Author Archive

Leading the Way on SEL: A Q&A with Lisa Mims

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Lisa Mims has been at the forefront of some of Delaware’s most dynamic efforts around social and emotional learning. A longtime Rodel Teacher Council member and prolific ed-tech blogger, Mims currently takes part in the Compassionate Schools “Test Lab,” a model that trains teachers to find positive steps to calm students’ brains, build connections, and foster self-regulation skills.

 

We caught up with Lisa to hear her take on why SEL matters.

 

You gave an awesome TedX Talk last year in Wilmington. Tell us a little about your message.

 

My message was that nothing matters more than building a relationship with our students—all of our students. We especially need to build them with our students who might be a “little rough around the edges.” When we build relationships, more often than not, our students are willing to succeed because they do not feel as if we think less of them.

 

 

What do you see as the connection between school culture and climate and SEL? How does a strong, positive school culture support students’ SEL?

 

In a school where SEL is practiced, the relationship between the educators and the students is shaped by much more than test scores. The educators care for the students’ well-being and strive to create an atmosphere that feels more like a family atmosphere. Rather than penalizing students right away, the staff in the building attempt to find out the underlying causes and deal with situations from that standpoint instead of just determining that a child is “bad” or incapable. Students are very perceptive to how the educators feel about them and behaviors can be changed when students feel like someone cares.

 

Why is it so important to develop kids’ social and emotional side?

 

When we see our kids as test scores we are completely forgetting that they are children. Many of our students deal with things in their lives that would be hard for most adults to process, much less children. We have to take this into account whether we’re teaching them academics, or by building their resilience and developing tools to help them deal with whatever is going on in their lives.

 

There’s this strong link between SEL and trauma-informed care, and rightfully so. But SEL goes beyond supporting students in trauma, correct?

 

Yes, it does. SEL applies to all students, not just students who have suffered from trauma. All students need to learn how to manage their emotions, be empathetic to others, and be able to make decisions on their own. These are skills that will not only lead to a positive learning environment for all, but can follow them through the rest of their lives.

 

We’ve seen some great movement locally around SEL. What’s Delaware’s next big milestone? What’s on the horizon?

 

I know that the educators in the Rodel Teacher Council have made great strides in making districts and educators aware of SEL. At this time they are still meeting to further their cause. One top priority is working to make sure families and students have a voice in the creation of a statewide framework for SEL. Read Creating a Common Language for Social and Emotional Learning in Delaware, and learn more about the RTC’s work on SEL last year.

 

SEL is clearly something that’s very familiar and intimate with teachers and people inside education. But what should parents and the general public know about it?

 

Parents and the general public should know that it is not just another new thing. Kids are developing socially and emotionally in school and at home and wherever else they spend their time—the opportunity we have now is to make SEL a more intentional part of all classrooms and learning environments. When/if our students have a difficult time processing their emotions, it may lead to toxic relationships in the classroom, whether it’s with their peers or their teacher. Parents and the general public should know that we are aware that trauma and toxic stress are real, and not only are we finding a way to deal with and react to it, but we are giving our students tools to deal with it as well.

 

Read A Broader Vision of Student Success: Insights and Opportunities for Social and Emotional Learning in Delaware, which focuses on the efforts underway across Delaware to support students, families, and educators in developing their SEL skills.

 

Tell us about the Compassionate Schools “Test Lab”

 

Test Lab is a professional development opportunity extended through the Compassionate Schools partnership whose purpose is to work with teachers to find positive steps to calm student brains, build connections, and foster self-regulation skills. The hope is that these methods can improve student achievement, increase teacher satisfaction, and enhance the overall school climate. Such programs add value because they increase awareness of the impact of trauma and toxic stress on learning. They chose educators so that they could move from research to actual practice.

I was one of the educators fortunate enough to be chosen to participate. This semester, my students are using the self-regulation bands. The bands help them monitor their emotions according to colors, red, yellow, and blue. It’s amazing to watch them switch out the bands during the day according to how they are feeling. It definitely gives them ownership of their emotions. When we are done, we will share feedback with the lab and let them know how it worked (or didn’t), in our classrooms.

Blazing the Pathway on College and Career: Q&A with Paul Morris

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Paul Morris is on the forefront of a slate of college-and-career efforts across Delaware, bringing his expertise on employer partnerships at the postsecondary to the K-12 world.

