A Roadmap for Designing an Effective SEL Program

Building Awareness, Commitment, and Ownership for Social-Emotional Learning in Your School District edLeader Panel recording link

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In the Fort Zumwalt School District in Missouri, Dr. Dan Boatman, Executive Director for Teaching and Learning, and John Barrow, Executive Director of Intervention and Behavior Support, are leading an initiative to build a sustainable social-emotional learning (SEL) program at the elementary school level.

During the edLeader Panel, “Building Awareness, Commitment, and Ownership for Social-Emotional Learning in Your School District,” Boatman, Barrow, and Kelly Truong of Panorama Education walked through how they designed an SEL program from the ground up. They provided a practical roadmap about how to design guiding frameworks, build teams and cross-functional partnerships, pick the right tools, and utilize data to implement a long-term, sustainable SEL program.

Three years ago, the SEL team at the Fort Zumwalt School District kicked off their program development with three guiding questions from their school board:

  1. How can we do a better job of screening for social-emotional wellbeing? What kids are doing well? What kids aren’t doing well? How can we address and support kids that aren’t doing well?
  2. How can we build processes that help support teams gather information, problem solve, and act on decisions that promote SEL in the district?
  3. How will we know how people feel about our school district? Where are we in regards to overall school safety, health, and wellbeing as a district?

With the priority of creating a practical and easy-to-implement program at all levels of the district, Boatman and Barrow knew they needed to define a clear program structure to answer these questions. They led an in-depth research process and developed this framework to kick off their program design:

  1. Leadership: Is there strong and engaged administrative leadership in the district who understand the importance of SEL? Are there distributive leadership models in place that will ensure shared responsibility at all levels?
  2. Collaboration: How can we ensure each stakeholder owns a part of the process of implementing and sustaining an SEL program? How do we engage beyond school leaders to include families and students, in order to build lasting partnerships and support systems?
  3. Effective instruction: Do all the stakeholders share the expectation that kids can learn at high levels? Do all stakeholders believe our students have unlimited potential? In what ways will our processes guide kids as they discover that potential?
  4. Data-based decision making: How can we capture and pay attention to how well we’re helping our students grow? What indicators will we use to analyze what is and isn’t working?
  5. Aligned curriculum assessment: Do we have the right assessments and information processes in order to capture the information we need to help students?

After defining this comprehensive framework, Boatman and Barrow engaged Panorama Education in order to seek the data needed to answer these questions. They described the platform as “a single-source solution for addressing all of our school district’s recommendations.”

They quickly saw that the platform provided them with surveys that collected the right data to develop even more specific questions that better informed their program design. Panorama enabled Fort Zumwalt’s SEL team to collect detailed information about the school climate, student wellbeing, and eventually the effectiveness of solutions in real-time from all stakeholders—including families.

Once the SEL team had a framework and a tool that gave them powerful insights, they moved on to the next step: creating a comprehensive stakeholder map to understand the role of each team that would be involved in the implementation of the SEL program.

They worked to deeply understand what the role of each stakeholder would be, and define the “lighthouse teams,” action teams, grade-level teams, and student support teams. Then, to supplement data provided from surveys, Boatman and Barrow built a practical problem-solving framework in order to equip the teams to analyze the data and address gaps in the system:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. Why is it happening?
  3. What is our plan to address the problem?
  4. How will we monitor and measure the effectiveness of the solution?

With the right frameworks, tools, and teams in place, Boatman and Barrow utilized Panorama to organize data, distill it into regularly updated data-visualization charts, and then develop professional development sessions in conjunction with resources on the Panorama Academy platform. To empower each stakeholder, they developed a Standard of Practice document that allowed them to align the vision and build partnerships between schools.

They began by onboarding principals and made sure all professional development initiatives were practical and easy to maintain. Working with 16 elementary principals, it was challenging to find the time to engage stakeholders—but Boatman and Barrow thought creatively and worked within previously scheduled meetings to get buy-in and train school leaders.

With school leadership on board, they are now focusing on training teams that will be implementing the program on the ground and utilizing the platform on a regular basis. These stakeholders can now see a full picture of indicators of student success, including data from different classes, SEL-related surveys, MAP test scores, and more. It’s becoming a tool to visualize data for stakeholders that are on the ground supporting students in real time.

Now, one of the key priorities for the Fort Zumwalt School District is to onboard families and engage them in participating in surveys that will help inform the program development and their children’s wellbeing. In addition to supporting school counselors, the tool has helped families see a comprehensive overview of where their kids are at as whole people, and has improved transparency between all stakeholders.

Together, with the right tools and frameworks, school leadership buy-in, trained on-the-ground action teams, and engaged families and students, the Fort Zumwalt SEL team has done a remarkable job of ensuring that students are doing well, the school climate is healthy, and overall, the district is moving towards an agile adaptation of SEL in order to secure bright futures for all children.

Learn more about this edWeb broadcast, “Building Awareness, Commitment, and Ownership for Social-Emotional Learning in Your School District,” sponsored by Panorama Education.

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Social-Emotional Learning is a free professional learning community where educators can collaborate and share ideas, examples, and resources for incorporating social-emotional learning in the classroom.

Panorama EducationPanorama Education partners with K-12 schools and districts across the country to collect and analyze data about social-emotional learning, school climate, family engagement, and more. With research-backed surveys and a leading technology platform, Panorama helps educators act on data and improve student outcomes. Panorama supports 15 million students in 21,000 schools and 1,500 districts across 50 states.



Blog post by Laura Smulian based on this edLeader Panel