by Mitch Lyons
Since its inception in 2011, the Social Emotional Learning Alliance for Massachusetts (SEL4MA) has pursued its mission of bringing social and emotional learning (SEL) awareness and advocacy to Massachusetts and across the nation with stunning success.
SEL4MA is the first grassroots organization in the country that brings the passion and innovation of teachers, administrators, youth development professionals, college professors, mental health providers, and others into the public arena on behalf of children’s social and emotional well-being. SEL4MA has become, through the strength of its members, the leading voice in Massachusetts for making SEL a strategic priority in education and throughout our communities.
Here are just a few of our accomplishments from the past several years:
- SEL4MA success is now being spread to 17 other states spanning the country, through our SEL4US initiative (www.SEL4US.org), with more states continuing to join;
- SEL4MA’s advocacy in 2015 helped change the in-service social and emotional learning indicator for new teachers to the “practice” level by sponsoring legislation filed by Representative Ruth Balser to effectuate that change. This new indicator is included in the 2015 Guidelines for Professional Standards issued by the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education;
- SEL4MA in 2019 joined Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem and Representative Ruth Balser to file legislation that would include social and emotional learning among the licensure and re-licensure prerequisites for educators and administrators. The bill is currently in the House Ways and Means Committee as of this writing.
- SEL4MA Events Committee in 2012 began to hold statewide conferences to offer support to educators, youth development professionals, school-based mental health providers, and others. Since that time, we have expanded to holding 3-4 regional workshops a year across the states, where teams are guided in developing a comprehensive approach to SEL within their communities. To date, SEL4MA has hosted over 15 events across the state;
- SEL4MA in May of 2015 brought a sold-out, all –day SEL conference right to the State House in Boston to educate legislators about SEL and the effect it could have on social issues;
- SEL4MA in 2011 funded a Center for Benefit-Cost Studies in Education, Teachers College, Columbia University study showing that Massachusetts spent 25% of its state budget on the consequences of substance abuse and crime;
- SEL4MA in 2018 was named as a permanent member of the MA legislatively-created Promote-Prevent Commission (www.promoteprevent.com/) which now advises the Executive Branch on how to address the opioid crisis and other social issues and where SEL is the long-term plan;
- SEL4MA in 2018 re-launched its Policy and Advocacy Committee which promotes SEL through legislation and other policy initiatives at the state level. The Policy & Advocacy Committee consists of approximately 40 members who are responsible for setting the organization’s legislative policy agenda and crafting and carrying out the grassroots advocacy strategy to further that agenda.
- SEL4MA in 2011 spawned the Massachusetts Consortium in Social-Emotional Learning in Teacher Education (www.seltedconsortium.com/), a collaborative of teacher colleges and university professors advocating for SEL education in pre-service teacher training. They are working with SEL4MA on past and current SEL legislation.
- SEL4MA in 2017 launched The District SEL Coordinators Job-Alike Group, which allows SEL leaders to to share experiences and resources and problem-solve around shared challenges. The Job-Alike Group has grown quickly , with 4 regional groups (Metrowest, N.Shore/Merrimack Valley, Greater Boston, and Western MA) with 33 active members and plans for a conference among all the regions.
- SEL4MA has developed close working relationships with Massachusetts Association of School Committees, United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, Freedman Center for Child and Family Development at William James College, Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University, Massachusetts Afterschool Alliance, Mass Mentoring Partnership, Rennie Center, Transforming Education, Massachusetts School Psychologists Association, Educators for Excellence, Massachusetts Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators, Engaging Schools, Standing Committee on Professional Education, American Federation of Teachers, MA Chapter of the American Pediatric Society’s Children’s Mental Health Task Force,and Massachusetts School Nurses Association, among many other groups who support social-emotional learning.
- SEL4MA in 2017 initiated a change of mission at Boston Public Schools Athletics Department, over two years with a twenty-five person committee, by changing from the 120-year-old model of a school sports team to a student-centric, SEL-based athletic team structure (www.bostonpublicschools.org/athletics). This was part of a SEL4MA Home and Community Initiative to engage venues outside of the classroom to support SEL.
- SEL4MA in 2017 initiated an SEL in Religious Education Committee, also as part of our Home and Community Initiative. Collaborating with the Jewish Theological Seminary, Hebrew Union College and Reconstructing Judaism, in October 2019, we held the first in the nation, sold-out SEL Conference for Jewish Educators in NYC (www.shalomsesl.org). This work is ongoing with book clubs, webinars, and other work to be determined.
- SEL4MA in 2019, as part of our Home and Community Initiative, created SEL4Newton, (www.SEL4Newton.org), a pilot effort to bring SEL into a local community and the homes of parents by developing relationships with all sectors of Newton (including the Newton Public Schools). At present SEL4Newton, and students at Newton South High School, are creating signs to be put up in schools and around the city, depicting specific SEL skills to practice at home and to create SEL awareness.
- SEL4MA in 2019 launched a Massachusetts SEL Community Highlights series, which serves to amplify the great work being done by leaders in SEL throughout the state. Two features have been published and communication to all members about the SEL Landscape locally and nationally is continuing. (www.sel4ma.org/resources/blog/)