We talked to the associate vice president for workforce development at Delaware Tech about his very busy school year ahead.

 

Everyone knows about Delaware Technical Community College and the great things you guys provide in terms of career training for high school grads or adults continuing their education. But when did this notion of getting to kids while they’re still in high school first enter your radar?

 

Delaware Tech has been engaging school-aged youth for over 40 years in Delaware. The college has hosted numerous federal programs such as Upward Bound and Educational Talent Search, serving thousands of middle and high school students during that time period. We also interact with approximately 1,500 to 2,000 youth each summer and throughout the school year through our career, specialty, and sports camps. Lastly, over the past 10 years, we have partnered with all f the school districts within Delaware offering dual enrollment opportunities for students looking to earn college credits while in high school.

 

And what, specifically, is your role in Pathways and/or work-based learning?

 

Delaware Tech has been a key member of the Delaware Pathways team since its inception four years ago. Our high school advanced manufacturing program was the first pathway offered and was the model for the other pathways as it offered advanced college credits, meaningful work-based learning experiences, and portable credentials.

Delaware Tech is connected to every pathway currently offered through Delaware Pathways. Additionally, due to the college’s history with engaging and supporting employers in Delaware, we were chosen to perform the duties of intermediary for work-based learning from the onset. Within this role, we are responsible for operating the Office of Work-Based Learning, which engages employers, schools, and students to develop and deliver a continuum of work-based learning activities for students from seventh grade through the first two years of postsecondary education. The ultimate goal of these activities is to ensure our youth are both college and career ready upon graduation.

 

Why do you think Pathways has taken off in Delaware the way that it has?

 

Pathways meets two important but specific needs. First, it provides secondary school students with the opportunity to become both college and career ready upon graduation. Students have many opportunities through the program to engage with employers and professionals within their chosen career field to better prepare them for the workforce. Second, Pathways creates an employer engagement structure so that employers understand the benefits and can easily connect with qualified students who have an interest in their specific career area.

 

What are some of your favorite Pathways success stories you like to tell?

 

My favorite success story is about a young man named “Joe.” He came from a blue collar middle class family from New Castle. He was a superstar in the manufacturing program from day one. He excelled in the hands-on portion of the program and wanted to transition into working within the manufacturing industry upon graduation. Joe had a couple of opportunities for work once he graduated, but chose to accept an unpaid internship at a local company that he desired to work at long term. He did such a great job with that internship that the company offered him a contracting position. Due to his work ethic and long-term vision, he continued to excel and was recently hired directly by the company. He is doing great and is planning to continue his studies in a post-secondary program in his field.

 

There are a lot of efforts unfolding in the college and career-prep world. What are you most excited about here at the start of a new school year?

 

I’m most excited about the work we are doing within the Office of Work-Based Learning. We are building the framework so that thousands of Delaware students will have the opportunity to participate in meaningful work-based learning activities. These activities will range from awareness activities like visiting a company on a structured tour to immersion activities like a paid internship. These activities will assist students in making college and career decisions upon graduation. They will provide students with documented work experience to inform their resumes. These activities will also help Delaware companies build a much-needed pipeline of trained workers for the future.

 

What are Industry Councils and what will they do/accomplish?

 

Industry Councils are groups of individuals representing a specific industry convened to inform the educational and business communities on the trends, needs, and partnership opportunities within the industry. Typically, a council will have an executive committee that will meet quarterly and create sub-committees as needed. The executive committee will hold an annual public meeting where they will go over their annual report and engage with members of the public.

 

You get to engage with all sides of the equation, so to speak. What’s your go-to selling point for employers when it comes to WBL? How about for parents or high school students?

 

Engaging and partnering with Delaware Pathways and the Office of Work-Based Learning is a key strategy in building a sustainable pipeline of future trained workers. These types of partnerships allow companies to inform curriculum, build relationships with students, and develop working relationships with educational and training providers. Employers will have the ability to create a specific pipeline that will feed their hiring needs in the future.

Participating within Delaware Pathways and specifically work-based learning activities is a no-brainer for students. They will graduate high school with a defined career path and valuable work experience within their chosen industry. They will have an opportunity to earn industry- recognized credentials, college credits, and build work readiness and soft skills that will further enhance their ability to enter the workforce after graduation. Our ultimate goal is to ensure students are both college and career ready upon graduation.

