School counselors and the professional organizations that support them have been advocating for appropriate counselor-to-student ratios for years. When school shootings happened in Florida, and then closer to home in the Santa Fe Independent School District in 2018, our state of Texas began to take a bigger interest in identifying and addressing potential concerns before they get to the point of school violence.
That same year, our governor released a report on school safety, and schools began putting a bigger focus on social and emotional learning. Our superintendent asked the counseling department about making some changes, and about taking a more intentional approach to social-emotional learning in our district.
Getting teachers involved
Knowing that if we could accurately quantify the need for SEL we might be able to get both funding and backing for the initiative, we conducted our first SEL survey of students during the fall of 2018. We gathered over 10,000 responses from students in grades three through 12.
The results showed that our student population was facing many deficits when it came to SEL competencies. After presenting the results to the school board, I received the go ahead to find an SEL solution for the district. We lacked the expertise and personnel to develop our own, so we started looking for a strong program that was CASEL-aligned and K-12 in scope.
Ultimately, our goal was to have a common SEL language across the district. We started vetting programs, looking specifically for a program that had the support we felt our teachers needed and deserved.
Making the choice
We reached a turning point in the SEL curriculum selection process when a few of our teachers attended a conference and learned about 7 Mindsets. We did some research, set up a meeting with them, and then convened a group of 20 stakeholders to evaluate three different SEL platforms. The group unanimously selected 7 Mindsets.
Including teacher voice in the decision was important because they’re the ones who ultimately have to use it in the classroom. At the same time that the SEL curriculum selection process was happening, we were also submitting grant applications to a few private sponsors. We wound up receiving financial support from Menninger Clinic and Mental Health America to fund our effort. This allowed us to quickly move into the implementation and training process. It also allowed district leaders to focus on building out a viable SEL model for the students.
SEL in action
We launched the curriculum during the fall of 2019 with five pilot campuses (two elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school). When we had to shut our campuses down in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, each of those campuses was already up and running on the new platform. In February 2020, our deputy superintendent approved a districtwide rollout for the 2020-2021 school year based on the program’s success. Today, all 18 campuses are using 7 Mindsets and working on lessons at least once a week.
The ability for an individual to self-regulate is critical not only in a classroom, but also in their home life, college life, work life and family life. Using SEL, we’re giving students a foundation to build upon. If we can positively influence the way a child thinks and if we can build perspective and mold perception, we can help shape their reality.
Loree Munro is director of advanced academics and counseling at New Caney Independent School District in Texas. She helped implement the 7 Mindsets curriculum at her school.
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