Across my 28 years as a superintendent, I’ve had the privilege of leading four varied districts, from small exurban to large urban to suburban. In each district, I made social and emotional learning (SEL) a priority because people matter—and school culture matters—and because the way we treat each other affects how well we work and live together. That is as true for the adults in the school as it is for the children we teach.
What I’ve learned from practicing and leading the work in SEL is that teaching a social skills curriculum is not enough. SEL must be applied intentionally, minute by minute and situation by situation, to enable children and adults to see themselves as part of an inclusive community where everyone feels known, respected, and cared about. I’ve also learned that acknowledging and honoring the diversity among us is the glue that seals the sense of community in the classroom or school.
Building capacity among adults for SEL, then, entails much more than offering professional development in teaching social skills. It means living and modeling those skills within the daily culture of the school. From faculty meetings that incorporate SEL strategies, to the respectful voice extended to all staff members, to the courageous conversations that take place to resolve differences, the culture of a school—as displayed through adult interactions—should embody the same elements we are seeking to create and nurture in each classroom. The values of care, respect, and thoughtfulness are the very foundation upon which community is built.
This is not an easy task. Few come to this work with a deep understanding of what it means to be a member of a community, and even fewer have the skills to support growth and manage conflict in ways that foster a sense of community. The U.S. is a highly autonomous, individualistic, and competitive culture, where being a member of a community means being with our family, others similar to us, or individuals who hold comparable opinions and perspectives. Community, particularly an inclusive community, is much more than that. It is experiencing a sense of connection with others, appreciating each individual’s uniqueness, valuing the perspective of those with whom we differ, and understanding that our actions impact the well-being of others.
The first step we can take both as educational leaders and as faculty members is to acknowledge that we are all learners when it comes to building community, and that it will take the collective and reflective efforts of each individual to support the community’s growth and, as a result, our own.
Dr. Sheldon H. Berman is the superintendent of the Andover Public Schools in Massachusetts. He has implemented systemic SEL programs in each of the four districts he has led and authored numerous articles and books on SEL topics. He is a recipient of the 2020 Mary Utne O’Brien Awards.
Andover, Mass. – Dr. Sheldon Berman, superintendent of Andover Public Schools is a recipient of the 2020 Mary Utne O’Brien Award for Excellence in Expanding the Evidence-Based Practice of SEL. The award is presented annually by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) to celebrate lifetime achievement in the field of social-emotional learning (SEL), innovation and excellence in SEL, and strong leadership across the growing field of social-emotional learning.
“It is truly an honor to be one of this year’s recipients of the Mary Utne O’Brien Award for Excellence,” notes Dr. Sheldon Berman, superintendent of Andover Public Schools. “As an educator for 45 years, I’ve witnessed the growing need for our students to feel known, cared about and valued and for our students to experience a sense of community in their classrooms and schools. Our students’ social and emotional wellbeing is integral to their future success. The collaboration of our educators to create identity safe and culturally responsive classrooms benefits our entire society.”
The award honors leadership related to effective implementation of SEL, presented to district, school or organizational leaders who have provided the vision, inspiration, and practical strategies for developing the infrastructure and support for high-quality SEL at the district or school level. Dr. Berman also received a financial award as a recipient, which he has donated to the Andover Coalition for Education (ACE).
Over a 28-year career as a superintendent, Dr. Berman implemented systemic SEL programs in each of the four districts he has led. He has also provided national leadership in multiple organizations that champion SEL and authored numerous articles and books on SEL topics. He was a member of the Council of Distinguished Educators of the National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development and served as the primary author of the Commission’s report on SEAD practice.
“Dr. Berman knows that students’ social and emotional learning can’t be separated from their academic success,” said Jeffrey C. Riley, Massachusetts commissioner of elementary and secondary education. “I congratulate Dr. Berman on being the recipient of the Utne O’Brien Award for Excellence and appreciate his determination to make instruction engaging and accessible for all students and to ensure that all students are supported.”
“Our students have benefited greatly from the Social Emotional Learning initiatives we have implemented within the district over the past few years,” adds Andover School Committee Chairperson Shannon Scully. “The community values the hard work of Dr. Berman and our educators; fostering our students’ emotional growth sets them on a path for a successful future.”
“It is wonderful to see CASEL recognize Shelley with this award. I am proud to be part of a district under his leadership that recognizes the importance of social-emotional growth,” adds Pamela Lathrop, principal of High Plain Elementary School in Andover. “While Shelley is a superintendent who sets goals for rigorous curriculum, innovation and progress monitoring, he understands the way to achieve those goals is by first laying out a strong foundation in SEL development. Along with our school community, Shelley has created a shared mission to collaborate to create safe, caring and culturally responsive classrooms and schools, and partner with families and the community to support students’ academic growth and their social, physical and emotional wellbeing.”
“During his long tenure as a Superintendent of Schools in Massachusetts, Shelley has been a leader in his inclusion of SEL practices in the school districts in which he has served,” says Tom Scott, executive director of Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents (M.A.S.S.). “Moreover, Shelley has been a significant resource for his colleagues, sharing research and best practices which many of our schools have incorporated into their program. It is hard to imagine another school leader who has done more in supporting the inclusion of SEL into school curriculum than Shelley. He is most deserving of this award.”
Dr. Berman was nominated for the Utne O’Brien Award by Joan Cole Duffell, a 2018 Utne O’Brien Award recipient and a colleague for 35 years.