 

Let’s say I’m a business owner and I’m interested. What do I do? What’s my first step?

 

The first step is to contact the Office of Work-Based Learning at:

The Office of Work-Based Learning

(302) 857-1651
cj.kuhn@dtcc.edu

www.delawarepathways.org/owbl

 

 

Mastering the Art of Competency-Based Learning: Q&A with KnowledgeWorks

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Virgel Hammonds and Abbie Forbus are two leaders behind KnowledgeWorks, a group that partners with national policymakers and local learning communities to redesign classrooms to become more learner-centered. The basic idea is progress and grading that’s based on proficiency or mastery, rather than seat time and averaged grades.

 

We spoke to Virgel and Abbie as the Rodel Teacher Council working group wraps up its yearlong research and advocacy around competency-based learning. Teacher Council members engaged every college and university in Delaware and got them to agree in writing that competency-based transcripts are accepted by their admissions offices—and not a hindrance to prospective applicants.

 

 

Let’s say you’re out at a cocktail party or talking to a family member—how would you describe competency-based learning to someone who is not an education insider?

 

Abbie: Basically I think of competency-based education (CBE) as bringing equity into the learning experience. It gives all kids a shot, because we know that all students can learn, but at different paces and in different ways. What CBE does is bring a common vision for all kids to learn, as well as a transparent curriculum, so that kids can own their learning and develop their agency, instead of just teachers holding the vision.

 

Virgel: If it were explaining it to my grandmother—well, first, it would be in Spanish. After that I would say that it’s about moving kids through school based on their actual readiness, not just an averaged collection of grades. And I’d say that it’s about making sure students are working at a challenging level and truly getting ready for the next step in their educations.

 

Like Abbie said, kids are completely different learners with different types of needs. Grandma would understand that one of her grandkids could walk before the age of one and tie her shoes before four; that all kids have their unique strengths and opportunities for learning that are presented to them in different ways. So what if we could adjust our schools and learning environments so that it works for the superstar grandkid as well as for all their peers?

 

Abbie: We went to school when things were averaged. The idea of averaged grades means you could have a high school student graduating with straight D’s who has lots of holes in their knowledge. Or you could have a students who got an A, but who now feels like they are done with their learning—they’re not digging deeper, or challenging themselves further. I got the A and I’m done.

 

If we’re averaging learning opportunities for kids, even the ones who’ve been successful—let’s say 80 percent—there’s still 20 that’s missing. Those gaps get bigger and bigger as they continue through school until the student eventually experiences struggles.

 

 

What are some of the myths or anxieties you find yourself having to help people through?

 

Virgel: That teachers are paramount in supporting kids in reaching competency in truly personalized ways. The myth is that this whole concept of personalized learning and competency-based education is about tech. But teachers are critically important in developing relationships and trust among their students that will allow these models to flourish.

 

Abbie: Personalized learning existed before students had computers. They’re just a great tool that we have today. People also seem to think that CBE means that class is chaotic or changing all the time. It’s not. All it means is that we want kids to be met where they need to be met. It’s about taking the best teaching practices that have been around forever and making sure that all kids have access to it.

 

Virgel: Abbie and I have a working relationship as teachers and school leaders that goes way back to early 2000s, so we share a lot of stories. One common one that I love sharing is from when we were first implementing CBE, and we were getting lots of feedback constantly from kids and community members to make sure we were living up their vision of learning. And one kid said to us: “You’re not going to let us fail, because everyone is held to the same standard and you’re making sure all kids are getting to where they need to be.” How perfect is that?

 

I think of competency-based education as bringing equity into the learning experience. It gives all kids a shot, because we know that all students can learn, but at different paces and in different ways. It brings a common vision for all kids to learn, as well as a transparent curriculum, so that kids can own their learning and develop their agency, instead of just teachers holding the vision.Abbie Forbus, KnowledgeWorks

 

Tell us about how can SBL help students who may otherwise be left behind in the default system? How is this going to help students who are struggling academically?

 

Abbie: In our experience, because all learners have to prove proficiency and mastery, the holes in their learning or understanding of a subject become much more obvious much more quickly. We’re not waiting years to find these holes.

