Recovery regimen: 3 districts set post-COVID SEL strategies

'Having healthy and supported staff is going to make students feel supported as well,' district social worker says
By: | May 25, 2021

Supporting teachers and staff with professional development and providing time for self-care pose two of the biggest post-COVID challenges for one Virginia district.

While PD remains a priority, administrators in Virginia’s Chesterfield County Public Schools don’t want to overwhelm teachers with new initiatives in the pandemic’s immediate wake, Lisa Micou, the district’s social-emotional learning specialist, said during Aperture Education‘s first SEL Vision Summit.

“This year we struggled with finding a way to create time and space within the school day to allow staff to engage in self-care,” Micou said. “We don’t want to staff to have to find time on their own to do that.”

Chesterfield leaders also are committed to listening more closely to principals to determine the needs of staff, rather than making assumptions, Micou added.

And teachers will have access to more student data so better tailor social-emotional learning and set consistent time for SEL, such as advisory periods in high school and morning circles at the elementary level.

“Over the past year, our secondary administrators have really come to appreciate the connection between SEL and adolescent mental wellness,” Micou said.

Fresno: Difficult conversations

In Fresno USD, the third-largest district in California, teachers are looking for help leading classes in difficult conversations around race and other potentially controversial issues, said Maria Luisa Rodriguez, a district social-emotional supports manager.

The district has therefore developed a facilitation guide for teachers in driving these discussions and lessons, Rodriguez said.

Fresno USD staff have faced challenges as they work to contact all students, and offer supports to families, in the city’s highly transient population.

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SEL staff are making home visits and phone calls and engaging in new levels of collaboration with other district departments in their efforts to reconnect with families.

“We’ve told staff that what used to be a tier 1 need of students and staff is now a tier 2 need,” Rodriguez said.

Also, Fresno USD’s SEL teams are making sure all resources are easily accessible for teachers.

“This allows teachers to really focus on being present during lessons so they’re genuine and engaging for students,” she says.

Burlington: Monthly SEL themes

Teachers in Burlington Public Schools in Massachusetts have been participating this school year in monthly virtual meetings to discuss the social-emotional issues they are facing.

“Burlington is very much focused on how to support staff, knowing that having healthy and supported staff is going to make students feel supported as well,” said Christine Conceison, a district social worker.

The district is now working to expand SEL beyond its highest-need students to provide more universal support, as surveys have shown a growing need for social-emotional skills, Conceison said.

Each academic department is choosing SEL themes for district teachers to focus on each month. Meanwhile, staff are reaching out to every single parent and guardian as students return to classrooms, she says.

“We realized that SEL needed to play a huge role in our school district this year,” Conceison said. “Prior to coming back full-time, there was a big push with teachers to treat the first week back from online learning as a true first week of school.”