SEL Encourages Whole-Classroom, Whole-School, and Whole-District Engagement in Vermont School District
“If we could build awareness around how children communicate, what they are communicating, and problem-solve the skills they are showing they need assistance with, we can work together from a foundation of common knowledge to assist our students.”Cate Beaton, MTSS Social and Emotional Behavior Coordinator
With a vision to serve all students with equal opportunities for a high-quality education, the Orange East Supervisory Union prioritizes a collective, all-in approach to guide their educator and student supports.
A relatively new, small school district, Orange East Supervisory Union was looking for programming which would fit into the larger social and emotional curricular framework the district wanted to build. This would keep their vision and objectives at the forefront to make learning more equitable across the communities they serve.
Cate Beaton, MTSS Social and Emotional Behavior Coordinator, identified a few challenges the district was facing.
First, gaining buy-in that digging deeper into SEL would have a positive impact on the district.
“It took a lot of trust. I built relationships with administration, teachers, and school counselors. During our conversations I really explained that educators were already using social and emotional strategies, we just wanted more insight on what was working well so that we could celebrate it, and to offer support in other areas when needed.”
The second challenge was finding an SEL assessment tool that could easily integrate within the existing capacity of teachers. She wanted anything that was added to be practical, useful, and beneficial for teachers. The district was already beginning to see the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic within their communities. Integrating SEL formally would create more support for educators when additional student needs arose.
“As stressors increase in our communities and within our daily lives, those are communicated through student behaviors. If we could build awareness around how children communicate, what they are communicating, and problem-solve the skills they are showing they need assistance with, we can work together from a foundation of common knowledge to assist our students.”
Cate explained Aperture stood out because of the alignment between CASEL and the DESSA, the social and emotional competency assessment from Aperture.
“Being able to embed key competencies into core subject areas that are informed by DESSA and CASEL really sold us. We also liked the immediate feedback we got from assessment data. When students are identified as needing additional support in regard to SEL, being able to collaborate with a team of educators, identify targeted interventions, and apply those strategies to support them in their growth has been great.”
The district was also looking for a system to encourage school’s mindsets from one that is deficit-focused to one that is more strengths-based.
“We wanted to look at what kids can do, how we can support them in what they’re doing well, and how we can encourage them in making progress in additional areas. Just like educators want to be acknowledged for their successes, we want to celebrate kids in that way, too. We really liked that Aperture’s assessments could benefit every grade level at every school.”
Keep reading to learn how Cate Beaton of Orange East Supervisory Union:
Gained educator buy-in to support SEL initiatives.
Used DESSA assessment data to enact change at the classroom and school level.
Engaged students in progress monitoring specified competencies.
Is preparing for district-wide use of the DESSA in the upcoming school year.
Cate knew that it was important for teachers to see the time-saving efforts that DESSA assessment data can provide. To get teacher buy-in she implemented coaching to bridge academics and SEL and embed it naturally in instruction.
“We’ve been really intentional with our educators. Our focus has been on collaboration time to make sure educators are feeling supported by other educators,” said Cate.
Cate shared that it has been exciting to work one-on-one with educators as they do their second round of assessments and see the trends in data for themselves. “There’s a lot of questions about if it’s okay for a majority of students to come back in the typical range. When I say yes, I follow up with asking what systems they’re using and celebrating them. We can pull those successes in on brainstorming for other teachers who need help. Once that understanding and collaboration grew, the excitement really grew.”
The DESSA is a big part of Orange East Supervisory Union’s COVID-19 recovery plan, which impacts the classroom, school, and district levels. Cate shared they are looking at trends within their DESSA data along with their other behavior and educational support team data to inform strategy decisions at every level.
“One example of how we’re using this data is in one of our fourth-grade classrooms where 22% of students were identified as in need of additional instruction. After we did the comprehensive DESSA there were some themes regarding goal-directed behavior. The school counselor, school psychologist, behavior coach, principal, and teaching team came together to ask what they could do to add intervention within the universal framework. We added in additional SEL small groups during the day and then threaded themes through core instruction in terms of ELA and math.”
“It was wonderful to see a change in the DESSA data. All but two kids were within the typical range after the second assessment. The teacher shared it was amazing to have the hard work reflected in a way that we wouldn’t have had without the DESSA.”
The DESSA is also informing case management. For example, if a student is having difficulty with optimistic thinking, a school counselor or other support staff member will explore that deeper in a one-on-one with the student in addition to their pre-existing scheduled therapy session. The system of support is really individualized for the need of each student and woven into multiple aspects of their academic experience.
“It’s helpful to know what specifically to target rather than what we did previously which was much more of a trial-and-error or hypotheses testing. Now we know what specific competencies to target and can implement those efficiently,” said Cate.
Being able to quickly identify what additional interventions are needed for students is especially beneficial as the district navigates through the aftermath of the pandemic.
“We’ve attributed the skills we’re seeing a need for instruction in due to an increase in anxiety because of the pandemic. These include optimistic thinking, self-awareness, social awareness, and decision making. We’re noticing kids are withdrawing and needing extra support. Once we’ve been able to identify where they are, we can help them with developing their coping skills.
Cate explained it also helps empower students to be involved and engaged in their own development. “We’ve worked hard to show you can use the DESSA to really inform next steps in supporting kids.”
“For our 5-8th grade students they get to really collaborate on what kind of individualized support plan they feel like doing. We may present that their teacher sees certain strengths in them that align with the competencies and then suggest other areas they can work on growing. For others, we suggest getting involved in a specific small group to set goals and develop an action plan related to the specified competencies teachers noticed a need for additional instruction in.”
At the high school level, they’re using the DESSA for targeted progress monitoring. When a need for instruction is identified they can pull in the student to the counselor’s office to talk about things going on in that student’s life that may attribute additional supports.
The Future of SEL at Orange East Supervisory Union
Orange East Supervisory Union began their rollout with three elementary schools, then expanded to six out of the seven schools this past year. Aperture’s SEL System rolls out to every school this upcoming school year. Cate looks forward to expanding SEL at the high school level by using the Student Self Report. “We’re really excited for high school students to have the opportunity to reflect on themselves. The new goal-setting piece is something that we’re really interested in getting our high schoolers involved with.”
The district plans on using the data to tailor their attention and support within schools.
“We’re going to keep asking ourselves how we can build a schedule that meets classes’ and grade levels’ needs. We’re also looking at how to best group kids in the following school years to play to their strengths,” said Cate.
At the larger scale, they are looking at how to decrease the overall percentage of students in the need for additional instruction category, historically around 11%.
“We’ve been discussing what resources we need to support to decrease that number and then see how the steps we take correlate with the behavior data we’re seeing. We will be looking at all the data we’ve collected and tying it back to our strategies and goals. It all comes back to making sure teachers have tools in their toolbox to support their kids.”
About Aperture Education
Aperture Education empowers over 3,000 schools and out-of-school-time programs across North America to measure, strengthen, and support social-emotional competence in K-12 youth and educators. The powerful data districts receive enables education leaders to take strategic action about SEL within their organizations. The Aperture system includes the DESSA suite of strength-based assessments which is lauded by researchers for its high standards for reliability and validity, and appreciated by educators for its ability to easily and quickly identify each student’s personal social-emotional strengths and areas of needed support. Aperture partners with industry curriculum leaders to deliver research-based, CASEL-informed intervention strategies to bolster specific areas of needed growth. Paired with robust reporting in one easy-to-use system, Aperture is often favored in districts nationwide. Aperture has supported over one million students in their social and emotional growth and continues to develop innovative solutions to bring the whole child into focus.