“Shelley’s contributions to SEL practice span a wide range of activities, from organizational leadership to school district implementation, to the authorship of multiple books and articles,” notes Ms. Cole Duffell. “His 45-year career in education is notable for its continuing commitment to SEL, from his early days as a classroom teacher to his involvement with non-profit organizations through his leadership of four school districts, all ranging widely in terms of size, demographics and unique challenges. Throughout the years, Shelley has remained steadfast in his vision: this work is not just about building better students, but better human beings.”
Dr. Berman will officially receive his award from CASEL on November 10, 2020. He has also received the 2003 Massachusetts Superintendent of the Year Award, the 2011 Sanford McDonnell Award for Lifetime Achievement in Character Education, and recognition in 2011 by the American Association of School Administrators as one of ten courageous superintendents.
CHICAGO, IL – To recognize outstanding achievements in the field of social and emotional learning (SEL), the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has selected two recipients of the Mary Utne O’Brien Awards for Excellence in Expanding the Evidence-Based Practice of SEL and two recipients of the Joseph E. Zins Awards for Social and Emotional Learning Action Research. To celebrate innovation and excellence in SEL and to support strong leadership across the growing field, CASEL is honoring Byron Sanders (Big Thought) and Dr. Sheldon Berman (Andover Public Schools) for the 2020 Utne O’Brien Awards for Practice, as well as Laura Hamilton Ph.D (ETS) and Clark McKown, Ph.D (xSEL Labs) for the 2020 Zins Awards for Research.
“Joe Zins and Mary Utne O’Brien helped to establish the field of SEL and did groundbreaking, collaborative work to advance SEL research, practice, and policy. These awards were named in their honor to recognize today’s leaders who carry on the legacy of impactful action research and SEL implementation to positively change the lives of students across the world,” said CASEL Co-Founder and Chief Knowledge Officer, Dr. Roger P. Weissberg. “This year’s recipients are all leading innovative, inspirational work that helps support the social and emotional development of all young people.”
Mary Utne O’Brien Awards for Excellence in Expanding the Evidence-Based Practice of SEL
This award honors leadership related to effective implementation of SEL, presented to district or school leaders who have provided the vision, inspiration, and practical strategies for developing the infrastructure and support for high-quality SEL at the district or school level. Learn more about this year’s recipients:
Dr. Sheldon H. Berman is currently the superintendent of the Andover Public Schools in Massachusetts. Over a 28-year career as a superintendent, he implemented systemic SEL programs in each of the four districts he has led. Dr. Berman has also provided national leadership in multiple organizations that champion SEL and authored numerous articles and books on SEL topics. He was a member of the Council of Distinguished Educators of the National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development and served as the primary author of the Commission’s report on SEAD practice.
“It is truly an honor to be one of this year’s recipients of the Mary Utne O’Brien Award for Excellence,” notes Dr. Berman. “As a superintendent for 28 years, I’ve witnessed the growing need for our students to feel known, cared about and valued and for our students to experience a sense of community in their classrooms and schools. Our students’ social and emotional wellbeing is integral to their future success. The collaboration of our educators to create identity safe and culturally responsive classrooms benefits our entire society.”
Byron Sanders is the President and CEO of Big Thought, as well as a committed advocate for education, economic development, and creating equitable communities throughout Dallas, Texas. Sanders explores innovative ways to narrow the opportunity gap for children by connecting people and organizations to prepare young people in under-resourced communities for tomorrow’s creative economy through quality in-school, after-school and community-partnership experiences.
“Social and emotional learning is power. Every child is born with innate greatness – the capacity to live their truest, most authentic life. Social-emotional skills open the door for youth to first recognize that greatness within themselves, then live with, work with, love with their community. In a very real sense, I believe our ability to bring social and emotional learning to life is the foundation to manifesting a just, equitable, and thriving world,” said Sanders. On November 17, CASEL will host a free webinar with the two recipients on their areas of focus: adult SEL, including how teachers can build capacity and administrators can support, and aligning SEL across the school day and afterschool, including trauma-to-healing practices.
Joseph E. Zins Awards for Social and Emotional Learning Action Research
This award honors research in the field of SEL, presented to research leaders who have advanced SEL in schools and school districts in important and meaningful ways. Learn more about this year’s recipients:
Laura Hamilton Ph.D. is General Manager of Research Centers at ETS, overseeing research centers that focus on a number of cross-cutting domains to help inform decision-making and advance the science and practice of assessment and learning. Hamilton’s own research has focused on producing evidence-based guidance to inform K-12 education policy and practice, particularly in the areas of social, emotional, and civic learning. Hamilton previously served as senior behavioral scientist and distinguished chair in learning and assessment at RAND.
“The opportunities I’ve had to collaborate with CASEL have significantly influenced my work and have been an important source of professional learning, so I’m truly honored to receive this award. I’m also grateful to the many other scholars and practitioners with whom I’ve had the privilege of collaborating. All of them made my work better, and I look forward to continued collaborations toward the shared, urgent goal of ensuring equitable access to high-quality SEL,” said Hamilton.
Clark McKown, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Behavioral Sciences at Rush University Medical Center (RUMC) and founder and President of xSEL Labs, whose mission is to improve student outcomes by helping educators understand children’s social-emotional strengths and needs. McKown is passionate about creating usable, feasible, and scientifically sound tools that help educators and their students.
“I’m honored to receive the Zins award. I hope this will help shine a light not just on my work, but on the valuable contribution of assessment in supporting consistent and high-quality SEL practices,” said McKown.
On November 18, CASEL will host a second free webinar with the two recipients on their areas of focus: the connection between how teachers are promoting SEL and students’ civic learning and the role of SEL assessment in supporting consistent and high-quality practice.
—— CASEL is the nonprofit that founded the field of SEL. Today, it collaborates with leading experts and districts, schools, and states nationwide to drive research, guide practice, and inform policy.
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