Education stakeholders in Illinois and Iowa have shared that the social and emotional needs of students and teachers is a top concern. Rural teachers in particular may lack the support systems available to their urban and suburban counterparts. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has created additional challenges for implementing social and emotional learning (SEL) practices while also increasing the need for hybrid SEL practices (such as in-person and remote support) to be prioritized. Research shows that effective SEL programs promote improved student social and emotional skills, attitudes, behaviors, and academic performance. Foundationally, educators must be provided with professional learning and capacity-building opportunities to broaden their understanding and application of SEL standards, practices, and strategies.
To fill this need, the Region 9 Comprehensive Center (R9CC) is working with districts in Illinois and Iowa to support the implementation of SEL practices that promote positive learning conditions for students through a structured professional learning experience for rural educators. In 2020–21, R9CC is convening a community of practice focused on instructional specialists working in rural districts that support schools or teachers in structuring learning opportunities that incorporate SEL standards across content areas. R9CC is working with participants to build their understanding of effective strategies that promote positive learning conditions and the implementation of social and emotional strategies that promote the development of skills and competencies in youth and adults. Using methods drawn from improvement science, participants will identify a problem of practice, test strategies, and learn from each other’s experience. In addition, R9CC is supporting participants in applying evidence-based tools and strategies that support district or school SEL implementation and monitoring of identified goals. As a result of support from R9CC, district staff will develop their capacity to help schools implement, monitor, and improve SEL supports for students.