July/August 2020

Front Page: Finding Strength and Seeking Solutions

By Theresa Kelly Gegen

The impacts of recent events are incalculable. We are all touched, some more than others, by the coronavirus pandemic and then, as its grip on our lives began to ease, by stark racial injustice and the resulting protests and activism. Further uncertainties abound, and the economies of the nation, state, and our households; the political arena and the emotions it evokes; and the impact of all of this on the children.

Current events and pressing issues have prompted two messages from IASB Executive Director Tom Bertrand in this issue of the Journal. Read his “Leadership Letter" on page 4 and “A Final Word" on page 39. 

Each one of us, as adults, makes decisions on how to cope — in our homes, families, and communities. For many, these times have brought uncertainty and inconvenience. For others, the tragedy is immense. Illness, violence, death, and trauma are occurring in communities that can not afford more. 

That our children will be affected by all of this is obvious. How much, we do not know. 

In 2020, school districts — board members, administrators, teachers, staff, and the students themselves — rose to the occasion. They took action to continue the paths of education to every extent possible, maintained connections physical and virtual. They carried, and still carry, the weight.

Even before the events of this past spring, schools were recognizing that children need emotional wellness, in school and beyond. Illinois has been a leader in prioritizing social and emotional learning (SEL), defined as “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

We planned this issue of the Journal to address social and emotional learning, and that begins with “Understanding SEL” on page 15. 

We are also fortunate to have a piece from Doug Bolton, Ph.D., “The Collaborative Change Model: A Map for Schools through COVID-19.” Bolton addresses the important rituals of endings and beginnings, and how the Collaborate Change model can help address the educational, social, and emotional aspects of bringing closure to the school year, and preparing students for an uncertain summer and eventual, although unpredictable, return. 

Stating, “A school board is a vital partner to improve the mental health of our students, staff, and families,” Iowa mental health and education advocate Jennifer Ulie-Wells shares “14 Ways for School Boards to Improve School Mental Health” starting on page 30. The Journal also features a commentary on approaches to SEL for English Learners by north suburban educator Diallo Brown. This begins on page 26. Our regular departments cover the topic as well, bringing additional perspectives to SEL in Illinois school districts. 

Patrick McMillion, Clinical Director for AdventureWorks in DeKalb, presented an IASB webinar in June to discuss social and emotional wellness for educators and school leaders. Among his many words of counseling wisdom, he said “Seek solutions and relationship strength, rather than ‘rightness and wrongness.’”

This unprecedented time and combination of events is forcing us to face uncomfortable truths, to question what we’ve learned about right and wrong, and to wonder if there’s a better way. Some people have no choice in facing these questions. Children, especially, do not. But for most people reading this, finding strength and seeking solutions is a choice we can make. 
So let’s make the choice. And as we do, let’s take care of each other.
Theresa Kelly Gegen is Editor of the Illinois School Board Journal. IASB’s webinar archives and other Journal resources can be accessed via bit.ly/JA20JRes