(The author of this blog post, Dr. Jacqueline Ancess, is the co-director of the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching (NCREST) at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her research has focused on urban school reform, small schools, performance assessment, and accountability. During Jackie’s more than 20 years in the New York City school system, she taught English in the South Bronx, became founding director of Manhattan East, a small junior high school in District 4, and was Director of Option Schools in Districts 2 and 3, where she was responsible for big school restructuring and small schools development. Her efforts at Manhattan East were awarded with the New York Alliance for the Arts Schools & Culture Award.)

The Institute for Student Achievement (ISA)’s four-year old–program to integrate students’ social and emotional development into the academic core and school culture in secondary schools was born out of a comprehensive research review by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research (CCSR) called Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners: The Role of Noncognitive Factors in Shaping School Performance (2012). One of the critical findings from this report was that the most powerful way to increase student achievement was to integrate social emotional learning (SEL) into the academic content course work students were learning while they were in the process of learning. In other words, SEL could have the strongest impact on achievement when addressed in the context of content-area learning rather than out of that context in separate programs. The CCSR report underscored the fact that despite this knowledge, the integration of SEL into the academic core and school culture was rare.

With a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, ISA embarked on an initiative to address that gap. Because the research found that academic mindsets and metacognitive learning strategies could positively impact student achievement, ISA designed a two-pronged initiative:

  1. Create an online library of tools. Teachers in the core academic disciplines can use and integrate these tools into their content–area courses in order to develop their students’ academic mindsets as well as their students’ acquisition and use of metacognitive learning strategies to overcome learning obstacles.
  2. Increase coaching capacity. ISA focuses on developing our coaching capacity to support our partnering school leaders and teachers in using these tools and strategies to integrate SEL into the academic core and school culture. This integration into the school culture confirms that all teachers implement these practices—which in turn supports equity in learning opportunities.

This two-pronged strategy has fostered powerful teacher-coach collaborations that integrate research and knowledge from teaching practice. For example, at one ISA partnering high school, the teacher–coach collaboration developed a metacognitive exit slip strategy to examine the underlying mathematical conceptions of students, all of whom had failed the New York State Regents Examination in Algebra I. Based on the data revealed in the exit slips, the teacher held conferences with students to deepen their understanding of their thinking, facilitated dialogues to correct their misconceptions, and retaught corrected corresponding operations. The result was a 75 percent algebra Regents pass rate. As another example, ISA’s Maze Moments strategy—developed from the practice of another ISA partner teacher and coach collaboration—normalizes the mindset that mistakes are opportunities for learning, rather than shameful events, so that students don’t stay stuck or shut down when they make mistakes.

Research in brain neuroscience and in the science of learning and development supports ISA’s academic integrative approach to SEL. Specifically, brain science finds that learning is social, emotional, and academic; that the brain can change in response to experience; and that the ability to manage stress can impact learning. Implications of brain research and research on the science of learning and development have been consolidated in Linda Darling-Hammond and Channa Cook-Harvey’s Framework for Whole Child Education, which can be found in this Learning Policy Institute report Educating the Whole Child: Improving School Climate to Support Student Success. The Framework features four components schools need to incorporate in order to support student achievement: a positive school climate, productive instructional strategies, social and emotional development, and individual supports.

These four components align with ISA’s own focus on academic mindset and metacognitive learning strategies through our social, emotional, and academic (SEAD) program. In particular, ISA has found that establishing an academic mindset generates a positive classroom and school climate that produces a sense of student belonging, emotional safety in learning, and a can-do perspective. Further, metacognitive strategies are the essence of productive instructional strategies, as they increase students’ control over their learning and achievement—and these strategies are a featured component of both ISA’s SEAD program and of Learning Policy Institute’s Framework.

The Framework’s components surrounding social and emotional development and individualized supports are also evident in ISA’s SEAD program in its emphasis on mindsets as a mechanism for self-regulation and persistence. Additionally, just as the Framework sees individualized supports as means of removing barriers to learning, so does ISA’s SEAD integration in the academic core seek to remove barriers to content achievement.

Through ISA’s SEAD program, ISA continues a tradition of and commitment to research surrounding learning and development to reinforce and renew a commitment to equity for underserved and under-performing students. In addition, this work supports growth in learners from all backgrounds.


Want to learn more about SEAD in action?

(The above photograph is courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.)