Assistant Executive Director, AASA, The School Superintendents Association
Without question, American education is experiencing unprecedented challenges as we confront the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, growing national concerns about equity and racism, and socio-economic inequalities affecting educational schools and districts today.
Increasingly, educational leaders are emphasizing the importance of safe, engaging, inviting, and collaborative learning organizations — the hallmarks of effective social and emotional learning (SEL) in action.
As a former superintendent, I have been deeply impressed by the commitment of our school district leaders to align students’ cognitive/academic achievement with their development of social skills, the capacity for self-regulation, and interpersonal communication competencies.
Our “new normal” consistently reinforces that student and staff health, well-being, and sense of safety and security must take precedence over outworn models of “teaching to the test.”
Leading from the frontlines
I am consistently moved by how superintendents throughout the country are leading the transformation of schools as we know them. To that end, I have seen numerous examples of districts integrating SEL standards into learners’ daily academic experiences.
High-quality curriculum in many districts now integrates social-emotional programs with academic instruction. Teacher-centered instruction is now being enhanced to place the student at the center of the learning process, including a growing national focus on collaboration, cooperative learning, and project-based inquiry.
We are also seeing a greatly expanded focus on the importance of coaching and mentoring, ensuring every learner succeeds, and experiences a personalized and differentiated approach to their academic progress.
Leaders throughout the country are expanding professional development offerings to ensure teachers, administrators, and support staff understand and use SEL-compatible instructional and classroom management strategies — including a commitment to culturally responsive practices and trauma-informed organizational cultures. This process is also ensuring that parents, community members, and partner organizations understand and support the importance of social and emotional learning practices.
I am proud of my organization’s ongoing commitment to SEL. For example, in February 2021, the theme of our national conference will be Social Emotional Learning: Focusing on the Total Child. We are also producing an extensive range of professional learning resources related to SEL leadership, all of which will be available on the AASA website.