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posted: 1/4/2017 11:17 AM

District 20 striving to boost social-emotional learning

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By Michael Connolly
Keeneyville District 20 superintendent

High academic achievement and success in school and the world does not come solely from hitting the books.

In a highly connected world, it is critical for our students to have strong social-emotional skills in order to be highly successful in school, in career, and in life.

As a way to highlight the importance of strong social-emotional learning, the state adopted Social Emotional Learning Standards for public schools across Illinois to integrate into their learning communities.

With three primary goals to develop self-awareness and self-management skills, social awareness and interpersonal skills to support positive relationships, and strong and responsible decision-making skills, these standards act as guides for schools and communities to ensure the development of a well-rounded and successful child.

Through an ongoing partnership with the DuPage County Regional Office of Education and the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), Keeneyville District 20 has worked hard for the past five years to bring a focus on social-emotional learning into each of our classrooms and school communities.

Research provided by CASEL shows that 93 percent of teachers believe focusing on SEL development is important and employers require new employees to have strong social-emotional skills such as communication, adaptability, decision-making, and problem solving in order to be successful in the workplace.

In District 20, we are working hard to ensure our students develop strong social-emotional skills.

Through a focus on positive social skills and building positive classroom communities and the use of positive behavior reinforcement through our PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) systems, we seek to continually provide a learning environment based on mutual respect, positive relationships, personal responsibility, personal determination or "grit" in the learning process, and problem solving skills.

With instances of major disciplinary issues declining, continually improving academic results and a strong student sense of belonging, pride and community, we believe our district's SEL work is having a positive impact.

Indeed, during this holiday season alone, we have seen student groups at Spring Wood Middle School come together to support each other as they raise money for kids suffering from cancer and raise money to support Feed My Starving Children.

Eighth-grade students supported veterans transitioning from homelessness by collecting and donating needed household and personal items through the VFW and Military Outreach USA's 11-11-11 program on Veterans Day.

Spring Wood's belief that You+Me=WE is the driving force behind a strong and supported student community.

In District 20's elementary schools, we saw students at Waterbury come together as a team to support each other in the completion of a 5K run in November; schools held food drives to support local food pantries; and at Greenbrook School older students adopted preschool reading buddies to support a lifelong love of reading and learning.

Adult SEL skills are just as important as students' skills in District 20.

As a faculty and staff, we have engaged in professional development around sharpening our own social emotional skills, while embedding those skills in our teaching and interactions with students. Faculty and staff are supporting each other through school-based "sunshine" clubs and collegial relationship building.

Several members of our faculty organized an effort to "adopt" 18 families in need within our district community during this holiday season.

District 20 is a caring place for a child to learn and grow, and we are very proud of the work we do as a learning community.

If you would like more information about the importance of social-emotional learning, visit the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning at www.casel.org and the DuPage County Regional Office of Education SEL site at http://dupagesel.org.

• Michael Connolly is superintendent of Keeneyville District 20. His column appears monthly in Neighbor during the school year.