Westchester Words: Education, Ed-Tech, and Publishing

Why Should SEL Concepts be Incorporated into Learning Materials?

July 22, 2021 Meg Overman Season 1 Episode 19
Westchester Words: Education, Ed-Tech, and Publishing
Why Should SEL Concepts be Incorporated into Learning Materials?
Show Notes Transcript

Meg Overman, Senior Supervising Editor for Literacy and SEL at  Westchester Education Services explains why using SEL experts is key to developing quality content effectively. and that now is the time to incorporate social-emotional learning into core content at every grade level.

Nicole Tomassi:

Welcome to Westchester Words, Education, Ed-Tech and Publishing. I'm Nicole Tomassi, and in this episode, I'll be talking with Meg Overman, Senior Supervising Editor of Literacy and Social Emotional Learning for Westchester Education Services about why the concepts of social emotional learning are an essential component for classroom materials in all core subject areas. Meg, welcome to Westchester Words.

Meg Overman:

Thanks for having me, Nicole,

Nicole Tomassi:

Glad to have you here today. Let's begin by having you share with our listeners a little bit about your professional education experience.

Meg Overman:

Sounds good . My undergraduate degrees are in English and Sociology, Criminology. Um, my Master's is in English literature. During college. I spent time in AmeriCorps and that's where my first experience with teaching came from. I worked with incarcerated youth at a rehabilitation based facility. One of the big parts of that facility's focus was to keep the children on track academically. Um, the ages ranged from eight to 19, so it was really an interesting mix. After college, I taught writing and literature classes at local community colleges and started freelancing in this industry. So I was always drawn to students who struggled in some way, whether it was academically or in the social emotional realm. And I think that's what drew me to SEL overall.

Nicole Tomassi:

And from what I've read, social emotional learning concepts started to gain traction in around the late 1990s. And now it's become a bit more commonplace in schools, although it's not across the board in all schools. Can you walk us through the evolution of social-emotional learning?

Meg Overman:

Sure. So CASEL, that's the Collaborative for Academic Social and Emotional Learning formed in 1994. That organization brought together people who found school programming as it was then inadequate. It was a group of educators, researchers, and other child advocates who saw a problem and had the experience, research and know how to work toward a solution. For a while, the field was relatively unknown on a broader scale like districts and schools and just parents in general , um. , Efforts and knowledge were more isolated at that point. In 2010, there was a push to see SEL implemented at a district level. A couple of years later, CASEL released their guide to effective implementation, but it wasn't really until about 2015, that SEL in districts really started to pick up steam. So that's when I saw a major uptick of SEL in textbooks, which has gained pretty constant momentum. Ever since

Nicole Tomassi:

Now, you just recently completed a program that was provided through Rutgers University about social- emotional learning. Why was it important for you to participate in this course?

Meg Overman:

I felt that it was important because when it comes down to it,vendors like Westchester create and revise a lot of texts that teachers and students read and use. So that's a huge responsibility. I was finding that in some of the published materials coming to us for revision, the SEL components felt empty and underplanned. And I was hearing the same from teachers and others who had experience with SEL. So it was the sort of stuff that teachers would skim over and think this is kind of useless, I'll go to Pinterest. Um, the more I looked into it, the more I realized I couldn't adequately help fix those problems that our clients were having if I didn't have a deeper understanding of SEL myself. So my first step was to read what CASEL offers on their website, which is a lot, like years of reading. And then my second step was to seek formal education from certified experts .

Nicole Tomassi:

And, and I will , um, let our listeners know that on our website, we will provide a link to the CASEL website in case you are interested in checking that information out and getting a better understanding of SEL. So Meg, you have worked on a number of SEL programs as you alluded to, and some of them were in developing an interactive experience for core subjects, such as math and literacy. Why is it important that SEL is part of core subject learning?

Meg Overman:

Well, the point of SEL is that it teaches the whole child it's it is a subject all on its own, like learning what emotions are, how to recognize and deal with them, how to use that learning to make responsible decisions and create strong social bonds. But it's also something that can and should be practiced during social interactions, and school is really just a series of social interactions, so it's the perfect place. Any subject can have SEL components , uh , guiding students to consider each other's perspectives and learn in new ways. So SEL is really a school culture shift and it can't be taught in isolation. So I would say it almost has to be part of core subject learning if it's going to be effective .

Nicole Tomassi:

And I'm going to throw a bit of a curve ball question here for you on this. I'm just, you know, as I'm hearing your answer, I'm also wondering, you know, especially now with parents so much more , um, involved in their student's learning as a result of, you know , the pandemic and, you know, having to learn remotely and that sort of thing, is this also something that parents can be doing with their children in their interactions at home?

