SEL in Action Newsletter

Our Voices, Our Stories

This newsletter is written for educators, by educators to share real world stories, questions, ideas and opinions about how to address the social and emotional needs of students and the adults who teach them.

This month, the newsletter features voices of grantees on how they truly and sincerely support their students.

Share your story here! Complete this brief survey if you would like to be featured in a future newsletter. All publications are awarded a $50 gift card.

Thanks for reading!

Resource Center

The SEL in Action community has been collaborating to compile this ever-evolving list of resources. It includes hand-curated resources from former SEL in Action grantees, videos from prior SEL in Action supports and convenings and an archive of the SEL in Action Newsletters. Check it out!

Upcoming Events and Updates

RECLAIM SEL: Centering Community Expertise in SEL Policies, Practices, and Curricula

Join us 6-7:30pm ET on 5/16 for our May Webinar with Dr. Cierra Kaler-Jones and Jaime Koppel

Join Communities for Just Schools Fund on April 28th and May 16th to engage in a participatory learning opportunity to explore the promise and potential of culturally-affirming social-emotional learning when it’s not used as another form of policing. Together, we will trace and connect the origins of schooling in the United States as a tool of conformity and compliance to today’s struggle for liberatory education amid legislative pushback to teaching the truth and SEL.

The first session problematized current SEL definitions that use control and management language. It highlighted concrete examples of culturally-affirming social-emotional learning from the work of organizers, who work at the intersections of gender justice, education justice, and racial justice to ensure physical, intellectual, and emotional safety in their classrooms and communities. The workshop in May will share insights and findings from a two-year Community of Practice, where parent, educator, and youth organizers studied, examined, and analyzed what SEL looks like and feels like for community. With those examples as a guide, the workshop will lead attendees through an interactive process of engaging participatory action research in the classroom as an example of how storytelling in research can be leveraged as a powerful tool for SEL. You do NOT need to have attended the first session in April to register. The SEL in Action team will send the recordings to all registered participants following the webinars.

Virtual SEL in Action Convening June 22-23, 2022

On behalf of NoVo Foundation and Education First, we are excited to invite you to join us at the Virtual SEL in Action Convening June 22-23, 2022.

This is a free event for the SEL in Action Community and all are welcome. Mark your calendars now and look for a registration link in late May and share with your colleagues.

We’ll launch the convening on Wednesday, 6/22, from 7:00-8:30pm ET by featuring the experiences of grantees—you! We’re using this 90-minute session to look back on the last two years of SEL during a pandemic. What have you learned? What will you keep moving forward? What intentions do you have for the future?

If you have any experiences or resources to share related to these questions, we’d love to feature you in this session. Please complete this survey by Friday, 5/6 to express your interest in participating.

On Thursday, 6/23, we will begin with a welcome from 1:00-1:30pm ET, followed by a choice of two main sessions:

  • Storytellers for Change (4 hours with breaks; 1:30-4:30pm ET). In this workshop, we will explore why and how the practice of asset-based storytelling––engaging in story-listening, story-crafting, and story-sharing by intentionally focusing on our values, hopes, and strengths––can reaffirm our sense of self, help us develop resilience and communication skills, and ignite our agency. Workshop participants will learn about three asset-based storytelling frameworks. Throughout the workshop, we will also discuss how to adapt the content for different settings and how we can apply these frameworks to facilitate asset-based storytelling activities with educators and students.

  • Street Data co-author Shane Safir will facilitate a workshop (90 min; 1:30-3:00pm ET) to help educators reimagine what data matter by breaking down street data fundamentals: what it is, how to gather it, and how it can complement other forms of data to guide a school or district’s equity journey. Education First will also host an additional hour from 3:15-4:15pm ET for participants to reconvene and continue exploring ideas or questions with others via a virtual Unconference.

If you have any questions, email Erin Popelka,

Educator Voices

Seondary Military-Connected Students: Meeting Them Where They Are! By Tina Barber and DeeAnn Elder Thomas

It’s Friday at Clemens High School in Schertz, Texas and a group of highly diverse students look forward to Friday, not just because it is the weekend but because the MSTC (Military Student Transition Consultant) will be on campus. Throughout the day, the office will almost always have a military-connected student sitting in the softly lit office talking through the ups and downs of being a teenager and being military-connected.

In between classes, students rearrange their usual route to class to stop in the office. They grab a coffee, tea or snack, but more importantly give a quick update to the MSTC on how they are doing. The smile and the check in is more important than the snack. I know since many full cups and snacks get left behind as they scurry out to their class empty handed.

Oftentimes students will stop in with another student or two in tow. The student will come in and offer the new students a hot beverage or snack, (if you are a Big Bang Theory fan, you understand the power of a warm beverage). The students in tow all have a need. They may be new to campus and trying to find their way or just a hurting teen. The military-connected students understand feeling like you have nowhere to go on campus and are so excited to be the student ‘in the know’. This is their space.

Most of the sea of students that walk past the office have spent many years in these halls. The students in the MSTC office oasis are new and do not have that comfort of knowing the social norms of the school. This is THEIR space. Their safe space.

