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Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a nine-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Embedding Social Emotional Learning in the Melrose Public Schools

At the 11/15 City Wide PTO meeting, Supt. Taymore invited Asst. Supt. of Teaching and Learning Dr. Adams, Hoover Principal Ms. Corduck, and MVMMS Principal Mr. Conway to provide an overview of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in the Melrose Public Schools. Some highlights:

·      It’s an expectation that all Melrose schools will have a Positive Behavior Intervention System (PBIS).
·      The Casel SEL framework includes five sets of skills: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making (http://www.washoeschools.net/Page/1840). Skills develop differently depending on age. All PBIS systems reflect this framework.
·      The Three-Tier Response to Intervention (RTI) Framework represents a system that supports the development of skills (http://images.slideplayer.com/15/4641200/slides/slide_35.jpg). Melrose staff held a daylong retreat in the summer. Each school is in a different place in its journey on the framework, but all have a PBIS in place. Staff members are meeting five-six times this year to develop relevant materials to support this work. Work is well underway with Tier I and is now moving to Tier II.
·      Whatever the pneumonic is, there are behavioral expectations agreed upon by all. The overarching definition of these expectations must be modeled to students: What does it look like in the classroom? In the lunchroom? On the playground? They need more reminding at certain times of the year (holidays, etc.). Foundational skills build over time, from Kindergarten up through the grades. Teaching the skills in isolation doesn’t work; teachers look for the teachable moment and explore what the PBIS says to do, what went wrong, what would we do next time, and then practice how to do it.
·      Massachusetts is working with Casel to develop standards and is a pilot state. The Rennie Center report is used as the basis for analyzing where we are and what we’ll do (http://www.renniecenter.org/topics/SEL_policy.html).
·      MPS has school-wide systems for recognition of positive behavior. Hoover has “habit tickets” to reward using skills that reflect one of the “7 Habits” (http://www.theleaderinme.org/the-7-habits-for-kids). Collecting monthly data from the tickets also helps target and support appropriate behaviors (i.e. if rewards aren’t often given in the cafeteria, why not? What could we do to improve behavior there? Are there students who don’t receive rewards and why not? Are there teachers who aren’t giving many and why not? – can then support with them about instructional strategies).
·      Sustainability is critical so the program isn’t introduced all at once; chipping away at the process can improve the ability to maintain the work.
·      When students demonstrate a particular behavior, they are sending a message; it’s a way of communicating. Administrators and teachers need to understand what the message is and focus on helping solve the problem being communicated rather than just punishing. This strategy changes classroom management.
·      All MPS teachers are required to read Carol Dweck’s mindset (http://mindsetonline.com/whatisit/about/). Veteran staff have done book groups on it.
·      MPS has invested in a lot of academic and cultural responsiveness work with the idea that no one exists in isolation; everyone must work together for the system to work.
·      Challenges include time (training, discussion, data analysis); money (materials, training); staff receptiveness; demographics (shifting, like all states). The past 20 years of focus on accountability has left this issue out.
·      The state is re-thinking the definition of trauma. The older definition has expanded because some things adults think aren’t trauma present as trauma to children.
·      MPS loses some teachers over the implementation of this work – some don’t want to do it.
·      Supt. Taymore is partnering with colleges on this topic (e.g. Salem State), helping them understand that it should be taught to aspiring teachers in their schools of education.
·      Teacher interviews in MPS now include exploration of experience with SEL or a PBIS  “because that’s the business we’re now in.”
·      Families are critical to the support of this work. They should set expectations around behavior, acceptance, and empathy at home. Children want to do well in school. They don’t want to misbehave; it’s about teaching them skillsets. That’s why MPS didn’t buy a “curriculum in a box.” It’s why we have a system instead.
·      When students move from elementary to MS, they need to take more leadership roles. Two years ago, the MS initiated a Student Council. Now they also have a Social Justice Club and a state-praised GSA. This year they’ve added Project Impact, an Anti-Defamation League initiative, training 37 peer leaders.
·      The process is a little slower at MHS because of the need to involve students and include leadership opportunities. Staff has worked on a vision and mission asking what kind of school do they want to be and how do kids want to create their own school community. Principals Conway and Merrill have created Culture and Climate Councils, which support this work too.
·      There were very few suspensions in the MPS last year because staff has backed off of zero tolerance. Sometimes students must be suspended for safety reasons (if they present a threat or harm to others). What’s helped? Restorative justice. The dilemma comes around the OCR resolution: there are specific things the Supt. must do regarding harassment (like removing an alleged perpetrator), although sometimes they think it would be more useful to all involved to handle it informally.
·      Staff is working on bringing students from all (different) elementary schools to the MS. The value in PBIS is not what you call the program but employment of the corresponding values.
·      Teaching and revisiting is key. The MS changed its schedule to align with the HS and is using a “circles” format, which is an element of restorative justice.
·      One challenge: getting all adults to use the same language consistently so students learn it and then hear it from everyone. (Consistent communication important.) Paras are receiving training in this area for consistency.
*    PTO’s can help these efforts by learning more about the PBIS system at the schools, and supporting SEL efforts (speakers, embedding practices, etc.).