Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) is a concept that has been around for nearly two decades. However, it has only become “popular” over the last few years.

According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), SEL in education is a practice that integrates social and emotional skills into school curriculum. This helps K-12 students better understand and manage their emotions, achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible and caring decisions.

COVID-19 was, and still is, a major cause for SEL being thrown into the limelight recently. With the instability in learning structures and routines because of COVID-19, students across the nation have found it difficult to adjust now that they’ve returned to the classroom. VISD is no different in this capacity.

The pandemic created a new set of stressors for students on top of what they already faced in their daily lives. Upon their return to in-person classes, students were stressed about catching up on lost learning and adapting to the “new normal,” as it’s been called. This is where VISD stepped in. VISD is committed to a Social Emotional Learning culture that encompasses accountability and acceptance. We will provide a safe and inclusive environment for students and adults fostering lifelong skills of perseverance, emotional awareness, and self-confidence, so they will become productive members of their communities. VISD is committed to educating the whole child and ensuring that every student and family feels supported, safe, healthy, engaged and challenged.

The district recognizes the needs our students have to be able to show up each day and be fully present in their classes. Since the beginning of the 2021-22 school year, numerous strategies have been implemented to best address these needs and create the greatest learning environment possible. Many VISD departments collaborate daily in order to make this happen.

Some strategies include:

  • Additional Social-Emotional Behavior Specialists (SEBS) have been added, and the district now has at least one allocated for every campus.
  • Coordination of various support services for at-risk high school students is underway with a focus on targeted and comprehensive support.
  • The Office of Administration, in collaboration with the Curriculum, Instruction and Accountability Department (CIA), is working to support Restorative Practices with additional training and support being provided.
  • Additional training and implementation support on the use of the Rethink Ed SEL curriculum is underway.
  • SEBS will receive training in coaching conversations so they can spend more time coaching teachers on proactive behavior intervention strategies to be implemented within the classroom.
  • Behavior Response to Intervention (RtI) is being aligned with Academic RtI through AimsWeb screeners and progress monitoring in our quest to develop and implement a full Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) model.
  • All VISD campus administrators received training on new legislation related to discipline.
  • The Special Services Department is working closely with the Office of Administration to develop detailed plans to address disproportionate disciplinary practices and create systems for increased positive behavior supports.
  • The SEBS and Special Education Coordinators review campus discipline data monthly, followed by debriefing sessions with campus administrative teams to guide future practices.
  • Data from the recently completed Panorama SEL student survey will be used to guide small group and individualized student supports.
  • Disciplinary Change of Placement guidance is being updated and shared by the Special Services Department to support HB785 updates.
  • The Special Services Department updated the Restraint and Timeout Handbook with a greater focus on positive behavior supports.
  • VISD Security Guards received hands-on training on October 15th on verbal intervention, de-escalation and safe, non-harmful restraint practices.
  • VISD’s secondary campus teams have created options as alternatives to Disciplinary Alternative Education Program (DAEP) removals.

As mentioned earlier, these are just some of the strategies the district is implementing to better serve our students as they try to gain some normalcy back in their everyday lives.

It is our duty as a district to create a safe space our students come to every day to learn and grow along their way to finding themselves, finding what they are passionate about, and ultimately finding their ‘And’.

COVID-19 revealed a lot of gaps across the nation in education systems. VISD is working to combat this by wholeheartedly supporting students’ Social-Emotional Development, mental health, and general wellbeing in order to provide an equitable and quality education while reducing the negative impacts of the pandemic.

VISD believes that if supports are coordinated and working in harmony they can promote students’ voices, create a supportive school climate, foster family engagement and build student social-emotional development.

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Brandi Henke is the counseling director for VISD. Cindy Salinas is the MTSS coordinator for VISD.

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