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Walker County Schools Going Woke? SEL Explained And Questioned
REMINDER: The Walker County Board of Education meeting was changed and will be held Thursday August 18th.
At the July meeting of the Walker County Board of Education, the superintendent presented for approval a quote on a social emotional learning (SEL) solution that included professional development for educators and a curriculum and online platform for staff and students. With $400,000 from stimulus funds, it was pretty expensive. Curious, I wanted to know more.
What is social emotional learning?
It's spread in education, and the intellectual guidance has come from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). CASEL defines SEL as the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.
The SEL industry is now a huge multi-billion dollar industry and nearly all providers are for profit companies. With so much money at stake there are many solutions and providers of SEL to choose from. Walker County specifically purchased a solution called 7 Mindsets. I also researched the provider and came across some of the content from the professional development curriculum. The screenshot below is from a lesson entitled “Understanding Equity.” Links to this lesson and more content can be found at the end of the article.
The following answers were provided by the Walker County Schools.
How is SEL program effectiveness measured and what does effective and successful look like?
Evidence of the 7 Mindsets solution’s impact on students and schools is gathered from both independent and peer-reviewed studies. Students who received 7 Mindsets instruction for at least five months showed significant improvements in behavior, attendance, achievement, and qualities such as resilience and grit.
According to the quote, online curriculum and portal access were included. Has this curriculum been reviewed by the board? Can parents and the general public review it?
The 7 Mindsets embody universal character traits that help ANY individual to lead a happier and more productive life. We are happy to share their curriculum and materials with the school community for review.
A professional development program is also included. Can you describe the components of the program and how teachers will apply what they have learned from it to their classrooms?
The mindsets-based approach is anchored on a leadership development and coaching model to promote healthy school environments and meet the needs of all learners and staff. 7 Mindsets nurtures the mindsets of both students and educators.
7 Mindsets offers interactive professional learning providing experiences that uplift and reenergize educators so they can confidently model and teach the 7 Mindsets while enriching their own personal well-being.
Educators leave 7 Mindsets professional learning events feeling rejuvenated and inspired. Teachers reconnect to the reason why they went into teaching, to create meaningful relationships with students.
Do teachers and staff members have to complete and integrate the SEL program into their classroom instruction?
Almost all teachers in WCS were trained in 7 Mindsets and implemented the lessons on a regular basis during the 2021-2022 school year. While we were not at 100% in the 2021-2022 school year, we expect to be at full implementation in the 2022-2023 school year.
Can you describe how this all will look in practice, assuming everything goes well?
Educators in every classroom from kindergarten to 12th grade will have access to an evidence-based social-emotional learning curriculum and customizable lessons that support students in the areas of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, decision making, resilience, growth mindset, empathy, and hope.
Research shows that students who have hope for the future, a firm belief in their potential, and a strong sense of belonging and connection perform better academically and forge more substantial relationships in life.
You may see some of the professional development content and curriculum down below.
Sounds great! I question the actual effectiveness of SEL solutions to deliver as promised. The power of positive thinking seminars of the 90s or The Secret book craze comes to mind. Additionally, there are other more effective methods to develop executive function skills.
A lot of people are worried about SEL and fighting its implementation, just like the CRT debate started last year. The argument is that SEL is part of a wider effort to permeate critical theory into all aspects of public education. This argument isn't wrong. SEL is a great tool to do this. That said, just as CRT can be easily spotted when it's used. SEL is easy to spot when it shifts from encouraging positive mindsets to indoctrination.
There are important criticisms of SEL and the adoption of SEL in Walker County. Mine is not a repetition of what everyone else has said. Rather, I am concerned about the use of digital platforms that are not owned by the school system, but are used by staff, students, and parents and which will house psychological, emotional and mental data about students. Such extremely sensitive data will be trusted to be safeguarded by the company. There is no legal requirement -yet - for them to report any compromises or breaches in their systems. There's no clear answer in the public documents provided by the company or district on much surrounding these concerns. Who owns the data? How can the district, the company, or third parties use the data? Earlier this year a multibillion-dollar private equity fund acquired a large stake in the SEL company. Will the equity fund have access to the data? Will other companies owned by the fund have access to the data as well? Clear answers are needed and parents should have an opt out option made plainly available to them. .
If there is a glaring need for social and emotional intervention, then I propose a radical solution: embrace innovation and lower property taxes. This will allow taxpayers and parents to spend more time with their children and less time slaving away to ensure the crown is paid. A reduced tax bill might make it possible for some children to take a spring break or summer trip with their parents that they might not have been able to afford previously. It is possible that the student's emotional state will improve if they have more time with those who are most capable of assessing and affecting their emotional and social well-being.
Additionally, why would anyone think teachers in Walker County Schools would be able to implement social and emotional learning effectively if they were already overburdened with bureaucracy? Besides that, how effective will implementation be when we are implementing in schools that don't even teach the most basic skills (reading) to students?
How could the stimulus money have been spent better? Schools could have benefited from new literacy strategies such as THIS and professional development for teachers who want to adopt these strategies:
Below are some interesting things I found related to Walker County's SEL solution. The videos on the last slide of the first link are particularly entertaining. Google dorks will lead anyone interested to more.