Social and emotional learning (SEL) is central to Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools’ five-year strategic plan and has been integrated into the core of the district’s work, from addressing the Tennessee State Standards to evaluating and supporting teachers. The strategic plan’s theory of change asks three basic questions, two of which explicitly address social and emotional learning: “Are all students growing academically, socially, and emotionally, every year?” And “Are all students empowered by having voice, choice, and ownership in their learning experiences?”
SEL in Nashville
The district’s strategic plan reinforces the central role of SEL to students’ ultimate success. Schools are able to choose which research-based SEL program best meets their needs. The district has focused on several areas of SEL implementation.
Aligned programs. Nashville has adopted eight evidence-based SEL programs (Responsive Classroom, Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, Project Based Learning, Restorative Practices, PBIS, COMP (Classroom Organization and Management Program), Second Step, and Mindfulness). SEL is aligned to all district initiatives.
Integration. The district has helped educators understand the connections between SEL and the Tennessee (Common Core) standards. SEL strategies are also included in the latest edition of COMP, the district’s classroom management approach. The district has created an SEL scope and sequence and “I Can” statements that articulate SEL standards for each grade level.
Schools are piloting School Climate/SEL school walk-through protocols for use in principal consultations and for providing targeted support to ensure the most effective SEL practices for adults and students. The School Climate/SEL walk-through tool development has been a three-year collaborative effort among various departments (Leadership and Learning, Student Support Services, Research Assessment and Evaluation, and Human Capital), as well as support from the CASEL consultants. For the past three years an SEL Alignment Team (teachers, counselors, administrators, district-level leaders, and community partners) has worked to better align SEL in all district initiatives. This team also previews new professional learning activities and provides feedback and communication between schools and district-level leaders.
Professional learning. In addition to ongoing professional development (COMP, Mindfulness, PBIS, Restorative Practices, Olweus, and SEL Foundations), schools can receive onsite personalized SEL professional learning. Pre-service and new teachers are introduced to SEL concepts in COMP workshops, while current teachers can attend a two-day SEL Foundations course. The district, in collaboration with Alignment Nashville (a community-based partner), also has expanded its annual SEL conference to include regional educators and is collaborating with the Coordinated School Health Department to create new SEL and anti-bullying minigrants. The district has a dedicated SEL organization on Blackboard, an online platform where educators can find resources and supports for implementing and sustaining SEL best practices in a blended learning environment. SEL professional learning models the integration of SEL and academics, using engaging and interactive learning structures that connect to the five SEL core competencies.
- Pearl Cohn High School reduced disciplinary referrals 33 percent after two years of SEL implementation.
- I.T. Creswell Middle School reduced suspensions by 60 percent after one year of SEL implementation.
- J.E. Moss Elementary School decreased the learning gap by 23 percent for its limited English proficiency students in reading and language arts after two years of SEL implementation.
In a study conducted for CASEL, the CDI’s independent evaluator determined that, since implementation:
- Third-graders in 78 schools demonstrated significant increases (according to teacher reports of students’ skills) in all five of CASEL’s social-emotional competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.
- Academic performance was more positive than in pre-CDI implementation years.
- GPAs were higher than in pre-CDI implementation years in elementary and high school.
- Suspension rates improved compared to pre-CDI implementation years.
- Attendance rates in high school were significantly higher compared to pre-CDI implementation years, for the second and third years in middle school, and the first and second years in elementary school.
- Mathematics and reading achievement increased in each CDI-implementation year compared to pre-CDI implementation in elementary, middle, and high schools.
“This is a whole-child approach to education where we recognize that preparing for success in life requires more than meeting high academic standards. We want to help students develop the social skills needed to manage emotions and build relationships … It’s not a program that we put kids through. It’s a fully integrated approach to instruction that is reinforced throughout the school environment.” Former superintendent Jesse Register
A teacher says:
“Definitely there’s that feeling when you walk into the school. You get this overall vibe of whether people are happy there, and you’ll notice students are much more connected. They are engaged in the classes and the activities that are going on. They’re talking about not only the academics but also the social situations.”
A central office leader says:
“They decreased the learning gap by 23% for their limited English proficient students in reading and language arts. They are an elementary school that has close to 1,000 students. The one thing they added was this morning meeting. They made sure to do it every single morning, so it became the norm. Then they also added a closing circle at the end of the day. On the state test, their school actually went from a level 1 to a level 5 that same year.”
Chalkbeat Tennessee reports on how Metro Nashville Public Schools are using laughter and other techniques to integrate SEL and its schools. More here.