As soon as the chime rings, kindergarteners in Ms. Martinez’s class at Dan D. Rogers Elementary School close their eyes and take a long, deep breath.
The deep breathing exercises are part of the school’s focus on social and emotional learning (SEL), a growing priority across Dallas ISD. And for Dan D. Rogers Elementary Principal Lisa Lovato, the benefits are clear: students learn better when they feel better.
“Focusing on social and emotional learning helps us develop the whole child,” Lovato said. “And by focusing on the whole child, we are setting our students up for success.”
Dallas ISD’s Psychological and Social Services has provided training on SEL instructional practices for several years to early elementary teachers and classrooms upon request. Also, through the efforts of the Health & Physical Education Department, all campuses have a Wellness Champion who provides support for SEL implementation. School counselors have also been teaching SEL guidance lessons provided by the Counseling Department.
Dan D. Rogers Elementary, which is a personalized learning school under the district’s Public School Choice initiative, is one of a few district schools that have implemented SEL practices campuswide. In addition to techniques that help students such as deep breathing to regulate one’s emotions and/or show self-control, older students at the school are paired at random with other students to talk with each other about how they are doing in an effort to develop Social Awareness skills. The school is also connecting 15 SEL instructional lessons that model social skills and habits of mind throughout the year.
“School has just started, and we are already seeing some great successes with our social and emotional learning practices,” Dan D. Rogers Elementary Counselor Jeanne Juneau said.
Trustees last year adopted a policy requiring all Dallas ISD schools to implement SEL districtwide by 2025. Dallas ISD’s Teaching & Learning Department, Student Services Department, and Big Thought have jointly applied for a Wallace Foundation SEL planning grant to pilot systemic SEL implementation at five schools over the next nine months, during the school day and after school. If awarded, the district will potentially qualify to apply for a multi-year, multi-million dollar grant to support the SEL implementation phase-in plan.
If the district receives the grant—it will find out at the end of September—the pilot program will provide valuable data on how the district can successfully implement SEL across all schools by 2025, using a recommended resource for explicit SEL skills instruction and districtwide SEL professional development.
Meanwhile, back over at Dan D. Rogers Elementary, the kindergartners in Mrs. Martinez’s’ class have just finished their 10-second deep breathing technique.
“This is my favorite part of the day,” one of the kindergartners says. “It helps me focus.”