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A Marathon – Not a Sprint

How will we measure social-emotional learning? Our district leadership team has been asking this question over the course of the past year, so I was excited when I discovered an early morning session on this very topic. I was hopeful there might be some ideas I could take home to our team and I wasn’t disappointed.

The Washoe County School District shared information about a survey administered to students, staff, and families that helps the district identify greatest areas of need in social-emotional competencies. Their partners at Panorama generate a “heat” map that is, well … cool. The heat map allows them to compare different subgroups in a visual that is easily read and interpreted by staff.

The survey is their qualitative data on SEL. They rely upon graduation rate, and math and reading performance scores to determine if their work is resulting in quantitative growth. And it is — registering a gain of nearly 30% in graduation rate through active student participation in courageous conversations about social emotional growth.

At one point, superintendent Traci Davis cautioned the packed room to be certain they did not confuse issues of equity and diversity with social-emotional needs. While they certainly are related, they are different issues. As I reflected on this, I thought of my students of poverty, and how we must constantly examine our practices to make sure they are equitable. But poverty in and of itself does not demand social-emotional deficits. It can. However, there are many students who do not face the challenges of poverty, but have unmet social-emotional needs. Related issues? Yes, but not dependent upon one another to present real barriers to achievement.

Superintendent Davis closed her comments by stating that this survey reminds her district to, “… be proactive in addressing social-emotional needs for freshmen, not at the finish line.” I was immediately reminded of my years as a track coach, working with distance runners. It was common practice to time each lap in order to establish a pace that would result in the best finish possible. Our work with social emotional learning is much the same.

We must monitor student progress and provide constant adjustment in order to do more than just cross the line at graduation. We don’t wait for the finish line to determine the pace of the race; and we should use the same coaching practice with social-emotional learning.

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