By Dianne Acuña Andree and Ben Knaebel | September 2021
During the 2019–20 school year, the City Schools of Decatur (CSD) in Georgia began working on plans to enhance social/emotional learning (SEL) in our schools. CSD is a small, urban, charter school system. We began our virtual 2020–21 school year with a new evidence-based, trauma-informed curriculum called social, emotional and ethical (SEE) learning.
What is SEE Learning?
SEE learning is a K–12 education project out of Emory University’s Center for Contemplative Science and Compassion-Based Ethics, developed to provide high-quality, easy-to-use curricula and resources for student holistic development based on the latest knowledge in educational practice and scientific research. SEE learning builds upon SEL best practices but expands on them to include topics such as attention training, compassion for self and others, resiliency skills, systems thinking and ethical discernment.
SEE learning is available for specific age ranges with developmentally appropriate curricula for early elementary, late elementary, middle and high school students. Each curriculum consists of more than 40 half-hour learning experiences. We focused our initial implementation to 10 weeks of lessons, covering sections 1 and 2, which focus on kindness, compassion and resiliency skills. The trauma-informed aspect of SEE learning is critical to support our students dealing with the pandemic and support CSD’s work addressing equity, systemic racism and restorative practices. The fact that SEE learning is available across the grade bands allows us to create a common language and develop a specific skill set to support our students and the district’s equity work.
Why SEE Learning?
We know that a comprehensive education must include helping students cultivate character and ethical discernment, not just practical skills. Now scientific research is demonstrating that basic human values can be taught as skills, resulting in measurable benefits for physical, psychological and social health, and well-being. Since the causes of our societal problems – from school violence to environmental degradation to national security – lie not only in external conditions but also in the decisions people make based on their values, the need for programs in “soft skills” has never been greater.
The pandemic, naturally, elevated the need in CSD to find an effective, trauma-informed SEL program to promote healing and resilience. This was the perfect opportunity to implement a standardized curriculum across all grade levels and schools that not only aligned with the basic tenets of SEL but also taught resilience and compassion skills to heal from 2020 challenges. SEE aligns well with our district’s work with Expedition Learning Pillars of Character and the International Baccalaureate Program Learner Profile.
Once CSD decided to return virtually in fall 2020, the district built Wellness Wednesday into students’ schedules, supporting CSD’s core belief in the development of the whole child. Wellness Wednesday provided a mid-week break from the demands of virtual learning and gave families and students a chance to engage in self-directed or district-offered structured activities and focus on overall wellness.
The SEE learning program is designed to be delivered by teachers within a classroom setting. So, step one in implementation was to get people trained, set a schedule and convert the material for a virtual setting. In our district, numerous education professionals engaged in online self-directed training and six hours of direct training by Emory University for the SEE program.
The curriculum follows a specific format for consistency. Lessons begin with a check-in, followed by a mindfulness exercise, then a follow-up check in. Next, we cover the class and/or school agreements, the presentation/discussion, an insight activity, reflective practice and a debrief. The consistency of delivery was beneficial both for students and facilitators.
As of this writing, we have completed our 10 weeks of lessons and are awaiting quantitative data on program effectiveness, but qualitative data from students, facilitators and the community is positive. We are now planning how to expand teacher training and SEE learning delivery.
The SEE learning program is free; however, it requires a short, seven-module training that takes about two hours. Upon completion, you receive the full curriculum. Lessons can be used in classrooms, with individual students or in group session.
As the global pandemic transitions to a monsoon of mental health concerns, SEL is a greater need than ever before. The SEE learning curriculum addresses many district initiatives, meets numerous ASCA Mindsets & Behaviors standards and is an evidence-based curriculum worth exploring. Learn more about SEE learning.
Dianne Acuña Andree is the City Schools of Decatur student success coordinator. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ben Knaebel is the City Schools of Decatur coordinator of 504 and school psychology.