Social-Emotional Learning is having an impact in urban schools!

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Morning Zen Guest Blog Post ~ Kevin Dwyer

clevelandCleveland Metropolitan School District was highlighted in Education Week (Evie Blad, June 10, 2015) for its system-wide, yes, system-wide, social-emotional learning (SEL) instruction combined with other best-practice interventions that address school climate and positive conditions for learning. The Ed Week article, Urban Districts Embrace Social-Emotional Learning is a must read for school leaders and education stakeholders to best understand that system-wide SEL and multiple interventions can address real world needs of students to be academically successful. 

Evie Blade’s Ed Week article also focused on the evaluation of these SEL interventions by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) in 8 urban school districts from Anchorage Alaska to Nashville, Tennessee.

I have talked about Cleveland’s innovative multi-interventions in previous Morning Zen posts on specific topics like alternatives to suspension, including last week’s on improving attendance. I noted their efforts in developing alternatives to suspension in establishing “planning centers” also noted in the Education Week article as well as regular school student support team problem solving for addressing what we sometimes call “early warning signs of academic and behavioral problems.”

Blade noted that these multi-year systemic SEL initiatives are taught as a curriculum in primary grades and also “…infuse social emotional concepts into the teaching of traditional subjects like history.”

Cleveland’s efforts are continuously evaluated for fidelity to the researched best-practice guidelines so that each school can look at its implementation grade and compare that to its student outcomes. What was reported by AIR in its presentation at the American Education Research Association conference in April titled: Results from an evaluation of a demonstration program to build systemic social emotional learning in eight urban districts, (Kimberly Kendziora, PhD, was that student outcomes were positive when implementation had high fidelity. Cleveland showed higher math and reading scores, higher GPA and fewer suspensions. Cleveland also informally reported higher attendance in elementary schools (personal communication with Lori Hobson of CMSD). Nashville, showed higher math scores, attendance and fewer suspensions, although lower in Algebra 1. Students SEL competencies were highest in grade 3 and lowest in secondary grades. This may be related to the stage of implementation since most systems started with primary grade SEL curriculum. Surveys of school staffs and system administration showed positive associations with student social and emotional competence and some student achievement, attendance, and disciplinary outcomes. AIR concluded that “Implementation matters.”  

Communicating the effectiveness of SEL instruction encourages other systems to implement real SEL initiatives. Evaluating implementation fidelity continuously as we do academic instruction ensures we are doing our best for our students. Connecting SEL to early and intensive mental health interventions creates the synergy and assurance that our students get the support they need to succeed. 

My hat is off to Education Weeks reporter Evie Blade for her comprehensive article!

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dwyerKevin P. Dwyer, M.A., a Nationally Certified School Psychologist, is an education and child mental health consultant.  He recently served as a principal research associate for the American Institutes for Research. For over 30 years he practiced school psychology in public schools and held several local, state and national leadership positions in the fields of mental health and education, being responsible for the design, development, implementation and evaluation of programs and practices, for improving school climate, safety, and wellbeing for the education, and mental health of children.  He has helped school staff in many districts use data to inform decisions on improving caring and connectedness with students and professional peers.  His work, publications, presentations, and practices have influenced public policy and the development of efficient, family-focused collaborative child service systems.  During his 30 years as a public school psychologist, he worked directly with over 10,000 children and their families as well as trained over 6000 educators. He provided psychological services to children, including those with disabilities and those whose anxiety and mental health problems blocked learning and adjustment.  He assisted teachers and staff in supporting a caring, inclusive school climate for all children.  In 2007, the Maryland Coalition of Families awarded Mr. Dwyer and his wife for their work in making schools more family friendly.  He served as president of the National Association of School Psychologist and was given its highest honor, the Life-time Achievement Award.  In 2000, he received the Tipper Gore “Advocacy award for improving the lives and mental health of America’s children” from the National Mental Health Association.


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