Social-Emotional Development: Creating Relationship-Rich School Ecosystems

February 27, 2020

By Rebecca Holmes, CEI President and CEO

It’s been a very exciting start to the new year here at CEI. We’ve been in every corner of the state these past weeks, from designing portraits of graduates in Grand County to building common measures for improvement in Westminster. One of the more powerful threads of work that I’ve watched emerge at CEI these past few years has been our incredible staff working with passionate and committed practitioners on the ground to build social-emotional development practices in schools across the state. We cannot overstate how important this work is in Colorado. Parents consistently rank social-emotional needs as their top priority for schools, and more and more we see state policymakers recognizing this as they consider new ways of fostering student success.  That said, the words “social-emotional development” are often used interchangeably for a number of things.  Sometimes we’re talking about school culture and climate, while other times we’re talking about critical interpersonal and professional skills young people must develop to be successful in a dynamic world.  Additionally, we see these terms used when addressing student and staff wellness and even very targeted mental health practices.  In over a decade of supporting schools in this space our first step in this work is often sense-making and grounding work in the research and practice of human development and learning science.

For the past two years, we’ve been facilitating a Social Emotional Redesign Network­ — an exciting program in 20 schools and 12 districts across Colorado. Participating high schools are committed to redesigning their systems to support student, staff, and community health through work supported by The Colorado Health Foundation. Last year, we launched The Hub, an online library and network, to provide high-quality, best-in-class resources about health in our schools so that practitioners around the state have access to these important tools. We have worked with Kaiser Permanente to launch a Thriving Schools network, rolling up our sleeves to help schools and communities build their talent and expertise in this area.

Our work took new resonance recently as we launched Youth Connections, our new initiative created in partnership with Caring for Colorado. Thanks to the vision of Caring for Colorado’s incoming CEO Linda Reiner, and their investment, CEI is working with four school districts to support the critical work of mental health, resiliency, social emotional development, and other important aspects of student wellness. Fundamentally, we believe that designing for social emotional resilience and mental health is one of the most important shifts we must make to transform our K-12 system and drive stronger academic outcomes.  This requires working with teachers, families, and students to imagine and create relationship-rich school ecosystems that support all students in realizing their full potential. CEI is honored to work alongside the selected school districts to partner in this work. Learn about this exciting work in our February newsletter, featuring great stories from students and staff in the field who are engaged in this work.