 

Virgel: One critical element where oftentimes people can go astray is when you hold kids to competency standards without a strong competency continuum. Yes it’s important to set expectations for learning, but what carries it through is when you have that well-defined continuum that’s uber transparent.

 

When teachers work together with an aligned learning continuum, together they can hold students accountable to proficiency before handing them off to the next grade level or learning experience. That allows us to be transparent about what a child knows and what gaps exist…and then provide direct support to close the gap.

 

We can correlate that data with other kids to let us address those holes in a quicker manner than we have in the past. The starting point is holding our kids accountable to the same standards—the how and when are variables. What exactly does competency and mastery look like? Teachers, kids and the community at large have to understand what competency looks like for every level of learning.

 

When we’re talking about CBL, what can we do to help spread this concept even wider? What have you seen work well in other parts of the country?

 

Abbie: Putting a network together. When Virgel and I started, there weren’t many schools doing it. There wasn’t much to learn from. There’s no phonebook for CBE. Trying to connect people and schools together—that’s a huge part of the work. When teachers thrive, they’re often learning form their peers.

 

Virgel: One critical element that we facilitate in communities and cohorts, is what a portrait of a graduate looks like. What do they want them to know, behave, look like—if all things are ideal? The knowledge, the strengths, the system for how we build, support, and nurture our kids from birth thru graduation. It’s not about what happens at high school, it’s about how do we as a community bring the supports, services, and interventions to all our kids so that they are meeting that portrait of a graduate. Stakeholder groups all have a role in that, and I think that’s a critical first step in terms of connecting educators in understanding how their role shifts. You have great trust and a great network of teachers that you’re nurtured in Rodel. Try some new things that they can reflect on collectively. Those are great strategies.

 

Another interesting part is how you include kids in this redesign. If kids feel a sense of ownership and like they’re part of the redesign, it’s going to make that design process that much more effective and innovative. They’ll be going back to their friends, their neighbors, their blogs, saying—‘Guess what I get to do with my school?

 

Are there different approaches to “selling” this concept to different audiences? I imagine there are different selling points for policymakers, for instance, than there with parents, or superintendents, etc.

 

Virgel: A big part of the process is to engage and create models along with community groups to figure out common beliefs, the culture of their community, and so forth, so that we as a supporter of their vision can help move them forward.

 

Abbie: It all stems from the needs of the community and their vision for learning. This is not a transformational school/turnaround system. We’re working on what’s best for kids and helping communities build around that. What we find is they’re not okay with eight out of 10 kids graduating, or test scores not being where they should be, or kids dropping out of college. It’s really important that they see the need and want their kids to be more successful.

 

Virgel: What if you, as an educator or a community member, can say ‘We have a learning community collectively supporting the success of every child.’ That we are all going to support all our kids and the education that we provide them through our K-12 system that will prepare them for the rigors of whatever they pursue afterward. Taking what every parent wants for their child—that’s really what helps a community make this commitment. The best part about this vision is it’s an investment in their community. And the kids come back because they felt such support from their community that they want to come back as adults to bring that support back. It happens magically almost every time. They might go pursue other opportunities but many take what they learned in their K-12 and say this is my opportunity to give back.

 

You’ve been engaged on a small level with the Rodel Teacher Council. They’ve actually gotten every single college and university in our state to agree in concept that CB transcripts are accepted and not a hindrance to the application process–and they even put it in writing—what are your thoughts on that approach?

 

Virgel: I like it. What it could lead to is a conversation about–what are your expectations of prerequisite skills, the competencies you want as a college, and then how to we reverse-engineer that for students? And then vice versa: How can you learn from our approach to ensure you continue those differentiated learning opportunities at the higher learning level?

 

It’s smart to start with higher ed because one question we hear a lot from parents is: What does CBE mean in relation to in higher ed? Having that green light or thumbs up will help alleviate concerns from parents, knowing that they’re kids won’t be at a disadvantage.

 

I’ve seen in states like Rhode Island, where they’ve been engaged on this work on a statewide basis, that they invite their higher ed partners to their community conversations. The higher ed folks often say, ‘This is not a big deal to us, we see transcripts from around the world.’ And really what a competency-based transcript does is provide a clearer picture of what your graduates actually know.

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