Indianapolis Public Schools hosted its first social and emotional learning workshop for district staff on Saturday, designed in part to help teachers address students with traumatic experiences like food insecurity, physical and sexual abuse, and substance abuse.
An auditorium full of over 100 Indianapolis Public Schools employees, including administrators, teachers, counselors and social workers, were asked if they feel prepared to handle their most at-risk students.
No one raised their hand.
Workshops also covered trauma-informed learning, support for undocumented students and wellness for teachers.
“Our kids are saying, ‘I need your empathy, I need you to be empathetic with me,’” Joe Hendershott, the workshop’s keynote speaker and author of a book about trauma-informed learning, said. “We have to teach our kids, and position them to not be indifferent to one another.”
The district has long-served a population of challenged students. In the 2018-19 school year, 64 percent of IPS’ students received free and reduced lunch, and 19 percent were English Language Learners.
Daniel Webster School 49 Principal Allyson Peterkin brought ten staff members to the workshop. She says after 17 years working in education, a focus on social emotional learning is new but necessary.
“We want to use the newest research that's telling us really what's going on,” Peterkin says. “If we ignore that research, and we just do what we've always done, we're going to get what we always get.”
Social emotional learning is an educational philosophy that helps students manage their emotions, and IPS district leaders have pushed it as a priority. Over 20 district schools have implemented social emotional learning into school policy.
Part of the social emotional learning movement is about reconsidering school discipline and reducing suspensions and expulsions, which research shows often disproportionately affect students of color.
During her session, IPS teacher Abigail Campbell led teachers through exercises to calm students, techniques she uses in her fourth-grade classroom. She asked the two dozen teachers in the room how they can make a better environment for their students.
“Social emotional to me is calming ourselves and communication, and without our kids being able to communicate what's going on, then they just keep it inside,” Campbell says. “And eventually it shows through undesired ways, you know, struggling behavior, interrupting the classroom.”
At the beginning of Campbell’s workshop, everyone in the room wrote down why they are an educator.
“Be someone who helps those who struggle,” Campbell says.
IPS offers weekend workshops during the year, usually focused on curriculum and academics.