Video: see how one East Dallas elementary school embraced the unconventional as part of its social-emotional learning program

The three Rs have been synonymous with education for centuries. But schools nationwide are shifting away from an academics-only approach, and Dallas ISD is no exception.

At East Dallas’ Dan D. Rogers Elementary School, habits of mind, core breathing and social skills have joined the likes of reading, writing and arithmetic as part of its daily curriculum. The personalized learning school is the first in Dallas ISD to implement social-emotional learning (SEL) across every grade level.

The education trend emphasizes educating the “whole child,” which means the development of coping skills, emotional awareness and healthy relationships are integrated into students’ daily lessons. Its popularity is rising across the country, along with questions on how best to evaluate its effectiveness. Earlier this month, the Aspen Institute established the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development to research nontraditional academics, including SEL and character education.

Although Dan D. Rogers is the first to apply SEL schoolwide, a handful of other Dallas ISD schools already have started integrating the approach into their day-to-day activities.

SEL will become a district norm within a decade, too. In January, the Dallas ISD Board of Education voted to approve the districtwide implementation of SEL curriculum that addresses “the categories of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making” by 2025.

For Dan D. Rogers Principal Lisa Lovato, introducing SEL to students at a young age has become a necessity. Teaching students to multiply and divide doesn’t matter, she says, if students can’t pay attention because of problems they face at home.

“At the end of the day, it’s so students can communicate in a healthy manner and are able to deal with their emotions in a healthy way,” she says.

Dan D. Rogers school counselor Jeanne Juneau collaborated with teachers and members of the district’s psychological and social services department to merge SEL with the school’s personalized learning philosophy.

“As a counselor, I needed a plan as unique as our school,” Juneau says.

They developed Our Mind Time, a 16-week program that includes weekly lessons ranging from self-awareness to functions of the brain.

“In every grade level, every aspect of the curriculum includes social skills, self-management skills and habits of mind,” Juneau says.

Because habits of mind encompass abstract topics, such as problem solving and self-awareness, the lessons include concrete examples each week, Juneau says. So if students are learning what it means to be mindful, they may compare a mindful person, who is willing to learn new things, to an unmindful person, who might judge someone based on their appearance.

Every day, students practice core breathing — or “pretzel and breathe”— when teachers hit a chime. Students who become frustrated and can’t articulate their feelings shake glitter-filled water bottles and wait until the glitter settles to talk about what upset them.

Juneau hopes SEL lowers the number of bullying incidents and discipline referrals, although she is quick to note the school already has a low number of behavior and discipline-related issues.  By the time these students reach high school, being self-aware and considerate of others will just be habit, if the program is effective.

The success of SEL only can be measured with time. But when Juneau hears students reciting parts of the brain in the hallway or talking about the weekly lesson, she believes Dan D. Rogers is on the right track.

“If it’s capturing kids’ attention and it’s working, I can’t argue with that,” she says.


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