10 ways Austin ISD reinforces SEL during COVID

District is preparing teachers to support students' variety of experiences during COVID
By: | July 31, 2020
Teachers in Austin ISD will start in-person and virtual classes this year with morning meetings and check-ins to monitor students' wellbeing during COVID.Teachers in Austin ISD will start in-person and virtual classes this year with morning meetings and check-ins to monitor students' wellbeing during COVID.

Social-emotional learning has taken on heightened importance as educators prepare to support students coping with a COVID-era blend of in-person and online learning.

Leaders and educators in Austin ISD, considered a leader in SEL, are working on several fronts to bolster social-emotional supports when classes resume on Aug. 18 with three weeks of remote instruction.

“We’re really concerned about kids who never logged onto online learning and determining who needs more intensive mental health services,” says Caroline Chase, the SEL assistant director. “Our focus is on preparing our teachers for whatever they may find with students when they come back.”

Here are the various ways Austin ISD has reinforced SEL supports for 2020-21:

1. Two teachers from each high school have received supplemental pay this summer to design school reopening lessons and activities, such as community circles that can be held in-person or online.

More from DA: Why social-emotional learning must come first when schools reopen

Some of the SEL-based lessons will guide students in coping with change and talking about emotions they’ve experienced since the COVID outbreak, the widespread George Floyd protests, and other current events.

2. Elementary school teams have planned for teachers to hold “minute meetings” to check with all students and their social-emotional wellbeing.

With this approach, teachers hope to get some information on what students have been through in the last several months and what the children need to feel safe in school.

3. All teachers, whether online or in-person, will be encouraged to start classes with a morning meeting focused on a daily SEL topic.

4. A team of associate superintendents and SEL specialists is working this summer to further integrate social-emotional learning across the curriculum.

5. At this summer’s district leadership institute, principals will review new strategies from CASEL, an organization that promotes equity through SEL.

6. The district is developing blended professional development courses in SEL for new teachers.

7. Austin ISD will continue its micro-credentialing program that allows teachers to earn badges in SEL—and a range of other topics—that are tied to salary increases.

More from DA: Why slower school supports students’ social-emotional health

8. PD and other approaches will also support teachers’ social-emotional wellbeing.

During the last spring break, teachers anxious about the shift online participated in professional learning to shift their classes to remote instruction and use various tools such as Zoom.

9. After the shift to online learning, teachers organized drive-by parades through school neighborhoods and attempted to contact each student. Administrators stepped in to help when teachers had trouble tracking certain students down.

“It was amazing how teachers adapted,” Chase says. “We noticed not only student growth, adaptability and resilience, it also occurred with our teachers.”

10. Licensed mental health care providers that the district works with remained available during the summer to help schools with social-emotional needs.

Read the other stories in our series on SEL as school reopen during COVID:

  1. COVID-era SEL means preparing students for the unknown
  2. Why kids must feel safe before they can learn
  3. Student voice becomes a key component of SEL
  4. 9 ways to boost social-emotional learning post-COVID
  5. 5 reasons why SEL is essential in the COVID era