Why SEL Efforts Can’t Stop Now

A Q&A with Melissa Jaggers, President & CEO of Alignment Nashville

I believe that a continued emphasis and focus on effective integration of social-emotional learning is our greatest opportunity for improving school culture and climate. We have made great strides in this work over the past several years, but we can’t stop now,” says Melissa Jaggers. Jaggers is the President & CEO of Alignment Nashville, an organization working to improve the education and health of the Nashville community‘s youth by providing tools that bring the community together for more effective results than individual groups could accomplish alone. Among Alignment Nashville’s many programs is the annual Music City SEL Conference, which this year will be held in June and will feature more than 70 workshops where participants can learn from peers and experts from across the country.

For this Q&A, Jaggers shared her perspectives on SEL with Tamara Fyke, edCircuit’s #SELChat columnist and the author/creator of Love In A Big World. Read on to learn about the difference between school culture and climate, some of the tangible benefits of intentional SEL integration, successful programs, and more.

Tamara Fyke: One thing that stands out about Alignment Nashville is the power of community: The premise that we can achieve greater results together than we could alone. How does your approach help to get the most out of community collaboration?

Melissa Jaggers: The issues facing our community are far too complex for any of us to solve alone. But working together isn’t always easy. It takes time, patience, and a shared vision for our community.

That’s why Alignment Nashville has developed a set of tools that make working together a little bit easier.  It’s our job to bring our community together, using these tools, to find ways to improve literacy, reduce chronic absenteeism, increase college and career readiness, and improve school culture and climate.

TF: How do you define both school culture and climate? What are some of the biggest opportunities you see for improving the culture and climate in schools?

MJ: School culture refers to the shared values and beliefs that guide how the teachers, administrators, and staff work together and interact with students and families. School climate, then, is how this culture impacts students and learning. Like in any organization, culture is foundational to success; schools with healthy cultures provide optimal conditions for student learning.

I believe that a continued emphasis and focus on effective integration of social-emotional learning is our greatest opportunity for improving school culture and climate. We have made great strides in this work over the past several years, but we can’t stop now.

TF: Is there one aspect of social-emotional learning that you believe is too often overlooked or not considered as a standard element of SEL, but should be?

MJ: I believe that too many times, SEL is viewed as an “add-on” as opposed to a crucial element to student success. Colleges and employers often cite SEL-related competencies as their most desired qualities in students and employees, as opposed to academic skills. The skills and competencies that SEL teaches will carry students to success in college, career, and life.

TF: With Alignment Nashville, chronic absenteeism is one of the important issues you work to address. What effect does a strong school culture and climate, built on a foundation of social and emotional learning, have in reducing absenteeism?

MJ: A strong school culture and climate is the single most important factor in ensuring students come to school every day, ready to learn. Students that feel cared for, respected, and appropriately challenged at school are more likely to come to school on a consistent basis. Families and caregivers that feel cared for and respected are also more likely to communicate with school staff when issues arise and find solutions together. Both school staff and community partners play a role in making sure the school culture and climate offers students and families the environment they need to succeed.

TF: Do you have a success story of a school or organization that achieved some great results through working with you? Can you share some highlights of what was achieved?

MJ: The Integration of International Families A-Team is currently piloting an initiative called LEAF – Linking, Educating, and Advancing Families – that has engaged 30+ partners to provide high-quality ESL classes, literacy activities, and more to families. Through these partnerships, participating students have exceeded district averages on standardized tests, and parents/caregivers have improved their English language skills. This A-Team is currently working to expand this initiative to engage more partners to serve families across Nashville!

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This post includes mentions of a partner of MindRocket Media Group the parent company of edCircuit

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