Lighting the Fire for SEL

by Joan Cole Duffell, Executive Director, Committee for Children

You know those weeks that are so packed with exciting events, they leave you breathless at the end? Last week was one of those for us here at Committee for Children. But I have to say I love them, because they remind me of the amazing people—educators, administrators, researchers, child advocates—who work tirelessly beside us in the trenches to make our children’s future the brightest it can be.

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) 2013 Convention took place here in Seattle last week, and we were right in the thick of it. The highlight for me was getting to moderate one of the convention’s featured sessions, a panel called “Inspiring, Supporting, and Sustaining Social–Emotional Learning in Schools and Districts.”

During the panel, we talked about how well-implemented evidence-based social-emotional learning (SEL) programs are consistently shown to improve students' social, emotional, and academic outcomes. And the convention’s attendees, school psychologists, can play a key role in both securing buy-in from administrators and teachers for SEL adoption and supporting quality implementation. The panel was able to offer an engaging discussion of best SEL practices in school- and district-wide initiatives.

The panel consisted of such SEL rock stars as Dr. Maurice Elias of Rutgers University; Dr. Kim Gulbrandson of Milwaukee Public Schools; Dr. Libia S. Gil of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) in Chicago; and Michelle Lynn Van Allen, M.Ed., of Marcus Garvey Math and Science School in Chicago. The panel presentation drew about 200 attendees and offered both inspiration and motivation for them to return to their schools and districts ready to light the fire for SEL.

My colleagues and I were otherwise occupied by gathering with some NASP attendees and presenters at Committee for Children’s offices and staffing a booth in the exhibit hall, which enjoyed a lively flow of traffic from Second Step devotees and newbies alike.

So although we’re panting from the frenetic pace, we’re also energized by the relationships we’re building outside our own walls. They’re vitally important keys to our success in making sure all children have the skills they need to succeed both socially and academically.