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WATCH: A District That Prioritizes Social-Emotional Learning Grapples With How to Measure If It Works

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By guest blogger Swikar Patel

Reno, Nev.

The Washoe County school district in Nevada's second largest city has been way ahead of most other districts in its approach to social-emotional learning, especially in measuring students' SEL skills, which are part of its accountability system.

My colleague, Evie Blad, chronicled the district's efforts at building a thoughtful social-emotional learning program  back in 2016. 

As she noted, with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the main federal K-12 law, states are now required to include at least one measure other than test scores in their accountability systems, an issue that has raised the profile of social-emotional measurement questions.

With the help of a federal grant and assistance from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, or CASEL, Washoe County leaders developed new survey measures, working with students to understand how they respond to questions about social-emotional skills and with teachers to develop data that could actually be used to change what happens in the classroom.

Alongside the district's existing early-warning system, which tracks risk factors for dropping out throughout a student's school career, the data being gathered around social-emotional learning is helping educators ensure that students' needs are met and their skills are developed as they progress through school.

We checked back in with the Washoe County district throughout this school year to learn how its work on social-emotional learning has been progressing. 

In one of my visits, I spent time in high school classes that are pointedly about developing SEL skills such as coping with stress and the power of thought.  Stephan Molder, an SEL teacher in Reno's Hug High School, says successful social-emotional learning starts with the adults in schools. He boils it down to this: "...It's all about building relationships with students. I never wreck the relationship, no matter what. I always try to save the relationship first."

Now, see for yourselves:


 Related reading on social-emotional learning:

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