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Episode 4: Fast Break from the SEL Forward Conference

Note:  The audio versions of all episodes are available on the  DOE Digest webpage


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Dr. Lamont Repollet: I’m Dr. Lamont Repollet, New Jersey’s Commissioner of Education. Welcome to the DOE Digest, a podcast from the New Jersey Department of Education. It is a platform for information exchange, in which the Department will highlight the work being done by innovative and transformative educators around the state.

I have been working to redesign the Department of Education to what I call NJDOE 2.0. This podcast is one of the ways that we utilize our digital platform to help strengthen teaching, leading and learning, and increase educational equity for the 1.4 million students across New Jersey. I hope you enjoy today’s topic.

Ken: Welcome to DOE Digest. I’m your host, Ken Bond. Today we’re going to be exploring a new format called “Fast Break.” Fast Break is a shorter format for sharing information in between our regular podcast schedule.
This episode will feature clips from the SEL Forward Conference which took place on May 23, 2019. The New Jersey Department of Education created the SEL Forward Conference so that educators from all around the state could engage and present around social and emotional learning.

Kelly Williams is the Director of Student Support Services. Her office organized the very first SEL Forward Conference.

Kelly Williams, Director of Student Support Services

Kelly: Social and emotional learning is such a critical component for all students in all schools to implement in today’s society. There’s just such a great need for it. We know that all districts and all schools aren’t monoliths of each other, so it is extremely critical that we realize that there's no one-size-fits-all approach, and we need to address the social and emotional needs for all learners. Our Commissioner of Education, Dr. Repollet, really made it one of his top priorities this year to have a conference that will really draw attention to this work and make sure that we will continue the work and continue it well.
[end of Kelly’s section]

Ken: During the conference I got to hear from presenters and attendees. Here's a snapshot of their experiences and the great work they're doing in their schools.

Alisha DeLorenzo, Social-Emotional Learning Coordinator

My name is Alisha DeLorenzo. I am the Social-Emotional Learning Coordinator at Asbury Park School District. I'm here because SEL is something I've always done as an educator, before I knew that there was a term for SEL. And I had the wonderful opportunity during the 2016 school year to get the green light on an initiative of SEL across the Asbury Park High School and a pilot. And that green light came from Dr. Repollet, at the time as our Superintendent. And from that we found tremendous decrease in our discipline and that rolled out into a school-wide, district-wide initiative that is supported by our current superintendent, Ms. Gray, and the Director of Student Services, and Board of Education. To be able to do this work feels like, um, a dream come true. To be able to spread this across the state and across our district feels like everything that I've always worked towards, whether it be mental health or education, um. Or being a practitioner of yoga or mindfulness myself has come together and is starting to be integrated into schools and that is powerful and it's a powerful paradigm shift.
The root of SEL is connection. And so bringing the human perspective back into education, connecting with children, connecting children with each other, connecting with colleagues, teachers to students. That's where the healing happens. And so, SEL really wraps itself around that concept of connection. And, uh, that changes the world.

When you look around the room and you see how many people are integrating SEL, and think of the ripple effect, and the impact on students. And the way that it's being messaged from the top. I mean, the DOE is messaging this   as important as academics. We just heard Dr. Repollet say that. So when we, you know, have that top support and you have these grassroots people that are just loving this work and committed to it, and do this with fidelity—that is super powerful.
[end of Alisha’s section]

Marc, Director of Curriculum and Instruction

Marc: Marc, from Lindenwold Public Schools. I'm the Director of Curriculum and Instruction. At Lindenwold we really see the need for social and emotional learning as a complement to our academic learning. Our students come from trauma-affected backgrounds of all kinds. And we know that social and emotional learning is the key to getting them primed for academic learning. We know that the two go hand in hand and are really inextricably linked.

Those things are important for college and career, but they're also important just for having a good life. We want our students to live good lives. We want them to be well-prepared for adulthood and we know that being able to develop your ability to navigate social climate, social concepts and constructs. And also your ability to manage your own emotional and mental health, is a really important aspect of whole-child development.

But we haven't been as successful, so far, in getting the social-emotional learning aspects that go hand-in-hand with that, implemented and scaled up. So, we're looking to make some contacts that we can work with to raise awareness of the importance of social-emotional learning in the district to provide us with the content we need and then to be able to coach us as we go implement some of the things that we learn.
[end of Marc’s section]

Jackie, Assistant Principal

Jackie: My name is Jackie. I’m the Assistant Principal in the Milltown School District. I’m here at the conference because I've been passionate about SEL for many years, even before it was in the forefront or popular. I was trained in, um, responsive classroom, which really looks at the whole child and thinking about their social-emotional needs. So it's always been a part of me as a teacher and now as an administrator. So, although the project  is what brought me here, the school climate project with Rutgers, it's still a bigger part of me.
So, you know, you really need to at somebody—an adult, a child, anybody—as a whole being. We need to really teach them about these skills that they need to move forward.

I know it's called SEL Forward, which really stuck with me when I read it because it is, uh, you know, a movement forward that we need more and more people to understand. One of the speakers was saying how, you know, schools—the psychologists or the social workers in school always understood that you needed to understand everything about the child. They had like that warm and fuzzy sort of like "why do the kids always want to go to the school nurse or to the social worker or whatever." 'Cause they had that understanding that we need to push forward and make sure everybody has it now.
[end of Jackie’s section]

Brandon, School Counselor for Mental Health and Wellness

Brandon: My name is Brandon. I work at the Somerset County Vocational and Technical High School, and, uh, my position is School Counselor for Mental Health and Wellness. It was just created this year.
So I was charged, as the School Counselor for Mental Health and Wellness, to develop that position as well as help my school and district's initiative to implement social and emotional learning in the school. You know, because I'm leading this initiative and helping my school implement SEL, I want to see successful models of its implementation in the state of New Jersey. I know that we're forerunners in the realm of SEL, and I'd like my school to join.

As most mental health professionals, we're in this field because we feel personally charged to give back. I very much feel personally charged to give back. And of course the greater scope there is that it will impact humanity. Our future generations will interact in more healthy ways and be more participating, contributing members of society.

[end of Brandon’s section]

Raquel Williams, World Language Teacher

Raquel: My name is Raquel Williams. I work for the Metuchen School District and I'm a World Language teacher and I teach Spanish.

I'm so glad I came because I realize I do SEL all the time in my World Language class. And without knowing that was SEL.

Well, as a World Language teacher, we want to connect the students to the—to this interconnected world. We want them to have empathy towards people, cultures, nations. Uh, and for me, this is what SEL is about. It's for you to understand the other person's perspective, and, at the same time, understand yourself.

I was at my first break-out session, and I tweet this. And I said, "Okay, this is how I summarize my first break-out session. Teaching world language is to make people understand others' perspective and culture.”

It [makes beeping sound while laughing]. "I got it!"

So, that’s what I said. I do this all the time, in my classes with my students, you know, when we study about other Spanish-speaking countries and we compare and contrast with our own cultures. And we see people greet different. They understand, you know, each other different. They eat different. We realized that what we have in common is much more than what divide us.


Ken: We look forward to continuing to connect and engage with you about educating the 1.4 million students around the state and hope to talk to you on the #NJEdPartners third-Tuesday Twitter chat.

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Neither the New Jersey Department of Education, nor its officers, employees or agents, specifically endorse, recommend, or favor views expressed by those interviewed. Discussion of resources are not endorsements.
Thanks so much for listening.

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