Each lunch period you will find a diverse group of students, with military culture being the common thread, who come together to talk and help each other out. It is not just about the office space, but also the MSTC who provides the physical space and emotional safe space for these students to come and feel safe and accepted.

One student commented: ‘Our MSTC has helped me in so many ways, whether it be finding someone for me to have lunch with or letting me come in and finding ways to help me on a bad day!’

Another student, who transferred in for their Senior year said, ‘The MSTC has been one of the best influences I could have asked for in my senior year. She has helped me so much with dealing with transfer stress and the stress of senior year compounded with the trauma of moving. I would undoubtedly not be doing as well as I am if I did not have her as a figure in my life.’

The military has a unique culture that is only truly known if you are part of the community. Having someone who understands the many complexities of military life - in addition to normal teen challenges - has increased SEL in this diverse student population and has made a huge impact on our students.

Tina Barber is the Military Student Transition Specialist at Corbett Junior HIgh School and Samuel Clemens High School. She is an educator, wife of a US Army officer and mom to her teen daughter

DeeAnn Elder Thomas is the DoDEA Grant Project Director/ DoDSTEM STEMKAMP Director. She is a former military-child, teacher, teacher trainer and administrator for US Dept of Defense Ed. Activity (DODEA) schools overseas, Mom to two military daughters and grandma to three military grandsons!

Don’t Go Big, Go Home, by Elyse Ward

Go big or go home, right?


What is this “big” we are trying to go to?

Why are we so afraid to go home?

Or rather, stay home to begin with?

Let me clarify, home in this sense is not literal. It’s the space where you feel safe, where you feel protected, where you feel like you belong. It’s something that can exist even within yourself.

Go big or go home has been a mantra of mine ever since I can remember - and yet I never took the time to dig deep and see if that was a truth I actually believed in.

Turns out, I don’t.

I have chosen education as my grown-up job, and it’s one that I never want to give up.

In my tenure as an educator, it has been a repetitive fact that children often strive for unattainable greatness as an adult that, when not achieved, leads to a very negative view of oneself.

The easiest example I can think of? All of the varsity high school football players who get recruited to college with their heads filled with the dreams of getting drafted by the NFL. Having a superstar career that will lead to endorsements, money, and fame.

How many of those incoming college students actually make it to the NFL?

I happened to do some digging and found some numbers. Math is not my thing, but I will work through it here AND get confirmation from my brilliant sister that I am correct in my crunching of said numbers.

According to the NFL Players Association, the chance of a high school football player making it to the pros is about 0.2 percent. This means that for every 100,000 high school seniors who play football every year, only 215 will make it to the NFL.

Of that staggering 100,000 high school players, only 9,000 even make it to the college-level ball.

To put this into perspective, the odds of being born with Job Syndrome are about the same as being drafted by the NFL.

Do you know what Job Syndrome (pronounced like the Biblical name) is?

No, I did not make it up.

Job Syndrome (Hyper-IgE syndrome) is a rare, primary immunodeficiency distinguished by the clinical triad of atopic dermatitis, recurrent skin staphylococcal infections, and recurrent pulmonary infections. The disease is characterized by elevated IgE levels with early onset in primary childhood. (Hafsi W, Yarrarapu SNS. Job Syndrome. [Updated 2021 Jul 17]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from:

Think long and hard, scroll through your mental Rolodex and see if you can think of anyone you know that has Job Syndrome. Or any stories in the news or on social media that highlights the population who are suffering from this rare disease.

I am guessing you can not.

Now picture the plethora of younger generations putting all of their hopes and dreams into these lofty goals. Pro athletes, Hollywood stars, international models, social media influencers, or some other flashy job that is revered in all aspects of our culture and population.

Even if we add all of those minuscule percentages together, they would still equal less than a one-percent chance. Even the richest of the rich account for less than one percent of the population.

So what about the rest of us?

This long and roundabout breakdown of becoming rich and famous brings me back to the title of this rant.

We need to find our dreams at home. Not our literal home, but within the realities of our everyday lives.

Instead of encouraging the younger generation to reach for those infinitesimally small chances, we need to foster their understanding of the superstars we see in every community across the country.

The scientists, forward thinkers, change-makers, and successful people who are assets to the community, town, city, hamlet, etc. These are the many people who are making changes that will contribute to the advancement of our future.

The ones who have made bold leaps and advances in our past that have affected our present, and will help us to change the future.

I can encourage relationships between my students and the people in their community. I can try to show them the path to greatness does not need to be paved in gold.

It can be paved in whatever passion they choose, a passion that they can rely on even if they don’t ever achieve the fifteen minutes of fame that our society has somehow been led to believe we all need in order to be happy, successful, or whole.

Elyse Ward is committed to creating a culture, making relationships the priority. Currently, Elyse works in Westchester, New York as a public school science teacher, and is an RJ Educator for Restorative Justice Education. Elyse trains school districts across the country in the principles and practices of Restorative Justice.

The SEL in Action Team

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