “The Good news about me is…”. When staff have an opportunity to share some of the small or large victories that they have had throughout the month, week or days it helps them to relate and create connections with their peers and also builds and maintains their momentum for upcoming days with students.
Our Praise sessions can give everyone an opportunity to express gratitude to one another which helps our teams to be able to honor others by seeing the best in them.
We encourage self-care and often include mindful moments in our interactions with staff through activities like meditation, journaling, visualizations (guided imagery, closed-eye process), breathing, descriptive writing, body movements and much more.
We do our best to embed SEL into whatever we do and as a result, our staff are able to walk away with strategies and/or simple activities that they can then implement with their staff and students.” – Knisha Nash, Program Development Specialist-Older Youth, Think Together
“The best idea I ever heard (so I don’t get credit for this), is to hire strong people, delegate, and then back them up, especially when something goes wrong. It is also important – and in line with point one – to give people credit for their work and thank them.” – Jodi Grant, Executive Director, Afterschool Alliance
Another important thing to note about creating a successful SEL implementation (and I won’t be the first to write it), is not only do we need to train staff, but we need to support them with on-going professional development opportunities and coaching. SEL isn’t one size fits all, so it is important to support the instructors who are taking in all the conversations, changes, and new behaviors that are ever-changing with our youth. Don’t skip this step, it really matters. It matters because when SEL is done well, kids feel safe, and when they feel safe, they learn well. We can create that environment, but it starts at the top.
So leaders, let’s get loud and start with us.
A huge and humble thank you to my peers for their insight and contribution. Such wisdom and kindness in our amazing field of expanded learning.
For breakfast, I had hot tea with coconut oil, stevia, and a splash of cream.