How I Know: Austin ISD Focuses on Social Emotional Learning

Senior teacher helping elementary school pupils using tablet

“Wise feedback is delivered with love, clarity and a belief that the student’s performance will improve.” –  Dr. Lisa Goodnow, Associate Superintendent of Academics and SEL in Austin ISD

Learning science research, such as that articulated in Turnaround for Children’s recently released report Key Findings and Implications of the Science of Learning and Development, underscores that most human development is rooted in relationships.

Applying that finding on a daily basis, the Austin ISD team emphasizes the importance of relationships as a common thread that helps the district integrate efforts around two of their key focus areas: formative assessment practice and Social Emotional Learning (SEL).

AISD is part of a three district collaborative project: How I Know: Designing Meaningful Formative Assessment Practice. #HowIKnow was created in an effort to improve and impact formative assessment practice for teachers and students. Even prior to joining the project, AISD had been emphasizing the connections between formative assessment and Social Emotional Learning, and they are now advancing these ideas – – and their formative assessment practice – – even further through a focused professional development process.

Describing the role of relationships within formative assessment, Dr. Lisa Goodnow, Associate Superintendent of Academics and SEL in Austin ISD, asserts that “A prerequisite for formative assessment is a classroom culture of trust and respect. Building on learning science (including the work of David Yeager from UT Austin), we are intent on ensuring that our teachers build relationships and deliver feedback wisely.”

It is clear that SEL skills are important to formative assessment practice. Austin has dedicated significant energy to SEL development, with district leaders participating in a fellowship program and also focusing on the development of their own SEL wheel (shared below). Further strengthening Austin’s commitment is the fact that SEL contributes directly to academic learning. The purposes of SEL in AISD is, in short, to:

“Enable students to develop in safe, inclusive, culturally responsive, academically engaging, and equitable learning environments that cultivate self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Development of these five SEL competencies will also contribute to students’ self-identity, agency, cultural consciousness, and academic tenacity.“

Further, with the goal of formative assessment practice to advance and inform learning processes, AISD has also connected design thinking processes. Austin ISD established an Innovation Design team and charged the group with developing an assessment philosophy that will inform how the district can align practices to support student engagement, teachers as designers, and the work with formative assessment.

How I Know in Austin

The Austin Independent School District (Texas) serves a city that is known for being a hub of ideas and innovation, and that tops the nation’s rankings of the best communities to live in. Austin ISD educates approximately 83,000 students and embraces 130 diverse school communities in one of the fastest-growing, ever-changing metroplexes in the country.

According to Associate Superintendent Dr. Lisa Goodnow, “In Austin ISD, we are reinventing the urban education experience by driving innovation in teaching and learning. We are shifting practices to support our goal for all teachers to become designers of engaging, student-centric teaching and learning that embeds formative assessment practice at the core of instruction.”

AISD is part of a three district collaborative project: How I Know: Designing Meaningful Formative Assessment Practice. #HowIKnow was created in an effort to improve and impact formative assessment practice for teachers and students in three pilot districts (Dallas Independent School District, Austin Independent School District and Tulsa Public Schools).

Through the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation sponsored initiative, these districts will identify, scale and share successful approaches for designing formative assessment practice in classrooms. Their learning and strategies will be shared through the How I Know Website.

“With the help of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and How I Know Project, we are bringing the joy of learning and the professionalism of teaching back to Austin classrooms,” says Associate Supt. Dr. Lisa Goodnow. She continues,  “Austin embraces the charge to empower our teachers and build teachers’ capacity to design highly engaging lessons embedded with meaningful formative assessment practices.  Students own their learning when lessons are student centered and student powered.”

Schools involved in the How I Know initiative include: Crockett High School, Bailey Middle School, Barrington Elementary and Langford Elementary.

Austin’s Path Forward for Formative

There are numerous goals and targets set by the Austin team. Perhaps most important are the goals specific to professional learning practice.

As Dell Foundation project lead Cheryl Niehaus points out in a recent blog, there is a learning progression for teachers regarding the ten dimensions of formative assessment. The three PD focus areas for Austin align with the three formative assessment dimensions that are foundational to the entire practice:

  1. Learning Goals,
  2. Criteria for Success, and
  3. Eliciting Evidence of Student Learning

With the support of a professional development coach from WestEd, AISD will continue to develop skills along these dimensions.

In addition to the professional learning goals, AISD has identified the following goals for growth during the How I Know Initiative.

  • Teachers will design lessons that elicit evidence of student learning/progress toward learning goal and success criteria. To that end, teachers will engage in an online learning course that incorporates formative assessment practices.
  • Teachers will understand Criteria for Success relative to creating learning goals. Teachers will engage in an online learning course that incorporates formative assessment practices.
  • Administrators will practice utilizing, recognizing, and applying the FARROP when observing pilot teacher. WestEd coach will come for a 1:1 half day coaching session focused on working with principals to deepen their knowledge of the FARROP and their ability to make clear observation and give feedback to their teachers.
  • Educate district level staff to develop a common language and understanding of formative assessment success criteria. Professional learning for district level staff will be offered in Summer 2018 with several sessions focused on the definition of formative assessment and engaging with the FARROP.
  • Align Professional learning to formative assessment practices/needs. All district professional learning providers, both from within the organization, integrate formative assessment practices into their sessions.

Lisa and her team believe that a foundation of rigorous focus on relationships, SEL, and formative assessment practice will not only improve learning but will also encourage teachers to infuse joy into the classroom experience. Lisa emphasizes, “In Austin, All Means All. All students deserve the opportunity to develop their unique gifts and talents and all teachers deserve the opportunity to bring their creativity and joy to the learning experience.”

For more, see:

This post is a part of a series focused on the “How I Know: Designing Meaningful Formative Assessment” initiative sponsored by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. See the How I Know website and join the conversation on Twitter using #HowIKnow or #FormativeAssessment.

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