Although Bloomfield Hills Schools has always engaged in social-emotional learning (SEL), the district has spent the last year really honing in on the development of plans that support the social-emotional health and well-being of both staff and students within the community.
“We knew the district was already focused on student mental health, and there was a lot of social-emotional learning happening, but we wanted to be more intentional and systemic so that we could clearly articulate what was occurring across the district,” says Margaret Schultz, director of instructional equity and Title IX coordinator at Bloomfield Hills Schools. “Then, once the pandemic hit, it was more important than ever and simply couldn’t wait. There needed to be strategies in place that would allow us to check in on one another and students’ social and emotional well-being.”
But what is SEL and why is it important? According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), SEL is how kids develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals. It’s also how they learn to feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships and make responsible and caring decisions. Through family-school partnerships, SEL advances education equity and excellence with collaborative and meaningful curriculum and instruction.
Focused SEL curriculum at BHS
Overseen by Schultz, a dedicated group of Bloomfield Hills Schools staff came together last summer to create a plan for SEL for the 2020-21 school year. This SEL Team based their work on CASEL’s five core competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making. These competencies allow for design opportunities where adults can connect, heal and build capacity to support students and each other. Equity work was also a major factor in SEL discussions.
“We didn’t purchase an already-created curriculum because we couldn’t find one that perfectly aligned with our values, so what we’ve created and what we’re now using is something that’s not only based on research, but what we feel aligns with who we are and what we want to achieve at Bloomfield Hills Schools,” says Schultz.
This school year and beyond
For the fall of 2020, the SEL Team determined three focused SEL practices.
The first practice builds classroom community through daily routines including a daily check-in. Every day presents a new opportunity for school staff members to grow relationships with students, and with outside factors always impacting both staff and students — notably COVID-19 and racial injustice this year — the SEL Team highly regarded strategies that allow for regular check-ins on each other’s social and emotional well-being.
Second, as BHS staff gathers in a variety of ways, the SEL Team felt it was critical to focus on staff wellness. By taking care of and supporting one another at every meeting, the team makes staff wellness a priority.
Finally, the SEL Team asked each BHS school to designate 30 minutes each week when the entire school is participating in some form of SEL. Schultz says this transformative learning occurs in a variety of formats including writing, reading, talking or watching a film, depending on grade level.
These first steps offer a solid foundation for further growth, Schultz says.
“Considering the pandemic, we’re really proud of what we’ve been able to do this year. And now that there is a full year of curriculum written, the next steps will be to strengthen it,” she says. “In fact, the SEL Team plans to gather feedback from both staff and students and use that data to drive the future of SEL in Bloomfield Hills Schools.”
For more information about Bloomfield Hills Schools, visit bloomfield.org.