Here at iMPACTFUL, we nominate one SEL Champion each month as a way to highlight the amazing individuals doing great work in the social emotional learning world! Our February SEL Champion is Jennifer Ravenwood, a District SEL Coordinator working in a public charter district in Arizona. Jennifer has been working as a counselor since 2002.
As a District SEL Coordinator, Jennifer’s role encompasses many different responsibilities. Aside from directly teaching students about social emotional learning in the classroom, she also oversees the need for SEL in her district. This includes assisting schools decide how they would like to incorporate SEL in their classrooms, help districts define suicide prevention and other such wording, consult individuals on district-wide issues that relate to SEL + so much more. It’s clear that Jennifer really does everything and anything that touches SEL, not just for students, but community wide.
In her district, there are about 1600 to 1700 kids, making it difficult to directly interact with each and every student on a daily or even weekly basis. To ensure teachers, students, parents and administrators don’t feel alone in implementing and learning SEL in school, Jennifer has worked hard to create “avenues” that provide help and support when she can’t directly be there. One of her avenues involves an online technology company called Canvas. On this platform, Jennifer provides videos and tip sheets for everyone to use that discuss important topics, and even address common problems faced by students and teachers. Teachers can look at these videos and then use them or the tips in their classrooms.
Another avenue is through providing early college classes for high school students. Studies show that providing access to college level classes at a young age, increases the likelihood of continued education, especially for lower income families. Through this offering, students can get excited about their future, build upon their education, and save money.
Jennifer’s situation is unique. She lives in the district she works in, she’s substituted as a teacher in this district, and her children go to schools within this district. Because of this knowledge, Jennifer has been exposed to the needs of the students and community for a long time and actually proposed her role as a District SEL Coordinator to the district directly after noticing the lack of social emotional learning in that community. Through conversations with students, her children, and by watching teachers within the district schools, Jennifer was able to understand the needs of the community and provide SEL curriculum to try and mediate some of the issues she was seeing first and second hand.
Arizona recently passed laws making it illegal for schools to teach SEL without getting parents consent first. This has been a challenge for Jennifer since parents unfortunately have negative experiences with SEL from what’s been done in the past. This means that another part of Jennifer’s job is building trust with parents, with teachers and with students to try and improve the relationship people have with SEL so that everyone is more eager to bring it into the classroom. But as we know, SEL is an important topic to discuss in the classroom. It’s preventative work, meaning teachers, counselors and parents (in time) can start focusing on the future instead of trying to put out little fires all the time.
The impact of social emotional learning is felt. An example from Jennifer’s community comes from a high school classroom who was learning about each other’s stories as an SEL activity. Students were encouraged to share their peer’s stories with the class. One student looked to their right and asked his partner if he could share her story or if it was too private.
A moment like this might seem small, but it’s huge growth. It not only shows emotion, empathy, understanding, respect, interest, kindness, understanding, but it shows that the SEL exercises and activities that the kids are participating in are working.
Jennifer says that the students have achieved so much and that her willingness and theirs is what keeps everything moving forward. Jennifer spends a lot of time listening. She wants every student to be excited for what their brain and body can do. We are all capable of doing so much more than we even know is possible.
That’s all for now! If you have someone who you think is an SEL Champion, consider nominating them! We will see you next time!