Meg Overman:

Absolutely. And in fact, that is the major component of CASEL's philosophy. Um, parent involvement is something that they're pushing , uh, they're, they're in the process of doing updates now. I think the guidance on parent interaction is evolving and it's telling districts, you know, it's, it's great to do this at school. It's great to create a community and really build a whole space that students can practice this. But in reality, if they go home and nothing travels with them, that's not quite enough. So there's a lot to do with sending parents literature on SEL and asking them to get involved in different ways.

Nicole Tomassi:

Okay. That really helps. Thank you for, thank you for taking that on because I know you probably weren't expecting that question. Um, Meg, you had participated in the Ed Week summit that we co-sponsored in June and you were on a panel, but you also , uh, you know, participated , um, I guess I don't want to say, passively, but you were like an active listener in many of the sessions where participants at the school district level were discussing their SEL needs and their plans. What takeaways did you get from those sessions?

Meg Overman:

Um, the biggest was that the funding for SEL is finally there as is the desire to find strong programming that ties in with schools current ongoing efforts and initiatives. But during our SEL panel, one teacher pointed out an issue I already kind of mentioned, but a lot of the SEL in previous textbooks has been shallow and not much like use. I mean, they look at it and it's like, well, it says stuff about self-awareness, but how does this really help us teach kids? So right now there's a huge opportunity. The market wants SEL, but it also has to be done right by people who know what they're doing.

Nicole Tomassi:

And as we talked about earlier the past year and a half with the pandemic has only highlighted why SEL should be a component of education content as opposed to an add-on or something in the margins that the teachers look at and be like, yeah, I really can't do much with this. So as some parents and schools are pushing for accelerated learning or high dosage tutoring and other kinds of programs that focus more on helping students access learning opportunities that were delayed from the pandemic, why should education publishers continue to develop content that includes SEL within the materials rather than strictly academic content?

Meg Overman:

I mean, from a business standpoint, because schools are going to be looking for it. I, I mean, if you have the choice between an English textbook that is just strictly academic and one that includes meaningful SEL , I think the SEL book is a no brainer , but also because SEL isn't separate from academic growth. I know a lot of people are worried about a backslide during the pandemic, but there are studies that show how SEL actually helps improve academic outcomes. So I think parents and schools are all becoming aware of that. SEL like tutoring can give students an academic edge and that's always going to be something people want.

Nicole Tomassi:

So how can a vendor such as Westchester help an education publisher and ed tech company ensure that not only do they have SEL, but that it's presented in a way that can be meaningful for teachers and students?

Meg Overman:

I mean, it can start at the planning stage. We've helped concept out different programs where we start with the standards from CASEL or from states, depending on the client's needs, and really just matching those to what will go into the instruction rather than just kind of, willy-nilly throwing things at the page. Um, but also, you know, if clients have a good blueprint, one thing we bring is that we make sure our writers and editors have the SEL knowledge and background to look at something and say, oh, this is meaningful. This is appropriate for this age group. You know, we have a lot of former teachers who write this stuff and it's, it's that kind of care and making sure that the right people are on the project that is necessary.

Nicole Tomassi:

Great. So Meg, before we wrap up our conversation here, are there any other thoughts or ideas you would like to share with the listeners about social, emotional learning?

Meg Overman:

I would just say that adding SCL to academic materials might seem complicated and it may be difficult to figure out exactly where to start, but it's definitely worth it and it's time for it right now. So I mean, vendors like Westchester are available to help plan the programming from the ground up. Um, it's important work and I'm excited to see how the next few years in the field unfold.

Nicole Tomassi:

Meg, I want to thank you for joining me today to talk about why social emotional learning is such an essential part of a whole child centered learning experience.

Meg Overman:

Thanks for having me Nicole.

Nicole Tomassi:

To learn more about how Meg and the rest of the subject matter experts here at Westchester Education Services can work with you to achieve your product development goals, please complete the contact us form on the homepage of the Westchester Education Services website and we'll be in touch with you. I want to thank you for listening to this episode of Westchester Words. You can follow us on your favorite streaming platform to be notified about new episodes as they become available and to listen to previous episodes, you can also find all of the episodes plus additional content that's been shared by some of our guests on the podcast page of our website Westchester Education Services.com. We also love hearing from our listeners. So please send us an [email protected]@westchesteredsvcs.com to share your thoughts or comments about today's discussion and let us know what content you'd like to hear Westchester cover in future episodes. I hope you'll join us for the next episode of Westchester Words. When I'll be speaking with Debbie Allen, who is the content director for career and technical education here at Westchester Education Services until then stay safe, be well and stay tuned.