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 support stakeholders, the Region 9 Comprehensive Center (R9CC) worked with districts in Illinois and Iowa to improve the implementation of SEL practices that promote positive learning conditions for students through a structured professional learning experience for rural educators. Throughout 2020–21, R9CC convened 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 worked 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 identified a problem of practice, tested strategies, and learned from each other’s experience. In addition, R9CC supported participants in applying evidence-based tools and strategies for district or school SEL implementation and monitoring of identified goals. Through the community of practice, R9CC assisted districts in Iowa and Illinois to implement, monitor, and improve SEL supports for students.