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Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is All Day, Every Day

As published in the Herald Tribune on Sunday, October 13, 2019

Monday mornings get a bad rap, and they get even worse when national headlines such as “UN Meeting Reveals a World in a Really Bad Mood” flood our minds. Negative headlines such as this set the tone for the entire day, and if you are like me, you may wonder if you took one deep breath throughout the day.

Sarasota County Schools and our community partners will change this narrative on Monday when our schools will host a Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Professional Day throughout the district. Every teacher will participate in one of the 51 three-hour sessions designed to help them further understand and implement strategies that build resiliency in our children.

The learning intention for this day is to take the focus off our fears from outside threats and think instead about how to “create a space in our schools and classrooms where all students can walk in and, for that day or hour, take off the crushing weight of their armor, hang it on a rack, and open their heart to truly being seen.” (Brene Brown, 2019)

Thanks to community experts, we will further learn to recognize the signs of trauma with staff from the All Star Children’s Foundation, develop strategies to build a Latino inclusive classroom with Unidos Now and observe Teen Court staff and students demonstrating this successful project in Booker High School’s Law Academy. University of South Florida professors and Florida Center staff will also promote engaging sessions on a multitude of topics to help our dedicated teachers be even more successful in the classroom.

Assistant principals will lead sessions on helping children manage strong emotions, integrating SEL into everyday instruction, understanding the SEL needs of gifted students and how to support the whole child. Principals John Weida, Tomas Dinverno, Allison Foster and LaShawn Frost will introduce sessions such as Project Harmony and the Positivity Project, Inner Explorer and SEL – helping children find their voice and reach their full potential, connecting SEL with International Baccalaureate programming and Real Talk: Giving Students a Sense of Belonging, to name a few.

Our teachers, counselors and district specialists will lead sessions, too! Learning Character through Characters will be the focus at Southside Elementary and examining five facets of equity-driven schools through mini-sessions will take place at Sarasota Middle School. Additionally, we will learn how to go deeper with restorative strategies, crisis prevention intervention, CHAMPs (e.g., classroom management strategy) and youth mental health first aid.

Professional development is not new to Sarasota County Schools, nor is social-emotional learning. In fact, the school district has employed many preventative and restorative strategies to help our students form lasting positive social behaviors. What is unique about this year’s professional development day is the overwhelming focus on one key topic taught by so many school and community-based partners countywide. That’s how much we believe in this approach and the long-term opportunities SEL offers our students.

As Forty Carrots presenter Dr. Ross Greene recently reminded many of us, if we identify the unsolved problems that interfere with children learning and teach the “lagging skills” they need, then children (and their teachers) will find success in school. SEL Professional Day will help teachers improve lagging social and emotional skills that many of our children bring to school and further enhance relationships with all their students.

Minouche Shafik, director of London School of Economics predicts, “In the past, jobs were about muscles, now they’re about brains, but in the future, they will be about the heart.” Thanks to educational leaders and experts in our community, teachers and school leaders throughout the district will begin this Monday morning by taking a deep breath and focusing on our hearts.

Dr. Laura Kingsley is assistant superintendent and chief academic officer for Sarasota County Schools.